Production values.

Alchemists never really go on vacation.  After all, it’s not like I turn off my brain or heart just because I’m not in the building.  I promise you, I’m having plenty of fun.

However, I’m also catching up on my newsreader, really looking at some of those things I’ve saved for later.  Today’s sticky wicket comes in the form of the notion that the librarian is the product.

This is one of those times when I wish I’d actually seen the presentation, because while I get the metaphor just fine, I still find it troubling. And while I don’t wish to upset any applecarts, I have to state emphatically that I am not a product. A facilitator, sure. A resource, sure. A library ambassador, sure. One public face of my library’s service, sure. But I am not now, and I never will be, a product. My services and I are not for sale.

Well, except for that whole paycheck thing, right? I am a huge fan of both money and regular meals. Does accepting money for what I do make me a product, albeit an ethical / sustainable one? Like buying fair-trade, organic, shade-grown coffee from a local business and taking it home in a canvas bag?

Perish the thought. We call our conversations with patrons “transactions,” but is what a librarian provides really something that can be commodified and sold? I don’t think so.

Questions and issues like these are why I joined SRRT and never looked back. Every year, when I try to figure out how to spend my limited professional development dollars (sorry, ALA) I find myself hesitating over the list of associations. I’m still kind of wet behind the ears, so maybe I should go back to NMRT. I work in a public library, so I should be in PLA. Reference rocks my socks, so I should go back to RUSA.

I never hesitate, though, when I get to the box marked SRRT. Because, at the end of the day, the technology and the reference books and all the other trappings of library service don’t mean diddley if they are not informed by values. SRRT consistently demonstrates the values that are most important to me as a librarian.

I wonder, sometimes, though, if feeling this way means that the overall direction of the profession has already passed me by, and I should get cracking on that application to the Peace Corps. I’d like to hope not, but, despite all the blogs and the IMs and the chatter and the insta-punditry, I feel so all alone when I start thinking about things like heart, soul, spirit, vocation.

And that’s why I’d love to see a group blog called “The Spirited Librarian,” where questions of this nature were raised and debated on a regular basis. Consider that my holiday gift to library world, gratis. Somebody, please, take that and run with it.

Possibly more next week, but if not, enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate to the hilt.

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  1. Don said,

    December 23, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    The product thing is just pr buzz. Beneath it, there might actual be a truism.

    What matters most are the two components of any library transaction: the customer and the librarian. The book or database or etc. are just end products (there’s that word). They are worthless without someone to utilize them.

    In that sense, the librarian is the conduit, leading to the resource. But one has to be very careful in choosing ones language here. While writing, we come up with metaphors, ones that are frequently dictated by the initial words we choose. This is a case when one should eschew metaphor, however.

    This is about person to person, however it is described.

    I’m thinking about service, in the traditional use of the term. It is what we do that the Peace Corps would does, too, when we are truly dedicated heart and soul. These values can be injected into librarianship. It’s probably not something that can be done in an organized way except with like minded individuals across organizational boundaries.

    You have to find the people who truly care. When we’re talking service, I’m thinking Ram Das.

    This is where the change truly starts with the individual, the ripple in the pond. You’re doing it already. Don’t let anyone or anything get in the way. Whether it’s the Peace Corps or the library. Service, capital S.


  2. December 26, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    I really appreciate your taking the time to comment, Don, especially since you and I have had variations of this conversation many times. I just wish there was more talk about this sort of thing in the profession at large. Maybe I’m in the wrong conversations. Or maybe, since all the really important things can’t be said/written down, it’s just a question of people feeling things and doing them, without the intermediary talking step.

    On the bright side, I feel like I finally understand Eliot now: Teach us to care, and not to care. It’s a challenging thing.

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