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Presentation: The Road Less Taken

The Road Less Taken: The Future of LIS Graduates
Because Zarah and a commenter asked for it, what follows is most of the text—plus slides and videos—that I read at UP FLIPP's LibSpeak ’09.

The title of this presentation is “The Road Less Taken: The Future of LIS Graduates.” The title was just given to me, and since I thought it was intriguing, I didn’t change it at all. I think the title begs reflection. Why was it necessary, for instance, to mention “The Road Less Taken,” when “The Future of LIS Graduates” probably would have been sufficient to guarantee the attendance of prospective or current LIS students, and recent graduates wondering about their job prospects? Why was it necessary to juxtapose the word “less” with “future”?

It almost seems as if there is some doubt regarding the future of LIS graduates. Maybe the organizers can tell me later the real reason they chose the title, but it got me thinking that perhaps it’s a way of signaling that the future of LIS graduates needs to be examined within the context of decisions we have made and continue to make. And then there are the questions. Why is a career in LIS considered the road less taken? What will the future be like for LIS graduates?

I will not pretend that I have the answer for the second question. I am not, after all, Nostradamus or Madame Auring or even a career consultant. What I will try to do in the next thirty minutes or so is talk about the realities related to librarianship in the Philippines and what we can do to guarantee the growth of our profession and ensure that LIS graduates have a future.

Before I try to answer any of the questions, it might be good to take a brief look at Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” It is a popular poem that has been interpreted in many ways. But to me, it is basically about what you see in the photo. The poem is about the decisions we make at certain points in our lives. Here are the poem’s last three lines:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
It has been said that there are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who just watch things happen, and those who wonder “What happened?” In the context of the poem, the first group is composed of people who actively decide which road to take, those in the second group choose to follow whoever is in front of them, and the third group’s members are probably drunk and don’t even know where they are. Tanong para sa lahat, isipin niyo ang isang importanteng pagkakataon sa inyong buhay, kayo ba talaga ang nag-desisyon, sinunod niyo lang ba ang sabi ng ibang tao o nagising na lang kayo isang araw at nalamang may nag-desisyon na pala para sa inyo? Nangyari na sa akin ang lahat ng ito.

Ask me about the details later if you want, but the results were that my parents enrolled me without my knowledge at the Ateneo High School, instead of Philippine Science High School; my teachers and classmates convinced me that Management Engineering was a good course; and finally, instead of pursuing an MBA, I decided to get a masters in library and information science. I have no regrets, but it is the last decision that I made by myself that was most meaningful and has, in fact, made all the difference.

There is a book called The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. We don’t really have time to discuss it, but one of its chapters is entitled “Love Defined.” This is going to be totally out of context, but I’d like to relate the notion of love and Robert Frost’s poem with a Filipino song that I think captures why decisions and love should not be mutually exclusive. The song is called “Sangandaan,” which is an apt Tagalog description for the photo on the screen. Here’s the song:

Alam mong bawat pusong naglalakbay Dumarating sa sangandaan Ngayong narito ka Kailangang magpasya Aling landas ang susundin ng puso? Saan ka liligaya? Saan mabibigo? Saan ka tutungo?
I suppose you could say it’s a love song, but if you consider that it is from the 1980s movie Sister Stella L, it becomes clear that the song is more than just about romantic love, and applies to love of God and country as well. I’d like to think that the decision to become—and remain—a librarian involves love. Of books, libraries, librarians. Because if you want to become a librarian for purely financial reasons, you’re probably better off going somewhere else.

Masyado na bang mahaba ang pasakalye? Marahil may nagtatanong na sa inyo: kung tula ang “The Road Not Taken” at aklat ang The Road Less Travelled, ano naman ang “The Road Less Taken”?

Because the phrase “I took the one less travelled by” in the poem is so popular, many mistakenly assume that the poem’s title is “The Road Less Travelled,” or even “The Road Less Taken.” But in the case of this presentation, I don’t think any mistake has been made. After all, the phrase “the road not taken” refers to the other road or what could have been, and “the road less travelled” implies the ability to go back and forth from a destination. “The road less taken,” meanwhile, implies a certain finality, that there is no turning back. That, I think, is the case for most of us who are here today. We can always decide to go back to school or change careers, but the time we have spent on the road less taken cannot be recovered. As another song reminds us, “there’s no rewinding, no replay.”

The same is not true for the high school students among us. The best advice I can give you is to think about what you like doing and imagine yourself doing it for the rest of your life. The reason I became a librarian was that I couldn’t see myself working in a bank until I retired, but I could imagine doing so in a library.

The clip I’m about to show you is the first part of a 10-minute film produced in the 1940s [but you can watch the whole clip below]. We’ll use it as a starting point to think about how the profession has changed since then and how the characteristics expected of those interested in becoming librarians have evolved as well.

[And then I started talking about the future of the profession in the United States and in the Philippines. The following are the articles I referred to:

Five of the most unpopular jobs
Best Careers 2009: Librarian
In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update

This was followed by a discussion of the licensure exam using the slide below as a starting point.]

But perhaps the most important factor that supposedly threatens the future of libraries is the rise in the use of the computer and the Internet. Predictions have been made that Google and the digitization of books will make libraries irrelevant. I don’t think this will happen because someone will still have to mediate between the hard-core techies and the computer illiterates, but we do have to change with the times. We’ll have to keep up with the technology, so that when e-books become more common than books in libraries, we can assist our customers with their needs. We have to be familiar not just with cataloging, but tagging; not just literacy, but information literacy. The younger generation actually has an advantage over us because they have grown up with the technology and have no problems using it.

What will the future be like for LIS graduates? The best answer I can give is this: It depends. There will be factors over which we will have no control, like the speed with which new technology is developed and adopted; but there are also other factors over which we will have absolute control. The most important of these factors, in my opinion, is our own reaction to the changes that are occurring. Will we reject all the new forms of media and technology as being irrelevant to libraries? Or will we experiment with them and adopt those that are useful for us or for our customers?

The need to adopt the latest technology, however, is not as urgent in the Philippines as it is in the West. The next few minutes will be devoted to the realities that Filipino librarians face and what we can do to address these challenges. This applies not only to those who are already librarians, but to the future librarians as well.

[Here, I essentially repeated what I've said before about "Librarians as Leaders."]

Let’s get more specific. What can we do to guarantee that our jobs are not eliminated? How can we ensure that our profession does not become extinct?

[Below are the main points I made in "Proactive Librarians."]

1. Decide that you want to be an agent of change.
2. Think of yourself as a missionary, not a mechanic.
3. Write your mission statement, and make it happen.
4. Self-promotion is a necessary evil.
5. Bring the library to your customers.
6. Be proactive.

And then there’s what other people think of us. Think about what would have happened to the image of librarians if one of the four leads in "Sex and the City" had been a librarian. Or what if the women in "Desperate Housewives" were having affairs not with plumbers and gardeners, but librarians?

We are licensed librarians, but many times jokes are made at our expense and many of us just smile and keep quiet. Others take offense and make sure that the offending party regrets not knowing that there is more to being a librarian than cataloging books. But there has to be a way of educating people about our profession without scaring them away. Just as some librarians are able to maintain silence in their libraries without traumatizing their users.

Last year, one of the speakers at a conference I attended presented a proposal for a mini public relations campaign to entice more students to become librarians, and revive the public’s interest in going to libraries in the Philippines. Aside from trying to get feature articles written about famous and unconventional librarians and promoting libraries as an alternative to malls, where singles can find love and families can have fun together, she also suggested that a commercial movie starring a popular actress in the role of a librarian be produced.

A few articles about libraries and librarians are published in newspapers and magazines every now and then, and I try to link to as many of them as I can find on my blog, but there are not nearly enough of them to create the desired effect. Besides, print isn’t really the medium that commands the attention of most Filipinos. The movie would probably be more effective, but there are too many factors involved, with no guarantee of success.

I think the most effective venue for promoting our profession is TV. It would be good if librarians were invited as resource persons on talk shows, except this has not quite happened often enough.

I think the best way for librarians to reach as many Filipinos as possible at one time—and send the message that librarians come in all shapes, sizes, ages and genders—is through the shows that encourage the participation of ordinary Filipinos. These would be the game shows and even reality shows.

[See "Librarian Wins on "Gobingo"" and "Librarian as Game-Show Winner."]

[Then I showed the promo for my appearance on "Kapamilya Deal or No Deal."]

Again, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that appearances on TV will ensure a brighter future for our LIS graduates. But I’d like to think that having Kris Aquino ask me where I work as a librarian opened the minds of a few million Filipinos to the possibility that not all librarians are female, and maybe it even shattered a few other stereotypes they may have had. Imagine what kind of impact the presence of a librarian on "Pinoy Big Brother" or "Survivor" would have on the image of Filipino librarians. But no, please don’t look at me, I have a dissertation to finish.

We need to start looking at ourselves as leaders, instead of just managers, catalogers, or reference librarians. And then we have to start thinking and acting like leaders. Not in the sense that actors and actresses play roles on stage or screen, but in the proactive sense. Do we really need to wait to be told that the future has arrived? Is it society's fault that negative librarian stereotypes abound or is it ours? Should we just accept that there's no money for the changes that need to be made? Is there really nothing else that can be done?

Many librarians complain that their communities think they do not do anything but sit at their desks and stamp books. But what, I usually ask, are they doing to dispel this notion? No one is obliged to recognize the importance of the library—librarians must be the ones to convince others of its importance. We need to be more proactive about communicating and interacting with our own communities, and networking—and working—with other literacy and library advocates. And whether or not you look like a stereotypical librarian or not is irrelevant.

[Example: Nancy Pearl]

[Finally, I ended with a story about three men and a boy who asked what they were doing. See "Motivation in the Workplace: How Do You Define Your Work?"]

Ask yourself: Why is it that I do what I do? Am I deciding for myself or am I just following what others tell me to do? Is the road I have chosen the one I really wanted to take? Each of us will have our own answers to these questions. It is my hope that our answers will inspire all of us to make appropriate contributions to the future of our libraries and our profession so that LIS graduates will have a future.

Thank you very much.

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