ALA: Let’s destroy the profession!

Golly, said ALA. There’s small libraries all over the country who need low-cost librarian assistance. And there’s a ton of young eager-beavers with MLSes who need library experience to land their first Real Jobs. That gives us an idea! Let’s…

… ask our retired post-career people to work for free! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

I could try to find words for this profession-destroying folly. I could try. You would not want me to try. Even on CSS Naked Day, the words I would find would be too much for a mostly PG-13 weblog. Go read the commenters at Jessamyn’s; they found a few words.

Let’s settle for “unconscionably stupid and counterproductive.” If you want any kind of profession at all in fifteen or twenty years, you need young people, not post-retirement people, doing professional work in libraries. If you want any kind of profession now, you need not to give away professional labor; the decree of capitalism is that an employer not pay for whatever labor he can get for nothing.

But that begs a question. It assumes ALA wants a profession. I don’t know that ALA does, frankly. Its actions, speaking as always louder than words, point toward inexorable deprofessionalization in public and school libraries. Academic libraries are likely to hold out longer, but academic librarians aren’t immune either; we’re starting to be replaced with the Ph.Ds displaced by deprofessionalization in academia. (Funny sometimes, how the threads of my life weave together, innit?)

Sucks for librarians, but hey, library schools stay full (until prospective students find out that the emperor’s nekkid, anyway) and libraries get the same dedicated people half-off their already low, low prices! And it is the American Library Association, let’s not forget; it is explicitly allied with our trainers and our employers, not with us.

Lordy, I do hope UW-SLIS has the sense to tenure Greg Downey. I’m gladder than ever to have taken his Information and Labor course. I wish SLIS would see fit to let him offer it online; I would make all my friends take it, so I would! And hey, all you ALAers, I have an idea too—let’s make the course a prerequisite for running for ALA Council! A profession is more than a set of ethics and ideals, damn it, it is an economic construct, and it’s past time ALA figured that out.

Look, librarians, let’s not be patsies, okay? If you’re a young librarian in ALA, figure out what your complaint options are and use them. If you’re a young librarian outside ALA, tell ALA that this kind of crap is why they don’t get your money. (ALA, this kind of crap is why you don’t get my money; you suck unbelievably at defending the value of professional librarianship, if indeed you believe there is any value to it at all. There, I just did.)

If you’re a retiree, don’t just give away your work, your prestige, and your experience, as though you were some wet-behind-the-ears intern! Demand that ALA vouchsafe you the respect you deserve. Then tell the program officers for this ALA travesty (starting with LITA exec director Mary Taylor, mentioned in the RFP) what ALA should be doing: offering internship opportunities to the next generation. Even better, find a NextGen librarian who needs the experience (trust me, it isn’t hard!) and hold him or her up as an example.

Don’t let ALA put a bullet in librarianship’s back. Please.