June 27, 2017

Dispositions for Librarianship (or, why I can’t weed students for you)

Posted in Job Success, School Success at 12:33 pm by melissaautumn

Been thinking about professional things, post ALA Annual . . .

During a panel on the skills library school graduates need, an audience member suggested library schools should weed out applicants who don’t have the necessary dispositions for librarianship. I understand the sentiment that there are characteristics that make for a good librarian – commitment to service, valuing intellectual freedom, curiosity, creativity, and more. But, here are reasons why we should not try to screen for those dispositions in library schools.

On a practical level, not all our students are going to be librarians. As a library administrator (and I’ve been one), it can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming the purpose of library schools is to train librarians, but we educate people for all kinds of information related jobs. Even if we asked applicants about their intended career path, those plans can and will change as applicants become students and learn more about the wide variety of jobs available to information professionals.

In addition, not all librarian positions are the same. The needed dispositions for a children’s librarian and an archivist are very different. Likewise, not all libraries are the same. More than once I’ve worked with a librarian who wasn’t well suited to our library, left for a library that was a better fit, and thrived. There’s a place for everyone in librarianship.

More importantly, as panelist Aisha Conner-Gaten pointed out, valued dispositions and how those are displayed are culturally determined. Excluding people based on certain behaviors (or assumptions about the meaning behind those behaviors) has long been used to exclude the “other.” What do we lose in our profession when we exclude people who hold different values and ways of being than we do?

Finally, we need to be open to the possibility of growth and change. I’m a better librarian today than I was at 23, when I started my first professional job. I’m also a better teacher, a better parent, and a better friend, among other things. And hopefully in ten years, I’ll be better yet. Yes, some students will come without the necessary dispositions for the career they want. They also come without the necessary skills and knowledge to be librarians. In fact, that’s why they come to library school – to gain the necessary skills and knowledge. The same is true of dispositions. We can make it clear what dispositions are needed and offer opportunities to develop those dispositions, both in school and in the workplace, but we shouldn’t use them as a basis for turning away people who want to join our profession.