I’m a cataloger. It’s okay, though. I’m not that kind of cataloger.
I know that you know what I mean by that. But just to prove the point, I did an experiment and asked my Twitter pals to tell me the stereotypes about people who work in Technical Services. I was told that people who work in technical services are social inept/socially awkward, change averse, unfriendly, rigid, detail-oriented to a fault, bad communicators, uncompromising, rule-bound, and territorial.
If you work in public services, I’m sure you know the technical services librarian: that person who sighs heavily when you bring her some donations to catalog or who won’t budge on acquiring books shelf-ready.
This stereotype isn’t helped by relegating technical services departments to basements or off-site buildings. When we do this, we tell technical services staff a story about themselves: you don’t like people and people don’t like you. You aren’t good with people. You should stay out of sight and away from the people who visit service points in the library.
PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF RANGANATHAN, STAY AWAY FROM THE PEOPLE!
I think that there’s a more insidious message inherent in this, too: you don’t have anything to offer the people who visit service points. You matter, but not as much as the people we put front-and-center. Is it any wonder, then, that the technical services librarian is territorial? She was told that she could “listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.” (Yes, I am saying that tech services is the Milton of the library world.)
This isn’t an anti-public services screed. Some of my best friends are public services librarians.
In the interest of fairness, I wanted to see if there is a public services librarian stereotype, too. So I did another experiment and asked my Twitter pals to tell me the stereotypes about people who work in public services. I was told that people who work in public services are flighty, aggressively friendly, loud, know-it-alls who hate math and pay no attention to detail. If you work in technical services, you know the public services librarian: that person who doesn’t know how the catalog works and doesn’t care to or who just drops a bunch of rush orders on you and assumes you’ll drop everything to get them done.
These stereotypes? They don’t move us any closer to creating better libraries for our users. Do you want to work with the person who thinks you’re flighty? Or the person who thinks you’re socially inept?
To steal a line from my beloved The Hold Steady, I believe in a Unified Library Scene. I believe that public and technical services librarians should work together to build a better library, each complimenting the work of the other. I believe that technical services and public services skills should be treated with equal importance in LIS programs. I believe we should encourage (maybe even require?) LIS students to take practicums in both public and technical services. And I believe we should recruit new LIS grads to technical services, bringing new life and new ideas when they do.
In the interest of moving toward this Unified Library Science, I have made it a habit of getting involved in activities that are seen as traditionally public services. I worked with my university’s freshman writing program, doing one-off instruction sessions and one-on-one meetings with students. I taught classes to students and faculty about using Twitter. I facilitated focus groups and usability studies with library users.
All of these experiences made me a better cataloger. I learned how users search for information and what they do with that information after they’ve found it. I also gained insight into the challenges that my colleagues in public services face as they try to gain support and generate enthusiasm in the higher education landscape. But as much as I have learned from my public services colleagues, I have a lot to teach them as well. I understand the quirky things the catalog does and can teach you how to build search queries that yield better results. I can make material more accessible by working with you to create better bibliographic records. And, in the case of serials, I can help untangle the knots of holdings and title changes for you.
I can’t create the Unified Library Scene on my own. I need public services colleagues who value my work and who will get involved in activities that are seen as traditional technical services activities.
Again, to steal a line from The Hold Steady: We can all be something bigger.
Erin Leach just started as Head of Serials Cataloging at University of Georgia and is still trying to figure everything out. She is Chair-Elect of the Continuing Resources Section of ALCTS. She tweets about music, running, beer, and libraries at @erinaleach. Despite her seemingly cynical exterior, Erin embraces Jessica's theory on brutal optimism and loves librarianship for better and worse.