No Such Thing as Leading from Behind

By Meraz, Gloria | Texas Library Journal, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

No Such Thing as Leading from Behind


Meraz, Gloria, Texas Library Journal


I'll start with a warning: the comments to follow are not for the faint of heart. I am offering my admittedly dogged view of advocacy within the profession.

Here's the deal In the case of advocacy, there is no compromise. To be a leader, you have to lead. To improve ones lot requires moving ahead beyond existing boundaries - that's the only way for change, movement, and growth to happen.

Like many of you, I sometimes hear from librarians expressing concern about the general lack of appreciation they perceive for their work. They point to conditions, such as a lack of understanding (from bosses and others) about what they do, pay issues, and limited (if any) power-brokering at their respective institutions. Indeed, status, salary, trust, and appreciation are important markers of success for any professional and for any profession. These attributes should be an organic component of a healthy and rewarding professional life.

These benchmarks are important. What is troubling to me is that while many librarians discuss the general improvement they would like to see in these professional markers for themselves, a large percentage of these same librarians also state that advocacy and being political is not for them: "That's not what I signed up for." Or, "I chose to be a librarian who works behind the scenes." Or quite simply, "I don't like politics."

Well, I have news. That's not really the choice. The option is not between: A) a professional who focuses on internal work issues and B) a professional who focuses on external, political issues. The choice is really between: A) being a professional, which by today's definition does mean being willing to be advocate at all levels and B) being someone doing professional work but not exhibiting the outward focus of today's needed professional.

A profession is not defined by the separate actions of individuals. Rather, a profession is recognized when a large cohort of similarly-practicing individuals evidence similar outcomes, behaviors, and expertise. The "evidence" part involves community action and activism. One can succeed at doing professional work, but that does not equate to being a successful professional. I hope we all agree that we want and need to be part of a successful profession.

Leaders don't say: it's someone else's responsibility; I don't have time. When it comes to speaking out for their students and users, institutions, and profession, leaders - i.e., PROFESSIONALS - take on the cause. It's not a choice; it's an imperative.

[Sidebar]

LIBRARIANS ON ADVOCACY AND LEADERSHIP

In order for a field of study to "qualify" as a profession, it must have a set of principles and tenets. They include a philosophy of values, a body of knowledge, guidelines for behavior, requirements for practice, membership in associations, and leadership in articulating professional values. …

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