Friday, October 11, 2002

I am enraged over an online column entitled "Who Needs Librarians, Get Some Trained Monkeys." This viciousness is from Uncle Frank's Diary #10, which you may read in its moronic entirety at

Luckily, I also have a forum for expressing opinion. I wrote the author of that piece, and I'm posting a copy of my rebuttal here:

Dear Mr. Burns,

As a Library Associate, AKA clerk, AKA trained monkey, I must take umbrage with your column, "Who Needs Librarians, Get Some Trained Monkeys - Uncle Frank's Diary #10." It is attitudes like yours that continually besmirch extremely knowledgeable and skillful paraprofessionals, simply because they haven't earned that magical piece of paper with "MLS" stamped on it. Having a degree does not ensure superior customer service, and conversely being non-degreed does not indicate inferior service.

I am the only person in my entire library system, with or without an MLS, to write reviews for the Library Journal. My branch had no Reader's Advisory service until I asked for, and established it. That process included creating a training manual, generating genre lists, and training other "monkeys" and volunteers to work with the patrons. The reference librarians, a lovely group of MLS-clad professionals, were using outdated, outmoded genre lists until I supplied them with mine. They are understaffed and overworked, and consequently are appreciative of the assistance that clerks provide.

Furthermore, when a patron comes into my library with one or two words of a title, no author, a vague memory of plot or perhaps the color of the cover, I am the one who supplies that title. That recall doesn't come with any degree, but rather with being well read and caring enough to pursue it, which as I'm sure you are aware, is merely a personal choice, not an educational or job requirement.

As for collection development, part of my job is to research and recommend titles for leasing for my branch. I also contribute titles to the selection committee on an ongoing basis for the permanent collection, mainly because new authors are often overlooked without this bit of prodding. Cataloguing? I have found errors in our catalogue with regards to translated authors and children's books classified as adult and vice versa. Would I be doing a better job with a degree? Maybe. But I'm certainly not incapable of doing it without it, and that is the point that you don't seem to understand.

Perhaps you are simply unaware that there is a shortage of degreed librarians. My library system has recently created a new position called "Librarian Trainee" because they have had problems filling vacant librarian positions. They are being a little more conservative than the Orange County Library you cited in your piece in that clerks are only able to apply for this new position if they are currently enrolled in an MLS program and have completed at least six classes, and they do not even offer the position until they have exhausted a search for a degreed librarian. Many libraries are migrating towards unconventional methods of filling librarian positions not only to save money, but also because they have needs that cannot be met through conventional means.

Your ignorance about the capabilities of clerks is baseless yet all encompassing. What you obviously perceive as intellectual elitism is actually just a prejudicial smear against those who haven't had a formal education through the graduate level. The virulence you spew not only hurts paraprofessionals, but also contributes to the negative stereotyping of professional librarians as being conservative, resistant to change, superior and smug.

Do you even see the delicious irony here? The patrons that use the library, the very ones you feel are too ignorant to know they are receiving this inept service, lump all of us together. To the overwhelming majority of the public, everyone who works in a library is a librarian.

I have no tolerance for prejudice or bigotry of any type. Personally, I feel sickened to be included in any group of which you are a member.

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