Features - A Wish List for Librarians: A Commentary Based on The Greedy Associates Listservs

Barbara Fullerton is the Electronic Resources Librarian at Pioneer Hi-Bred International in Johnston, IA. Barbara works with a variety of clients on topics concerning data mining, gadget software, web design, E-journals, licensing issues, and research requests.  She has worked as the Computer Services Librarian at Shook Hardy & Bacon, LLP where she was the liaison between the IS department and the library staff.  Barbara has an M.L.I.S. from Emporia State University, Emporia, KS, a paralegal certificate, and a B.A. in mass communications.

As I was struggling to write an article about greedy librarians (a take-off from the popular discussion group “Greedy Associates,”) I asked myself, “What would it be like to be a greedy librarian?” I was burdened with this word greed, and could only conclude that is was negative in nature, especially to a professional librarian.

I searched through my own librarian experiences and talked with other librarians. I could not find any in-depth discussion about this noun called greed. For the past ten years I have belonged to the librarian profession and have been taught the pros and cons of librarianship by many mentors and professors. But the word “greed” never entered any of my training or mentoring. My mentors and professors refrained from using that word and informed me that one would not get rich being a librarian. They stated that the glory of librarianship is not in the salary, but in the acquisition of knowledge and disseminating that knowledge to others.

To understand the concept of the discussion groups “Greedy Associates,” we must go back a few years to when the “Greedy Associates” listservs were first created on Findlaw and Yahoo. It was conceived that these listservs would provide an outlet for lawyers to communicate anonymously to each other about topics like salaries, benefits, perks, rumors about mergers, personality issues, statistics, law firm reputations, etc. The discussion groups have become, in my opinion, an important source to locate data that librarians can use to benefit their own research process.

Furthermore, these discussion groups contain postings on dress codes, summer associate programs, high-tech toys, quality-of-life issues, firm press releases, inter-office memos, and billable hour quotas. I believe these groups contribute to the influence on law firms’ decisions. For example, remember the power of the postings during the 2000 associates’ salary wars. Many contributors were very candid about salary requirements on their postings. Thus, in turn, we heard rumors and saw news articles about associate salaries and the decisions of law firm management that were printed in articles in newspapers around the country.

Whenever I have been asked to find information about a law firm through traditional means (Martindale Hubbell, news articles, or the various lawyers’ directories), I also surfed the “Greedy Associates” discussion groups for inside information. Like other message boards, the chatter on these groups can be filled with humor, anger, or honesty. While sifting through certain messages, I would also wonder why can’t librarians talk candidly about certain things and also remain anonymous? I believe we do talk to a certain extent via our listservs, but not via the kind of in-depth, candid, in-your-face communications we engage in when we talk to each other during meetings or via our one-on-one exchanges. Wouldn't it be wonderful to add elements of these candid exchanges to a discussion group so that managing partners or executive directors would link to our forums to ascertain what librarians are saying about their law firms and their environments?

Maybe, on one level, that is what makes us different than other professions: librarians may not understand the word greed. We understand meanings inherent in the words knowledge and information, and the phase "may I help you." The online version of the Webster Dictionary defines greed as “excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness.”

I believe all librarians face the same problems, whether we are in law, special libraries, academic libraries, public libraries or school libraries. So if I indeed were greedy, here is a wish list for librarians:

  1. We would learn to negotiate for better salaries even if we work for that prestigious law firm or university. The name may look good on the resume, but the word prestigious does not “put food on our tables”. Negotiations should include relocation packages, year-end bonuses, attending and participating in national meetings, and signing bonuses. I encourage all librarians to attend business seminars or seek out mentors to help with advice in this area.
  1. E-licenses would be standardized for electronic formats to insure “across the board” access fairly to all users. Currently many vendors of electronic journals and databases have their own definitions of “wide area” access, remote users, location users, etc. Personally, I appreciate those publishers that have created e-licenses to include “world-wide access for all employees” in their contracts.
  1. We would understand economics better in order to insure that money is in our budgets for travel, training opportunities, and continuing education for all staff members so we could attend either local, state, regional or national meetings and seminars. I would also include money to help pay for staff members who would like to obtain advanced degrees in library science.
  1. Remind management that library staff members are professionals, trained extensively in their library responsibilities and should be treated as serious employees. In the past I remember a few workplaces where the employer thought if a person does not work out in a certain position, he/she could always be moved to the library. In some situations, this could be beneficial to the library, but for others it could provide negative working conditions.
  1. We would mentor others in the profession. I’m a big advocate of mentors. I learned much from them, and appreciate all the help they gave (still give) me. From these librarians and managers I gain knowledge of research proficiencies, conduct needs assessment surveys, comprehend client relations, decipher management expertise, develop training, and solve technology issues.
  1. Add or subtract additional physical space. Depending on the collection type, one could need more space or less bookshelves for their information needs. It is always a struggle when real estate values are part of this equation.
  1. Work with library schools and their institutions to update their policies to create long-distance programs for potential library students in both Masters and PhD programs. Some library schools need to accommodate the desires of their future students. I commend universities that have already established these programs and hope others would work toward this goal.

I know many of these “wants” are self evident to librarians, but I would like to stress that we should not only forecast the negative aspects of greed but should give ourselves the responsibilities to encourage one another in helping finding solutions to these “wants”. Establishing potential solutions to these “wants” will help us gain a good sense of quality-of-life at work so that in the near future we can be assured that we do not experience “burn out”.

One librarian once told me the discussion group “Greedy Associates” bores her and she prefers a more professional approach to deliberate problem-solving for librarians. I agree. From an article written by Mary Whisner, “Choosing Law Librarianship: Thoughts for People Contemplating a Career Move,” Whisner said it would be “refreshing to lose the negative stereotypes of lawyers (greedy, argumentative, unscrupulous) and use the positive terms for lawyers (smart, powerful, important). And, as for librarians, favor the positive stereotypes (smart, knowledgeable, helpful, committed, energetic) instead of the negative stereotypes of librarians: dull, mousy, prim.  Personally, I do not want to be known as a greedy librarian, but as a smart, powerful librarian that understands information and knowledge and how to utilize it. I also want to be in the position of sharing that knowledge with others because in the long run it will be beneficial to all in our professional field.

Bibliography

Mary Whisner, “Choosing Law Librarianship: Thoughts for People Contemplating a Career Move,” Aug. 2, 1999 on LLRX.com, http://www.llrx.com/features/librarian.htm.

Greedy Associates - http://clubs.yahoo.com/clubs/greedyassociates

Greedy Associates -  http://careers.findlaw.com

Greedy Associates -  http://www.greedyassociates.com

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary - http://www.m-w.com/home.htm