Death Of Professional Standards?

I am told library/information degrees are simply not necessary. What you need is a warm, smiling face and a persona of good customer service.

The journalist’s vocation

By Leslie Clague

leslie-clagueThroughout my working life I made my living primarily in two capacities: journalist and librarian. Journalism I learned as I was growing up, as both my parents were involved in the profession. My mother was first a copy writer and then a publicist. My father started as a journalist and then became a news photographer.

Throughout my teen years I was lectured, edited, advised by the two of them. My first job was writing for the Angeles Mesa News Advertiser, the same Los Angeles paper where my father had begun his career.

Operating as a journalist

JournalismThe role of journalism, reinforced in high school classes on the subject, was the provision of up-to-date, timely information on people, places, and events. The purpose was to keep people informed in a clear, objective manner. People would become knowledgeable and could make up their own minds about what they thought of the things reported. It was essential that both sides of any story were reported at the same time. The language would lack adjectives and descriptors which would bias the report. Active verbs were okay, but never adjectives, unless one was quoting someone.

After a stint in community paper work I moved on to travel journalism. Even in the trade press, often hosted by various companies, one aimed to give reports that were clear and factual.

Qualifying as a librarian

librariesAlways a lover of information, books, and research, I slowly turned towards librarianship. I went back to university to get a master’s degree in library and information science. Journalism degrees were useful but not essential. Librarians were required to have completed detailed study.

When I came to New Zealand I was one of three people in the country trained in database searching. It was the late 70’s, before personal computers and Google. I-pads and telephones on which you can watch movies were not part of everyday life.

Like journalism, librarianship was about people’s right to know. Libraries were store houses of knowledge, again generally offered neutrally and made easy to access. Anyone could enter, read, learn, explore, daydream and create.

Lower standards of journalism

Things have changed.

Recently I put a press release in about an after- hours event at my local library to a local paper. The story was well-placed on page 2. It failed, however, to include the date of the event: a case of sloppy journalism.

News on television has grown more into gossip and one sided reporting. The other side might be reported another day. The reporting sensationalizes and tends to be full of hype. Its purpose seems more to entertain than to inform. In newspapers more stories appear featuring major advertisers.

When I was a journalist you were not even allowed to talk to the advertising department.

The changing priorities in public libraries

Some public libraries are changing, too. Instead of broad categories of information and literature for everyone to explore, the tendency is to focus on the popular and the simple.

They are also growing more into activity centres. Noise levels make reading, study and reflection difficult.

Library computersLibrary qualifications no longer necessary???

Many public library staff members no longer have professional degrees. It is scary stuff when you go up to a reference desk to find information on a particular subject to be asked Have you Googled it?

The reference exchange, finding out carefully and respectfully, what a patron wishes to know about and why, seems to be a dying art.

I am told library/information degrees are simply not necessary. What you need is a warm, smiling face and a persona of good customer service. Maybe like you get at McDonald’s?

My reply is
~ a nurse’s aide is not a nurse.
~ an accounts clerk is not an accountant and
~ a teacher’s aide is not a teacher.

Modern librariesWhat has happened to the library profession? The courses in library and information science still exist, but the hiring and retaining of professional staff in some public libraries is in decline.

Of course culture changes and moves on. My concerns are probably a symptom of age. I do love it though when I come across quality journalism and quality libraries.


# # #