What is it that makes a librarian a professional? The easy answer might be that a master’s degree is required to do “professional” work in a library. Soon after going into the field, however, I saw that this view was not only naí¯ve, but also somewhat problematic. In my first professional library job the one and only thing that differentiated professional staff with MLS degrees from para-professional staff was the responsibility of materials selection. Of course, we had received training in our library school programs for this. (We also typed out catalog cards. Look how long the need for that “professional” skill lasted). Later, when I began teaching collection development courses for the University of Arizona library school, I would tell non-librarian friends about my class, and they would be incredulous. They could simply not believe that one needed master’s degree-level training to select library materials. Librarians, however, understandably feel angst over a territorial issue such as maintaining selection as the domain of MLS degreed professionals only
But professionalism it is much more than simply having received training to do a particular high-level task. This sort of professionalism is divorced from degree, or even the job title, but rather relates to how you are perceived in the workplace; how you interact with your co-workers and more importantly, your boss. But even then, I have seen different takes on just what it means to act professionally. When someone makes a statement like “She was very unprofessional,” what are they really saying? Some of my early experiences as a librarian convinced me that it meant to never, ever make any show of emotion. Getting emotional about any issue branded as you being “unprofessional”. I understand that bringing emotion into a disagreement regarding time needed off the desk to prepare for storytime may not be the best way to successfully make your case with a director or administrator. Administrators are looking for dispassionate, calm, reasoned and logical arguments, backed up by numbers, data and spreadsheets, not an anecdote of a child’s reaction to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! But as a children’s librarian, I have always felt passionate about what I do. I am passionate about getting parents to read to their kids, passionate about children’s books, passionate about the children’s programs. So if I bring that passion and enthusiasm into the equation, does that mean I’m not a professional? Of course not, particularly if that enthusiasm is coupled with knowledge.
One of the first and best ways to portray yourself as a children’s services library professional is to know the biz. Know what’s going on. What’s the latest research on early literacy? What are the current best practices in library children’s spaces? This can be very impressive. Be passionate and enthusiastic about what you do, and your enthusiasm will be contagious. Yes, it is okay to feel emotion.
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