A week ago, the ALIA National Advisory Conference came to Perth. The topic was ‘Future of the Profession’. You can get some idea of what was said from the Storify, but the guest speaker was my good friend and mentor Kathryn.
Kathryn made a number of excellent points and at one stage she asked the room to embrace shambrarians. Now this is an easy thing for me for reasons I’ll get to, but apparently not everyone in the room was so supportive. Indeed, in the last week, Hoi and Peter have both written excellent blog posts on the matter, which I’d encourage you to read.
So just what is a shambrarian? I would count them at minimum as qualified professionals who work in a library doing librarian-y tasks but have non-librarian qualifications. I’m talking teachers, historians, people with degrees in communication, IT, etc.
In my job I’m fortunate enough to work closely with a number of shambrarians. My opinion on this topic was formed early in my time as a librarian when I was accepted into the graduate program at the State Library of WA. The year I started, the program included me and one other graduate, Theresa. She and I quickly became close friends and I gained a great deal of respect for her intelligence and capabilities. She had a degree in teaching and had just finished Honours in history. This meant that from the outset she was far more knowledgeable about the State Library collections than I was, as she had used them in her research.
Unfortunately it didn’t stop some people from treating her differently because she didn’t have a library degree. This irked me because it was apparent that she was a fast learner and was no less capable than I. Indeed, I could see that her skills and knowledge were really useful because they were different to those of the other staff (in the same way, skills I’d gained before becoming a librarian were also particularly useful).
It seems that some people believe that their library degree automatically makes them better at everything to do with libraries than people without one. This sentiment was somewhat apparent at the NAC when mention was made of non-librarians getting jobs in libraries (with the implied subtext of ‘stealing our jobs’). I believe that no degree is a meal ticket. If you want to get a job, you need to ensure that you’re the best candidate. If you’re not, then it’s wise to look in the mirror before casting elsewhere for blame. I know that it’s a tough time to get a library job, but I have a lot more sympathy for the librarians in this discussion who are looking for ways to improve their technical skills rather than those who would shut the door to a more diverse range of skills.
Now I work in a team with, among others, Theresa and Carina (another ex-grad shambrarian) as well as Jocelyne who has a teaching background. My manager is also an ex-teacher and my director is a historian. Shambrarians to the max and I love it! I also really enjoy working with library officers who often show as much or more initiative and willingness to learn than some librarians.
I believe that a certain amount of diversity is going to be vital for libraries if we are to survive and prosper. Hiring people from different work and study backgrounds really helps to avoid myopia and brings a broader wealth of experience and ideas to the table. I can see many ways that this is of benefit to my workplace and to the profession. I don’t feel threatened by shambrarians and I love working with them. I’d love to see them become more welcome in and involved with our professional organisations and conversations.
Do you agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear from people who have alternative viewpoints and can give me (preferably objective ) reasons that they are not in favour of shambrarians.