Updated: 6 Some minutes ago Released: 44 Some minutes ago
When I teach my library science students at university about the process of peer reviewing journals, I am talking about professional expertise. The concept is intuitively obvious, and yet it can be somewhat mysterious to non-academics. It will take some practice and lectures in the classroom before all my students start to get settled.
I’ll start with some simple questions: Would you like an auto mechanic to tell you how to fix your broken leg? Of course not, how stupid. Would you like a surgeon to show you how to hook up your new generator to the home power supply? That’s not a good idea!
We hire people in expert positions because they have the education, training and experience appropriate to the work they need to do and the decisions they are responsible for. When it comes to leaders, expertise, experience and education are even more important. Leaders must be respected by those who report to them. They must show that they can make smart decisions and implement changes that are good for the organization and its components. Some people seem to have forgotten how important this expertise can be, assuming that each person’s opinion is just as valid as the next person’s, regardless of their background.
Why on earth would Mayor Bronson insist on putting unqualified people in the position of director of the Anchorage Public Library? The people he chose, all rightly rejected by the assembly, have none of the qualifications described above for library directors – no library expertise, experience or training, none. They don’t know how libraries work, what are the best practices, how these libraries connect to each other to share resources, develop their collections, or acquire online resources.
Each area of a library has its own expertise – cataloging, online systems, collection development, outreach programs, lending, interlibrary loan, special collections and more. Until you’ve worked in a library, you probably have no idea what goes on in all of these areas, all of which help the library run efficiently and help deliver the excellent service that users have come to expect.
The person currently sitting in the office of the Associate Director of the Anchorage Public Library has absolutely no idea how the world of knowledge is produced. She has no idea about publishers or library providers, the breadth or depth of information resources, or how they use most of them. She doesn’t know what the staff is doing or why, or how to build a collection to meet the needs of all library users, including users the librarian may disagree with at all. She doesn’t understand what ethics are expected of professional librarians, like the basic principle of intellectual freedom, or what they might learn in a master’s degree.
What this pseudo-“director” can do is destroy, and that is her real function in Bronson’s administration. That’s certainly the goal behind Amy Demboski’s stepping in to oversee the library. She is in no way qualified to run a library.
Destroying the Anchorage Public Library system as a source of information available to all is the goal of Bronson, all of his commissioners, and many of his supporters. If they can destroy the library, they can stop the flow of information and knowledge and silence unloved perspectives. At least they think so, but they won’t succeed. Anchorage residents want and deserve a true library director who is qualified for the job. It’s high time they got one.
Karen Jensen has worked in libraries for more than 30 years and is currently the library director of the Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The words expressed here are her own and are neither endorsed nor represented by her employer.
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