“Is it unreasonably harsh to say that people who refuse to advocate shouldn’t be in a profession that needs advocating for?”
I say yes, that would be unreasonably harsh on those people.
Not because advocacy for libraries isn’t A Good Thing – because clearly it is.
And not because library workers shouldn’t be making advocacy a priority – no problem with that. It’s purely because I’m viscerally opposed to the idea that if I, as an individual working in a library, have an opinion on a topic (advocacy, the rules of cataloguing, censorship, the correct colour of packet for salt ‘n’ vinegar crisps, whatever) which is in opposition to the prevailing view taken by the bulk of people doing the same job as me, then that should mean I oughtn’t be allowed to call myself a librarian.
Or, if my strengths or talents in information management happen not to include an aptitude for selling my library’s services to potential users/holders of purse strings, that shouldn’t mean I’m less of a librarian.
Alright, it goes deeper than that – I’m not generally comfortable with the stance on being a ’professional’ librarian taken by some people and organisations. Sometimes—just sometimes—it can come across as a bit exclusivist and self-serving. The quote I hate most is the occasionally-spotted “…silly library users think that just anyone who works in a library is a librarian!!!“. Horrible horrible horrible. I don’t believe the division between professional and para-professional (is that the right term?) in libraries is a particularly significant one; the rest of the world clearly doesn’t give a hoot; I think perhaps it’s time that little internal division was knocked down for good.
So; if there’s an accepted definition of what it means to be a “professional librarian”, then exactly what should happen to me if I disagree with it or if I’m put into a position where I’m acting against it? If I’m working in a library capacity for my employer (who has defined my contract of employment and who allows me to pay my bills), and I’m doing things as an employee that don’t jibe with those accepted definitions of librarianship, do I deserve banishment? (N.B. this is a hypothetical employer, y’understand, and not the University of Lincoln – which, as I’ve mentioned recently, is a groovy place to work.) Should my professional identity be subject to the opinion of a (non-elected, non-accountable) body of fellow professionals?
And finally, on advocacy itself (it’s A Good Thing, remember?): at the back of my mind there’s a little niggling fear that while we’re spending an awful lot of time worrying about library advocacy, marketing, promotion, etc.; other sections of the Information-O-Sphere™ are quietly getting on with the business of meeting users’ needs in more meaningful ways (oh yeah, and making money in the process). That is, while we’re standing still and shouting about it, our com|petit|ors are concentrating on getting their services right. I know that’s a gross oversimplification, but thereyago.