Library Professionalism – Individual, Consortia, and Every(one/thing) in Between

As I near the end of my MLIS education, with my experience with my internship winding up, my candidacy approved, and my e-Portfolio class approaching, I have had some incentive to look back on my career within the librarian field and without and think about a particular word that has been touted all throughout these years in both education and the workforce: professionalism.

I know the classical characterization of the word: business appropriate attire, adherence to NDAs, respecting the hierarchy and whatever is thrown down from it, and, all too often, bigotry. I also know how, in this professionalism, ideals are all too often a front, as slacking off in the office in order to seem ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ is backtracked in scathing emails when either higher ups or the customers begin to catch on to the shoddiness that lurks just beneath the all too constructed casualness. While I have had more than my fair share of experience of the glitz and glam passive aggressively balanced with overt threats behind the scenes, I have also worked in multiple library environments whose balance of business and compassion were nothing short of admirable. These environments did not fit the button-up pictures of professionalism of yesteryear, and yet, what else could one call a work environment where those in charge truly knew how to run things and those working for them truly took pride in their work? I call all this professionalism, or at least acknowledge them as situations that are characterized by ideals that I gladly utilize to shape my own definition of the term.

Outside of the workforce, my experience in library school has also fed into this, both generally across multiple classes and a specific one I am taking this semester. The specific is a current project of mine that involves analyzing and replicating the consortial agreements between multiple libraries and/or library systems. I have come across at least one acknowledgement that such agreements often collapse due to lack of effective communication, more often out of one or more library staff’s pride in their own facilities and a general unwillingness to admit that they cannot satisfy their patrons on their own. As most anyone in an MLIS program can attest to, group work is very similar to consortial agreements in this regard, especially when the lapses in communication result from excess pride on any member’s part when it comes to admitting that they are unable to keep up.  Having been balancing for some time now obligations in school, work, internship, and general adulthood, I have established certain truths about group work: for example, there is never such thing as getting too much work done too early before the final deadline. Recent events involving my having to deal with a significant lag in communication regarding coordinated share responsibilities has made me think how I would handle such an issue in a professional library environment. Complaining to the professor hardly comes off as professionalism, however carefully the email is phrased, and the stakes in a work environment, as well as the micro-politics of its inhabitants, can make choosing how to act during such an event extraordinarily difficult should professionalism not already be in place.

All in all, professionalism comes into play when I think about how this ability to work with others will translate into the actual work place, once the hurdles of the job hunt are passed and one is thrust into perhaps not a completely unknown but certainly not a completely familiar community of, ideally, fellow library professionals. I have worked both with and for both paragons of my kind of professionalism and people whom I fear are never going to grow up, and the field of librarianship is no different from any other branch of the workforce in being full of both at all levels of the workforce hierarchy. In between all the effort that goes into the simple matter of being able to work enough in librarianship to put food on the table, I hope to be able to develop a manner of being professionalism in a way that facilitates mutually beneficial relationships: whether it is on the scale of a system of two libraries successfully negotiating with a consortia of two hundred, or simply being able to email my supervisor about having an embarrassing lack of success with locating a file attachment they sent me. To anyone who has encountered memorable instances of professionalism (or lack thereof) in librarianship, what is professionalism to you? If nothing else, my own will make for good answer fodder for those particularly tricky interview questions.

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