Thursday, January 19, 2012

The apprentice librarian struggles with her management class

Some parts of library school are going to be a struggle for me. My required class in "management of knowledge organizations" (or something like that) is a good example. The self-introduction I wrote for this online class explains why:
Hello, everyone. I’m hoping we have a great semester together, and I’m looking forward to what I know will be an interesting class. I think it will be a tough class for me (I’ll explain why in a little bit), but I know it will be interesting.

About me: I was born in Philadelphia, and have lived in Idaho, Oregon, and for the past 10 years, Oklahoma. I got my bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the University of Idaho in 1979. People often want to know what a person can do with a philosophy degree. I’ve done lots of things. I’ve fought forest fires, worked in a bookstore, and been a busperson in a public market. For eleven years I was a custodian for the City of Eugene in Oregon. (About half of that time I worked at the Eugene Public Library.) Since moving to Oklahoma City, I’ve worked as a stock clerk at PetSmart and as a production worker and custormer service associate at FedEx Office. Most recently, I’m a public computer specialist at the Midwest City Public Library.

You will notice that I’ve never been a manager, but I think I’ve learned a few practical lessons about management in the course of working these and other jobs. Management, planning. organization, and leadership are activities that are done by ordinary people all the time, every day. The success of any organization depends not only on the hard work of its ordinary workers, but also on their intelligence and their own ability to plan and organize their work. If ordinary workers did nothing beyond what their managers directly tell them to do, everything would fall apart. In other words, every worker is a knowledge worker.

When I worked for PetSmart and for FedEx, I experienced a great deal of mismanagement perpetrated by people on upper corporate levels who seemed to have read a lot of management textbooks, but who had no clue about the conditions that ordinary workers actually faced. Either that, or corporate management was deliberately manipulative, dishonest, and oppressive. The goal seemed to be to suck every last drop of blood out of the workers, while paying us as little as possible. “Customer service” wasn’t about helping people, it was about sucking up to customers to manipulate them into spending money they couldn’t afford for things they didn’t need.

I apologize for ranting, but I wanted to explain why I approach the subject matter of this course with a great deal of caution. I have worked for large and small businesses, and I have worked for several levels of government. Over the past twenty years or so, it has become a fad to say that we should run government more like a business. This is the approach that seems to be taken by the authors of the textbooks for this class. My experience tells me this is a very bad idea, and even in its most humane and enlightened forms, it’s downright undemocratic. I think there is something obscene about reducing citizens to “customers” and “marketing” our services to them. That is not what libraries are all about. Libraries are about recognizing that ordinary people possess extraordinary capabilities, including the capability of being fully informed citizens who are the ultimate bosses of every public enterprise. That is why I want to be a librarian.

So, I think I’m going to struggle a lot with this course, but as you can see I am very interested in it. I appreciate all the hard work and good planning that Dr. Kim has put into this class, and I look forward to our discussions and projects.

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