By Anne Welsh, on 8 October 2014
Hill, C. (2014). The professional divide: examining workplace relationships between librarians and library technicians The Australian Library Journal, 63 (1), 23-34 DOI: 10.1080/00049670.2014.890020
Hill presents and analyses the results of a survey undertaken to assess workplace tensions between library technicians – who have a TAFE diploma – and librarians – who have a professional degree. From her findings, she suggests tensions can be resolved through more accurate understanding of skill sets and roles, which could be accomplished at a variety of stages, from the recruitment process, through continued professional development, to on-the-job building of good relations.
There was universal unease regarding the methodology used in both survey and analysis. Certain questions appeared biased – for example offering a different set of ‘roles’ when asking what the duties were of librarians and library technicians. There was also confusion about the sampling process, which the article described in rather vague terms, and method and terminology seemed to lack definition. This made certain aspects of the analysis feel potentially unreliable – for example, no consideration was given to the reasons why people responded to the survey in certain ways, or what other factors might be contributing to tensions.
We also explored the idea behind the article – i.e. tensions within workplace hierarchies – and whether this related to our own experiences. While it was generally agreed that professional or qualification-related inequalities were not a problem as long as good relationships were maintained, there was anecdotal evidence for certain divides. Examples included: academics or other professionals not appreciating library professionals’ abilities and knowledge; cataloguers and systems staff lacking a connection to the front-end of the services (and vice versa); and the idea of qualified librarians doing the same tasks as unqualified paraprofessionals but with lower pay.
Various ideas were suggested for improving or maintaining workplace relations. The most popular was sharing duties in enquiry and reference roles, which was felt to improve communications and understanding across the hierarchy. All-staff meetings and open-plan offices were also seen as fostering a sense of unity. It was felt valuable for a librarian to have had experience of junior tasks at some point in their career, advocating the value of graduate traineeships prior to professional qualification. The importance of respect for colleagues and their skills was seen as paramount.
Related to this was discussion on whether it was right to assume that obtaining a different qualification (e.g. technician to librarian) was ‘progress’ or an ‘upgrade’, as assumed in the article. Shouldn’t it be left to the choice of the individual as to what kind of work they were happier doing? It was felt that this reflected the broader societal issue of pressure to be ambitious and obtain ‘top jobs’, regardless of a person’s other life concerns and interests.
Finally, the function and nature of professional bodies was addressed. How far should the continuing professional development (CPD) of the individual be a concern for the professional body? While it was agreed that CPD was certainly vital to being an effective librarian, questions were raised about whether organisational membership was a necessary part of this; particularly the case given the other bodies that exist beyond CILIP, such as the School Library Association and the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians. Was being a member of a ‘specialised’ body more beneficial than membership of the broader organisation?
The article provided a lot of interesting debate and we look forward to the next journal club.
Journal Club takes place once a month, and is facilitated by Charlie Inskip and Anne Welsh, with organisational support from Laura Keshav. This year we are discussing three articles on the theme of Information Literacy and three on more general topics. Discussion is led by students, and covers the research methods of the article and its contents, which are then used as a springboard to students’ experiences with regard to the topics raised by the article. The Club is open solely to students in the Department of Information Studies.
Note: the appearance of the byline on this post is auto-generated, indicating that it was posted by Anne Welsh. George Bray is the sole author of this piece, drawing on the contributions of the students at Journal Club last night.