A View from the Pigeon Hole

A bit of rant this morning.

As noted before, I have to re-up for ALA this week and I’m not especially pleased about spending another year getting my email filled with yet more ads and having them send me shiny magazines with, at best, two articles each that are written with someone obviously other than me in mind. I understand not everyone has the fascination with RSS feeds that I do but the fact that I’m still seeing a proliferation of “understanding the very basics of xyz 2.0” articles and presentations scares me a wee bit.

I’m still frustrated at the base price of ALA, which provides me with said shiny magazine, a membership card, and discounted prices at conferences where I still have to pay to present. Assuming, of course, that I’d like to spend $1500+ hauling off to each of the bi-annual conferences. [Have you seen airline prices these days?] But what really irritates me is that there is very little place for involvement that doesn’t shunt one into a division (at least $35-$50 extra dollars per division) based on library type. I could just join roundtables, which I’ve done in the past, but I feel like I’m not getting enough out of all of this library networking that we young professionals are supposed to be doing.

Others have tried to argue to me that “you can get cross-library experience in any division.” I’m sure that may be true to some degree. However, I generally disagree. In a division you’re focused on the problems and needs of that type of library and while some of those problems are universal (funding), many of them are not (best in early literacy). And really, if you’re an academic librarian hiring another academic librarian, are you going to be looking with more interest at a resume of a public librarian who was in ALSC or an academic librarian whose name you’ve heard through ACRL? We are a profession of networkers and that still primarily comes through our divisions. Nothing says pigeon-hole to me like the ALA divisions.

I understand the necessity of grouping like things with like. Certainly college libraries are faced with different challenges than public libraries. But this strongly forced wedging of us means that it is at relatively great expense that we try to branch out to other types of librarianship. Also–my business card says Youth Services Librarian, La Crosse Public Library. Tell me, how many people on appointing committees for ACRL and RUSA would take me seriously? Would I truly be welcome in those divisions? Am I the only one hearing the sound of “Oh, well, she’s just a children’s librarian” with a polite pat on the head and shuffling me off back more appropriate divisions for my current work? I’ve already encountered professional condescension because I just work with children. It seems to baffle quite a lot of people that, while yes, I enjoy working with children, it might not be my only aspiration in my professional career.

Librarianship is supposed to be a flexible profession. And certainly I have met, heard of, and talked to librarians who have worked in all manner of libraries. They seem to be, however, the exceptions. Perhaps this is the choice of the professionals. But without our national organization (ALA) strongly encouraging and providing opportunities for us to find what else is out there, isn’t it shunting people into neat boxes?

Though not presently job hunting, it is a concern I’ve had in the past and a legitimate barrier that I’ve run into that people get hung up on my current job title and forget the flexibility of the training we all underwent. And while I think there are many people in PLA who would be amazing to work with and fascinating to learn from, I wonder as I contemplate that check box on my ALA renewal if it will make me that much more pegged into a specific job type. Of course, professional involvement and professional development will always be what you make of it. I know that and I know I can only reap whatever I’m willing to put into my participation at ALA. I just wish there was a better way to explore more of ALA and more of librarianship without spending the equivalent of a month or two’s rent, or at least more easily realized returns which made the investment feel worthwhile.

For those non-library people:
ALA –American Library Association
ALSC–Association for Library Service to Children
ACRL–Assocation of College and Research Libraries
RUSA–Reference and User Services Association
PLA–Public Library Association