BackTalk: Certifiable Success

By Rebecca Brumley

Certification is a word that makes many of us cringe. It's been tossed around for years and usually quickly dismissed. So why bring up this controversial topic again? Because rapidly expanding, varied resources and services in the digital age also mean expanding mistakes and uneven, often poor service standards.

In today's information age, we simply cannot tolerate uneven or poor service, either from region to region, or locally, where receiving good service can depend upon who is at the desk when a patron approaches. An unsuspecting patron doesn't realize that arriving an hour earlier could have made him or her a victim of a librarian with limited skills or lucky enough to get a librarian at the top of his or her game.

Now, don't stop reading here or move to another article just yet. The certification initiative I suggest is different from previous ideas put forth. My program is based upon what we do better than any other profession: collaboration and sharing. Together, we can work to elevate our reference service and raise our overall standards.

The plan

So what is this new idea? Essentially, the collaborative program I propose would be the practical equivalent of a classroom course completed within a 12-month window. It would cover as many areas of specialization as possible, such as a newspaper library, law library, technical services, collection development, etc. Each specialization would have its own program and text. For example, a session covering collection development would cover the latest issues, from preservation and access vs. ownership to print or electronic, centralized selection, binding, Internet resources, censorship, and more.

Librarians would participate both as students and as teachers. Each participant would be assigned a topic to discuss at the sessions. That librarian would collate current research, gather pertinent articles and new ideas on his or her topic, and serve as the “expert” on that subject. A moderator would then lead a discussion and relay comments to a certification coordinator.

At the end of 12 months, all the information covered could be gathered and published as a “Librarian's Answer Book” for each specialty, to be revised as needed.

Better together

The strength of a library-based certification program like this would be our own collective intelligence and wisdom. Librarians would share strategies, real-life situations, in-depth research, solutions, and what works and what doesn't, all fully analyzed piece by piece. Best of all, this program acknowledges that working librarians need the experience of real-life settings to maintain top-notch service. A course in library school isn't the solution. If you are at the top of your profession, you can help others by sharing the experience and wisdom you have acquired. At the same time, you also will gain more knowledge and be even more effective than ever before.

Is this necessary?

I was fortunate to train with two gifted librarians. Unfortunately, I have also worked the service desk with librarians who were incompetent. I'm sure we all can point a finger at both types within our organizations or professional associations. We shouldn't have to strain our ears and try to make sure our deskmate is actually helping the user with accurate information.

With a certification program like the one I suggest in place, we could leave the desk with confidence, knowing the next user will more likely be given quality service.

I certainly do not intend this as an attack on our collective intelligence or suggest we are currently giving lousy service. I am, however, seeking to address whether every librarian uses his or her resources intelligently or has the skills to supply excellent reference service in every situation. I am suggesting as well that librarians would certainly grow professionally in a collaborative program in which they both learn from and help their peers.

The answer?

This kind of certification program could make a difference. We have unique problems. We have librarians with graduate degrees and “librarians” with no professional training. We have librarians who will not or cannot embrace the electronic age. We have librarians who seem to be only keeping the chair warm at the desk waiting for retirement. Our users shouldn't have to roll invisible dice when they seek help. They deserve excellence, and excellent service needs to be available to every user, in every setting, and at any time.

Let's do what we do better than anyone else—work together and solve common and uncommon problems. Such a collaborative certification program would require work and dedication, but isn't that what being professional means? Together, we can do this for the betterment of all.

Author Information
Rebecca Brumley is a librarian at Navarro College in Texas at the Waxahachie and Midlothian campuses.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing