I Can’t Get No Respect


When I first joined the profession, I was interested in the debate of librarian as service professional amidst a world of doctors and lawyers. Doctors and lawyers are a closed group of professionals defined as high status with high salaries paying fees to a regulatory agency. Their skills are specialized and not everyone has the capacity to practice in those careers.  Value is measured by high salaries or expansive budgets.

Repeatedly librarians lose focus on the fact that we are service professionals. Being a service professional is distinct from the standard definition of professionals.  Librarians are helping professions much like teachers or nurses. We assist others in finding information. Often it may involve a process, which is difficult to quantify and value consequently. The public views us through the same lens as teachers or nurses in that “it looks easy and I can do it.” Quite the opposite is true as when one really analyzes the responsibilities of librarians as they juggle them.

Perception is tricky as it is built on what we observe and think we understand what we see. Librarians are not given respect as professionals as the perception is that anyone can find information on the Internet. I personally became interested in librarianship because of the Internet, and I know how much information is not digitized or found on it. The rise of the internet has likely contributed to the myth that all information can be found all the time on it.

Librarians as a group are also confused  with the public library. There is so much more to librarianship than the books on the shelf. But the public library exists in the imagination much like moms and apple pie. We don’t really understand how the library works, because the workers add value to the institution, which would otherwise be a book warehouse.

Also as service professionals, we have a strong vocational aspect to our work. That feeds into others thinking we are noble, and perhaps doing the work for intrinsic rewards over external rewards (high status, big salary and budgets). I really feel respect is at the heart of the matter. Librarians need to prove themselves constantly as professionals. It may or may not lead to more status, bigger salaries and big budgets. But we will always need to advocate for our cause and counter prevalent misperceptions.

I see the enthusiasm and energy of colleagues like Shaunna Mireau and Alan Kilpatrick, who work at their day jobs and also blog. It inspires me to work harder and improve myself. My inspiration for this article was  Alan’s post at Legal Sourcery.


It is an unfortunate dynamic in how we typically value professionals in the complex relationship of status, monetary reward, and ultimately respect. Ultimately librarians will need to advocate on their own behalf to counter strong misperceptions.

  • Brenda

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