If there was one theme that emerged for me from ALA Midwinter, it was The Invisible Technical Services.
I am certain that this feeling of invisibility isn’t new. I’m also certain that this groundswell of support for finding our collective voice is in some way tied to the fight for resources inevitable in an era of shrinking budgets and doing less with more. Add to that vendor-provided services like MARC records and shelf-ready books as well as patron-driven acquisitions of new materials and you start to see how Technical Services staff could believe that their contributions go unnoticed.
I think advocacy for the importance of Technical Services in the life of a library is unbelievably important. Our administrators are often tasked with being good stewards of too-small budgets and have to allocate resources in the way the best serves their users. So it’s important for Technical Services leaders to gain the support of their administrators for the work that they do. My belief is that facts do more to win the support of those we report to than any impassioned speech could. If you can demonstrate that you understand the needs of your users and provide data showing how you’ve met them, you’ve increased your credibility with your administrators and made it much easier for them to justify giving up some of their budget to help you meet your goals.
I think that when people discuss making Technical Services visible, they don’t just mean advocating for the work done in Technical Services Departments. I think they also mean affirming the value of the people who do that work. When we talk about The Invisible Technical Services, it is uncomfortable because invisibility is such a fraught feeling. Being heard and seen by our colleagues is empowering, while invisibility is demoralizing. Being invisible makes us doubt our worth and our contributions.
I would argue, though, that there’s a difference between being made to feel invisible, and feeling like you’re not given enough credit for the work that you do. Credit is about your work and visibility is about your worth. So when we consider The Invisible Technical Services, we have to think both critically and realistically about whether we’re talking about our work or our worth. I want to be clear: everyone deserves to be treated collegially and with respect by those with whom they work. Your contributions matter. You matter.
I think that it is unrealistic to believe that we will earn the admiration of our colleagues by doing the job we were hired to do. And if we’re being honest, do we admire our Public Services colleagues for helping problem patrons or unjamming printers? I think probably that we don’t consider it very much. Just like we probably don’t consider the fact that when the catalog fails to produce the results a user is expecting, they complain to our Public Services colleagues and not to us.
Technical Services colleagues: let’s use data to advocate for both the importance of the work that we do and the people who do it. But let’s also do our jobs to the best of our ability without worrying who's noticing. After all, even if nobody gives us the accolades we believe we deserve, people notice the impact we have.