Getting Exclusive (or No Good Deed Unpunished)

Getting Exclusive (or No Good Deed Unpunished) by David Whelan Anyone who has read my thoughts on libraries and librarianship knows that I’m concerned about the us-and-them between those with library science degrees and those without. It was interesting to have that exclusivity turned towards me today.

How long has this been an issue for me?  Since my mother sent me this article – We Are the Library!  Support Staff Speak Out – in 1995.  It helps to have your mother in the them camp if you’re an us.  It gives you real perspective and an opponent, for lack of better word, who will give you a spoonful of whoop-ass rather than worry about collegiality!

But I have a library degree so my concern has mostly been managerial, rather than first hand.  I’d rather hire someone with the right attitude, ability, initiative, and potential than a particular piece of paper.  I volunteered recently to help some library students with their resumes, preparing for job searches next summer.  I was assigned two students (randomly, as far as I know) and we’ve started to talk about their resumes.

A colleague calls me about something unrelated, but mentions that one of these students was going to meet with me, and how it was too bad that the student couldn’t meet with a librarian, but felt like it would be better to meet with a lawyer!  Sure, I’m a lawyer as well (or at least I have the degree and debt), but I’ve got the M.L.S. and many people would call me a librarian.  The student is also a dual-degree – J.D. and M.L.S – and the suggestion from this colleague was that the student sought me out because of that J.D. bond, as fellow members of THAT guild!

I can’t say that I had thought about that angle and I know the student hadn’t asked to meet with me in particular.  It was striking to think that some aspect of my background – in this case, my legal education – placed me outside the group.  The group of librarians?  Those that see the law degree as creating a further subgroup?  No idea.  It’s very funny that people might have that reaction.

Someday I’ll share the story about how, early on when I returned to Canada, another colleague warned me that my experience in the U.S. would mean I was akin to a “blood traitor” (Harry Potter reference) now that I was going to run a Canadian law library after having come from south of the border.

Such are the terms in which we perceive ourselves and by which we are perceived.  It was useful advice, as much as anything to remind me that your experience and background create perceptions and prejudices that you may not possibly anticipate.

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David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.