Attracting a New Breed…

One cannot throw a proverbial marshmallow at library literature without hitting a post/article/dissertation/conference preso/etc about how libraries are changing.

That’s not my question nor issue at hand today.

I’m curious about how we actually recruit people to the profession who are the types of people that we are looking for in this changed future.

The trend that has seemed predominate the last few years is the move towards recruiting people who are (or can learn to be/are interested in becoming) teachers, particularly for the academic community. An emphasis on teaching has always been a component of school media programs, though that seems to generally have been shunted off to the education department and still doesn’t seem to be something we’re taking full advantage of even now. And if you’re going to be teaching or in a public library, you’d better have some pretty strong presentation and public speaking chops. It takes a fair amount of presence to grab and hold the attention of digital toddlers with something so analog as a book–much as it does to get undergrads out of their Facebook updates.

But, and again I’m looking at this more from an academic standpoint, goals and language are starting to shift.  While teaching isn’t going by the wayside, I’m seeing a trend towards words like mentor, embedded, and facilitators.  This is another shift for librarians, drawing us even further from the idea of sage-on-stage/sage-at-the-desk. It puts Jason Puckett in an office in the Communication Department of GSU a few hours a week, it has one of my coworkers doing a lot of mediated searching for one of patron sets we support, and it’s a more individual approach.  It’s a lot more like being a solo business, legal, hospital or other special librarian.  We’re still teaching, if anything our teaching load is increasing. But we’re also working to find ways to give patrons (students, faculty, whatever your) a personal resource to come back to when they get stuck, promoting the expertise of the staff and opportunities to use us for assistance even as we are encouraging them in learning how to fish for themselves.

Part of this is a shift in how education is done, part of it is financial, part of it marketing, part of it is self-preservation and part of it is probably something else I haven’t thought to list.  I can recognize that there are some reservations about making some of the changes. Johns Hopkins is going to embed all of their health science librarians. Losing the library as a physical space is daunting and I think we’ll all be watching that closely.

If trends like this continue, and I see great potential for them to do so, and as we shift towards  an academic’s physical library as commons/research study hub/3rd space while library collections are primarily digital, then we need a) to do and continue to do some retraining of ourselves, b) make sure we find and support online spaces for librarian interaction so we don’t lose our sense of community, and c) we need to start appealing to incoming students who are ready to be (or can learn to be/are interested in becoming) this kind of librarian.

So I’m curious as to if and how LIS programs are adapting their marketing method? What are they doing to find people who are already mentors, already facilitators, and bringing them into the fold either as students or as faculty? Are the people talking to these incoming applicants looking for these skill sets when someone comes before them? Does anyone care?

And perhaps more importantly than what the schools are doing: How are we as librarians working to market the profession to potential new librarians who could fill these roles?

I’m an only-if-your-eyes-are-wide-open type of LIS recruiter. In a public library particularly, one runs into people who think it would be so lovely to go to graduate school in library science.  I was always happy to talk about it with them. In detail. Including my experiences at a program that was heavily in transition and was so school media focused that I had trouble filling my electives. I am blunt about challenges of job hunting-even for excellent candidates; realistic about what’s coming in the next few years for libraries; honest about the fact that you will have to move to find work. It’s a ripping-the-bandaid-off approach and one that was very different from a number of my LPL coworkers who had gotten their Masters while employed by the library and rather disillusioning to a couple of our undergraduate aides. But I refused to let the rhetoric of graying-profession, all gonna retire, lots of jobs, life is easy, get to work with books all day fly. I have the conversation I wish someone would have had with me–not so much to deter me from the profession as to prepare me.

That approach though doesn’t tend to draw people to the profession and I know that. I’ve had some starry eyed ones tell me that they will be different and of course there’s always going to be good tenure-track humanities reference no instruction jobs in Manhattan requiring no experience for the worthy. I’m not sure how to get beyond that real world conversation though.  How do I move past the smashing of little librarian dreams and get out to actually recruit people who are interested in information, in teaching, in sharing and organizing, and who think embedded librarianship sounds like fun?

What are your thoughts?