This post is part of 23 Things for Professional Development.
There’s already been some controversy around this Thing! I’m not going to open up an argument again, just suffice to say that I do agree that it is every librarians job, regardless of sector, to advocate for the profession; and to add as a side note that advocacy is not the same thing as campaigning! Anyway, on with the Thing…
A lot of the talk around library advocacy on Twitter and elsewhere seems to focus on the public library sector. Nothing wrong with that of course – and as a heavy user of my local library I’d certainly be first in line to defend it if it were threatened with closure (it isn’t, as far as I know – phew!). From my perspective as a law librarian, I think there are two strands to the advocacy that I feel it is my responsibility to take part in: advocating for my own information service within my firm; and advocating for the information profession as a whole.
Advocating for the service within my law firm is, I suppose, the easy bit – and it is part of what I am paid for! A large part of my job consists of getting to know the people in the teams I support, learning about what they do and finding ways to offer tailored information services to them. It can be hard work, but having been here for eight months now I’m starting to get some really good feedback. It’s getting easier now some of the key people know who I am, know what work I’ve done for them before and have an idea themselves of how I can help them. This is really advocacy by stealth: I don’t set out to sell Information Services to people, I just work with people to figure out how best I can support them, but by doing so I am very aware that I am representing the whole Information Services unit. Anything I do well reflects well on Information Services, and increases the likelihood that the people I’ve helped will come back to IS the next time they need help – at least in theory!
Advocating for the profession as a whole is harder, but I do try. Because what I do is quite different to the mental image most people have of librarians and libraries (i.e. I don’t work with books, I don’t work with the public, I don’t actually work in a physical library at all), people are sometimes quite interested to hear what on earth a “law librarian” does. I usually start off an explanation by talking about what I don’t do (i.e. all the things people assume librarians do – issue books, tidy shelves, etc!), but then always try to segue into what it is that I have in common with all librarians – I connect people with information. When I’ve explained it that way, people have often been surprised to hear the job described like that – I’ve been told more than once that it hadn’t occurred to them that was what the librarian in their local library was actually there for!
I think emphasising the information side of things is important – we are, after all, living in the information age, so explaining that the job is about information in all forms, including but not limited to books, seems to resonate with people. That’s also the area I feel able to talk about with the most authority – although I am an enthusiastic user of my local library, I’d struggle to articulate their value beyond the obvious (free books!!) as I don’t have an awful lot of knowledge of what the job of a public librarian entails (although I did very much enjoy Lauren’s recent post on the topic!). Same goes for academic librarians, and any other sector beyond my own really. I’m happy to do my bit where I can to support libraries and librarians in other sectors – write to my MP, for example – but I don’t really have the necessary dedication to devote myself full-time to campaigning for libraries the way some admirable people do.