Commentary: What’s In A Name? A Modest Proposal For The Library By ERIC KNUDSEN

Friday June 10, 2005

Librarian. From the Latin librarius: “concerned with books.” 

-The Oxford 

English Dictionary 


You hear it every day on the Circ Desk: “Honey, give your card to the librarian.” 

On the Paging Desk: “Librarian, can you help me?” 

From friends and family: “This is Eric. He's a librarian.” 

Now, I used to try and explain the library's rank system to these folks, but somewhere in my discourse about the difference between a Specialist 1 and a Specialist 2, I could always see their eyes start to glaze over. To the patrons and the public at large, anyone who works in a library is a librarian. And you know what? They're right.  

The patrons recognize something here that we often forget. Whether you shelve books, answer the phone, or run Children's Story Time, we're all here to serve the patrons of the Berkeley Public Library. Anything that leads us away from that service is an unnecessary distraction. Obsession with the minutiae of place takes us away from the goal of service, and also leads us to consider our co-workers as “lesser” workers, not deserving of our respect. Internecine feuds and power politics have many causes, but a simple lack of respect for the work done by your colleagues has got to be one of the biggest.  

Here's a simple, cost-free step to take: let's scrap this classification maze of assistants, aides, specialists, and technicians. Let’s stop referring to our co-workers as “para-professionals” (What, do I do ‘para-work’? Are the patrons I serve ‘para-patrons’?). And who, or what, are “support staff”? Aren’t we all here to support each other? Let’s start treating each other with the respect due to colleagues, co-workers, and librarians.  

Some will say that any organization needs distinctions in authority and seniority. My first thought is, what, we need more division in this place? Folks, we've already got RFID, the Re-Org, Line Staff vs. Management, and you want more division? How about something that brings us together and encourages mutual respect? 

But OK, if you really need it, we could put numbers after “Librarian”. Book schleppers like me could be “Librarian 1” and folks at the top could be “Librarian 6.” Heck, we could even use roman numerals, which would look more archaic and “library-esque.” We would still have our different jobs (the director would still be the director, and the reference manager would still be the reference manager) but by making this change we are saying that, on one level at least, we recognize each other as co-workers and equals. 

Here are some concrete examples of what I’m getting at- Whether you’re a beat cop or the Chief of Police, you’re a police officer. Whether you drive a fire truck or serve as the Fire Marshall, you’re a firefighter. Whether you’re a lowly deckhand or the high and mighty Captain, you're a sailor. There is a recognition of the power structure, but also a recognition of the basic equality of folks working towards the same goal. 

Now, I’m not saying that if we adopt this proposal that everything will improve overnight. It sure doesn't solve the budget crisis or put books on the shelves. But I do say that it would help us on the way back to respect for all the staff of the BPL. This little change would say to the staff, the public, and the library community that at BPL, everyone is a colleague, everyone is a professional, and everyone is a librarian. 


Eric Knudsen is a circulation staff member at the Berkeley Central Library where he has worked for the past seven years.›