Magazine article American Libraries

Slaves or Masters?

Magazine article American Libraries

Slaves or Masters?

Article excerpt

Slaves or masters?

MID-JANUARY HAS ITS OWN REFRAIN FOR THEwage earners of the world. Not "season's greetings," not "happy New Year," but "Back to work, Bozo!" A jarring note for those whose holiday thoughts have drifted to the meaning of "work"--how it differs from other activities, and why we toil as we do in the sweatshops of information.

A history text I own notes that in Roman libraries, slaveswho copied documents were called librarii, and that sometimes such slaves performed entertainments such as reciting poetry. A select few (probably those who sang better than they copied), became "librarians." Today, looking at the text, I wonder: Are librarians now masters or slaves? Or are they slaves with a master's degree? Two views:

1) Librarians are masters. They are professionals who havechosen their type of work and who determine their work activities. Their compensation brings material comforts. They supervise, manage, or participate in management. They serve their clientele, but also master them: as the school media specialist, who directs clientele behavior; the academic and public librarians, who enforce and sometimes set the terms of service; the corporate librarians, priestly dispensers of online revelation.

2) Librarians are slaves. They are generalists bound into librarywork by forces of the marketplace. They are ruled by boards, provosts, principals, and moguls, who allow only such free choices as can be made in the darkness of the mine. …

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