Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hats off to Will Manley this week

Poppies in bloom on campus

Recently I feel like I've been playing Whac-A-Mole at work, where every time I complete a task, some other thing pops up. Meanwhile there is a blog that has been producing some important content this week, Will Unwound. A few posts in particular caught my attention, but by the time I was able to formulate a response the conversation had moved on.

First were the posts "The Death of Library Schools" and "Angry Librarians are Angry ... Now What?". They address something I've caught myself wondering before: Is it my imagination, or is library work being de-professionalized while enrollments in library graduate programs continue to rise?

Is this happening in other fields? When a job can be done without a graduate degree, those managing budgets may choose not to make it a requirement, and who can blame them? Those who have the degree can appear irritatingly entitled in their expectation for employment that matches their qualifications*, but the personal and financial sacrifices that come with graduate school are very real, making their frustration understandable. Is a glut of people with advanced degrees even a new phenomenon? It seems as though everywhere I look there are new master's degree programs...are there truly jobs for all the graduates?

Then came the posts "Big Box Libraries" and "Who Cares about Service?", which touch on an issue very close to my heart -- public services and communities as they relate to libraries.

I'll skip putting it in generational terms, but I wonder whether in recent years customer service expectations have changed in the following way: There is a lot of assistance online now. There are a lot of online communities, composed of real people, who will gladly write reviews and answer questions about services, products, and companies (companies they don't even work for!) for free, seemingly because they like helping other people. (Granted, there may be other reasons too.) This may not be entirely responsible for the success of big box stores, but it is an important part of why they continue to flourish.

As is visible from comments on the blog, many people sincerely enjoy helping others. The audience of people to help on the internet is vastly larger than the people who are reachable at a single store in a single town. This is not to devalue solid in-person customer service, but customers frequently turn to the internet when looking for customer service that used to be provided locally in person. I suspect large corporations are aware of this abundance of free support online, and they might see cutting expertise in a store-front as a viable cost-saving method. In the context of libraries, yes, I think this trend does affect patron expectations at the reference desk, in that elsewhere it is now relatively uncommon to find a trained professional on the front lines of public service.

So, thanks to Will Unwound for providing thought-provoking contributions to libraryland -- I'll continue to be in the audience even when I'm not quick enough to be part of the conversation there.
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*I include myself in this category

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