One of the blogs I follow is Seth Godin’s blog. Only some of his posts generally interest to me, but a recent post resonated with me and forced me to re-evaluate some of my past career experiences. He explains why “True Professionals Don’t Fear Amateurs”. The key takeaway quote, for me, is this one: “The best professionals love it when a passionate amateur shows up. The clarity and intelligence of a smart customer pushes both client and craftsman to do better work.”
In the past I have seen examples of people in the IT profession that have complained about some amateur “power users” and their demands for technology. I have seen some individuals go to extreme lengths to hide and protect information, all in the name of control. It never occurred to me that what lay at the heart of these attitudes was fear of the amateur. Godin puts this fear into perspective.
Now that I am a librarian, it’s part of my professional mission to both to safeguard and to share information. Godin reminds me to always bring my best game to the table every day, and to never stop learning. Amateurs and new professionals do present a challenge to those who are already established in their careers. But it’s a good challenge: a smart amateur (can also read as: customer, patron, paraprofessional, co-worker, supervisee, mentee…) challenges you to find solutions to new problems, take new perspectives on old issues, and generally to THINK. This is the kind of challenge that I need and want in my career.
This issue takes on greater meaning for a librarian like myself when you consider the increasing numbers of paraprofessionals doing the work that librarians formerly did. While I absolutely agree with the American Library Association about the need to advocate for libraries and the work of librarians, I also do not kid myself into thinking that there will be sudden cultural and economic shifts that would allow for libraries to be staffed to the same levels that there were in mid-20th century.
These are scary thoughts. But fear and anger can lead a person various ways: to run and hide, to act out, or to change. Godin minces no words about professionals who are concerned by non-professionals doing the same work: “If you’re upset that the hoi polloi are busy doing what you used to do, get better instead of getting angry.”
I’m opting to get better.