Steering Share: Thoughts on the Idea of Professionalism

Steering Shares  provide an opportunity to learn more about the I&A Steering Committee and the issues that the committee members care about. This post comes courtesy of committee member Steve Duckworth, University Archivist at Oregon Health & Science University.

I want to talk about professionalism, or more specifically, the idea of professionalism and how it can (and often is) used to make people conform and can be a tool that hinders diversity and creativity. I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while – partly due to personal experiences – and then “the incident” with April Hathcock took place at ALA Midwinter. I knew it wasn’t just me and felt this post could take one of her many salient points and focus on a large set of the archival profession.

I, like many of you, work in academia. And even many of you who don’t work in academia are likely impacted by the practices of it. I often find myself rubbing up against some of these norms. The ones that work slowly and through long conversations in multiple committees and working groups. The ones that use policies to explain choices, but break those policies when they really want something. The ones where people like to complain about people, but not to people. And yes, these are gross generalizations, but they are also sometimes just gross.

Our profession also talks all the time about how homogenous we are and struggles to find ways to change it, ways to diversify the profession or our collections or our outreach. But I’m not sure if the desire for more diversity is stronger than the desire to maintain this air of academic … politeness.

I say this because I see many of our attempts at diversity as a form of tokenism, with the most frequent offering being something like a two-year “diversity” position for people fresh out of their Master’s program. While it’s helpful, it doesn’t change our culture. It looks at this “diverse” person and says, ‘We’re going to teach you how to be one of us’ or ‘We’re going to hire you to solve all of our diversity problems,’ but we’re not going to commit to you. It doesn’t look at our practices and offer ‘Perhaps we should be more accepting of different styles of interaction’ or ‘Let’s listen to some new ideas and actually try them out.’ It doesn’t change us, it just looks good on paper and makes us feel like we’re helping.

We invite people for day-long (sometimes 2!) interviews and see it as a test of their endurance or stamina, but we don’t make the effort to inform the candidates about this practice they may never have been through. We continue to ask surprise questions in interviews, and then judge people who are likely nervous (and quite possibly introverted) if they can’t come up with perfect answers on the spot. Our MLIS programs overwhelmingly do not to teach any aspect of the job searching and interviewing process. They teach the theory, sometimes the practice, and send you out without even a functional résumé or any clue about just how many jobs you may apply for before even getting an interview.

What we need is more compassion and more care about the people we say we want as our colleagues. As someone in a position to hire a new librarian, recall your own job search and look for new ways to make the interview process more inviting. Be more open-minded about professional backgrounds and embrace ideas that may be unfamiliar to you. When someone directly speaks to an offense against them, investigate it; if they offer an opposing viewpoint, consider it before dismissing it. If you are witness to bigotry, speak up. All of these things can be done respectfully if we respect each other. But respect comes in many forms, and that, too, should be respected.

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