Librarians and professionalism

This post on Hack Library School’s blog has some worrying thoughts on professionalism in librarianship.

The first three points are fairly standard pieces of advice, if a little obvious. We all know that rocking up to work in last night’s fishnets and swearing with abandon in front of library users is not the best idea. Professionalism in our attitude makes a particularly good point about not letting the unpleasant parts of our job get us down and to keep a positive calm attitude as best we can.

However, the fourth and fifth points unnerved me a little. Professionalism in our character argues that:

“We all have opinions about things—religion, politics, ethics, art, values—but as librarians, it is important to try and maintain objectivity.”

The author does then go on to say that she doesn’t expect librarians to not be political or to openly share our opinions but that what we do share is done with respect to others and with authority. This is slightly contradictory as the author seems to say that as librarians we should be objective (to what, she doesn’t elaborate) but that its ok to have opinions and to share them as long as we do it nicely. If the author means that as librarians we should treat our users and their information requests with objectivity, that’s fine. But if she is saying that we should stay out of political debate about our profession or that we shouldn’t ‘rock the boat‘ with advocacy and activism I completely disagree.

The last point, Professionalism online, surmises that no future employer wants to see “a picture of you from college, holding a beer and dancing on a pool table”. But instead of advising that we just use social media sensibly; utilising all the necessary privacy controls to make sure that we control who sees what, the author advises us to:

“Take down pictures that are unprofessional, or ask whoever put them up to take them down. It looks much better to have pictures of you with your dogs, your family, or with your books!”

I think the author makes a relevant point overall; understanding how to use social media with an eye on individual privacy is an important skill but airbrushing out any potentially unappealing or off-putting pictures or opinions just encourages the idea that we are only worth as much as an employer sees in us. If an employer happens to come across a photo of you a little worse for wear having a bop on a pool table is it really the end of the world? Would it really cost you an interview or your job? Does anyone want to work for an employer that judges people solely on their Facebook photos?

I’m uncomfortable with anyone feeling that in order to get or keep a job they have to sanitise their character, their interests and their opinions just in case an employer or colleague or library user might see them and take offence.

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