Librarians leading libraries
Consider this: if we librarians have a profession, then we are professionals. As such, if libraries are to be operated professionally, they need librarians and should be run by those most qualified, i.e.- librarians. Why then do so many elite institutions hire unqualified scholars to lead their libraries?
The latest example is Yale University, one of my former employers. Yale was a good employer when I was there, offering me a chance to work in an environment where resources are (or were) not quite so tight as they often are in the rest of the world. What I did not like there and never made my peace with was the arrogance found at such schools. Most of the stereotypes one hears about the Ivy League were at one time or another substantiated, albeit not by all members of the Yale community (least of all by my library colleagues, who were nearly without fail refreshingly un-Yale). Degrees from “lesser” schools are denigrated, work experience at other institutions viewed with disdain, and so forth. Nevermind that the school finds itself in the midst of some of the worst urban squalor found in the United States, which one would think would temper this arrogance, but only seems to enhance it since it forces the community into literally and figuratively tighter spaces where the healthy cross-pollination that often occurs between universities and their settings is all but impossible.
In this vein, the recent letter from Yale President Richard Levin announcing the elevation of Frank Turner to University Librarian can only be seen as yet another act of inbreeding trumping the need to have a professionally run library. Granted, Turner is an accomplished scholar, but if one wants to make the argument that that qualifies an individual to run one of the world’s largest library systems, I beg to differ. Read the letter here for yourself. Warning: have an anti-emetic on hand.
Seriously, “a complete Yale citizen” and “he cherishes the Library’s collections” as qualifications?!? As per usual, the Yale Dictionary of the English Language lacks entries for ‘hyperbole’ and ‘nepotism,’ otherwise Levin would not be so quick to write that the committee knew from the start that “a superior candidate for this position was in our own back yard.” Gack. So much for the best and brightest, or, in this case, the most capable of managing the complexities of a large library system.
I feel for my former colleagues there, who now have a “complete Yale citizen” running the show, mowing down positions (popular with administrators, hence Levin falling all over himself to praise Turner). Their sheer budget will help them maintain their place among the world’s elite libraries, but as libraries evolve to keep pace in the digital age, libraries such as Yale are going to find their dominance challenged, and those “cherished collections” will reveal themselves to be an unbearable millstone.
Bringing this topic back to librarians, if this does not strike librarians as a slap in the face, I am not sure we deserve to call ourselves a profession.