When the State Librarian is not, in fact, a librarian…

I don’t often lend a great deal of airtime to local and state-level libraries issues that aren’t in Illinois. While there are exceptions, I generally assume that there are many local factors at play and I try to defer to the judgement and statements of the affected local librarians. That being said, last week’s news from California definitely caught my eye…

California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Greg Lucas, a man with no library background or training, as the state librarian. Now, as an Illinoisan, I don’t really have much ground to stand on here. Our “state librarian” is lumped in with the title of Secretary of State. And while I, like everyone else, respect and admire Jesse White, our long-time Secretary of State, it is a bit of a bummer that we don’t have a dedicated state librarian. Thus, I really envy states that are, by law, required to appoint a “technically trained librarian” to the position, as is supposed to be the case in California. Brown is skirting around this issue by insisting that Lucas will be “pursuing additional technical training through San Jose State University’s library science program in the months ahead,” even though he has had no training at the time of his appointment.

While I don’t want to be too quick on the trigger, I do think that someone with librarian training and experience would bring background knowledge and a sense of purpose that would enhance the position. While Greg Lucas is a political blogger and writer and, thus, may very well do an excellent job advocating for libraries and librarians in California, it still does not sit well with me that the governor felt it appropriate to appoint Lucas. Why should the librarians of California be represented by someone that has never even walked a single day in their shoes, knows nothing firsthand of their struggles and realities, and has not even begun his study of the theoretical frameworks and issues surrounding modern librarianship? It frustrates me to see this happening to my coastal peers.

As mentioned above, I usually try to seek out local librarian viewpoints before making my own decisions. I leave you with the thoughts of a Sarah Houghton, a California librarian whose blog, Librarian in Black, is consistently fantastic and insightful:

I am disturbed by Brown’s appointment, but will reserve my final judgement until we know more about Lucas and hear directly from him. Hopefully that will happen before his confirmation hearing [...] As a librarian it’s my job to advocate for my community[...] I, for one, am not yet convinced that this appointee is good for my community. I sincerely hope that he is–that he’s the best damned State Librarian we’ve ever seen. But until he is confirmed, I encourage my colleagues in positions of power within the state association and state government to ask the questions that aren’t being asked. Our California communities deserve no less.

I will be interested to see what becomes of this appointment, as I think it represents one of the key struggles that librarians face today: asserting and justifying our importance and value as trained professionals in our communities.

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