It's just about a week until that holiest of weekends, the American Library Association Annual Conference. This year it will be held in Chicago, Illinois (for fun and profit) and, as I believe I mentioned in my inaugural post, I'll be attending with three other freshly-hatched librarians from the UB LIS program! We're all very excited, especially as this year's theme is Science-Fiction and Fantasy: The Factual and the Counterfactual. Oh no, wait, it's Experimentation and Innovation in Libraries: What We Can Learn from Startups. No, that's not it! My mistake. It's Introduction to RDA and Ontologies for the Semantic Web.
Not really. In fact, the conference doesn't actually have a theme; the three that I listed above are merely the names of three of the many programs happening across the four days librarians take over the Windy City. The many, many programs. I mean, unless the tagline on the ALA Annual website--"Transforming our libraries, ourselves"--is meant to be a theme, in which case it's so general as to be not really very useful, and, based on my very thorough survey of all those programs, not particularly binding of presenters' focus--which, we can all agree, rather defeats the purpose of having a theme at all.
Now, I don't really mind this, myself. We have a varied field and we all approach our corners of it in our own way. I would rather give all my librarian buddies full range in which to develop presentations and poster sessions and so forth than force them all into any particular thematic cubbyhole for the year, however expansive a cubbyhole it may be. (And, again, expansiveness of theme has a certain limit beyond which it starts to get self-defeating.)
But I did run across a peer voicing concern with this tendency toward sprawl on a social network group the other day. He worries that the breadth of offerings at ALA Annual bespeak a certain lack of coherence and discipline on the part of our profession. And despite my above approbation, I think he has a point.
You can't take my approval of sprawl as evidence that everything is dandy--I am, after all, lacking in coherence and discipline myself. My ALA schedule runs the gamut from graphic novels to Deaf culture to LGBTQ support to late-night programming and LITERALLY EVERYTHING in between. If I could tame my own incoherence I might be happier, but I would almost certainly have less fun.
So is that it--is our profession undisciplined? Are we less of a single body than, say, dentists? (A dangerous force, dentists.) Are we the professional equivalent of the over-involved college student, desperate for a snatch of everything campus life has to offer--drama club, newspaper, debate team, track and field--taking part in a little bit of everything but excelling at nothing? When the Meta-Librarian gets together with the Ur-Dentist and the Quintessential CPA and all the other Professionals Up In The Sky, are we the guy whose face everybody knows but whose name they can't place? Is that the source of our under-appreciation and our embattlement in society at large?
We are very good at some specialized things, and I would never give up our engagement in the cultural, intellectual, and academic lives of our patrons. And I still believe that's a good thing. But is it possible there is a better thing? A leaner, meaner librarian? Slam, bam, reference interview, thank you, ma'am?
I think it bears some questioning. As long as we keep all the extra-curriculars I'm interested in; I'll work on my self-discipline later. Meanwhile, I think my dentist would REALLY like to hear about my Deaf LGBTQ overnight treasure hunt program idea.
UPDATE: "Transforming our libraries, ourselves" is, in fact, the conference theme. I guess that's cool!