In the first part of my analysis of what potential uses the lore, legacy and toolkit of the medieval guilds might have in these interesting times I did not fully explore what a Master Librarian would look like. Since libraries are the field work I know best, they are what I am using as an example. So let me again pose this question to myself. What is a Master Librarian?
“The fundamental learning situation is one in which a person learns by helping someone who really knows what he is doing.” –Christopher Alexander et al, A Pattern Language
In a traditional guild a Master was someone who not only created a masterpiece -a kind of graduate level project that summed up all she had learned as Journeyman and Apprentice- but also was an individual who had worked her way up to be able to oversee the operation and training of the Apprentices and Journeymen beneath her.
Nowadays these are the librarians who get onto the management track and end up being in charge of their own branch. Yet any benumbed worker who is on the bottom of the corporate style chain-gang of command can tell you that management does not equal mastery. This is endemic in any field. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few great managers, also a few who left a lot to be desired. And even one or two whom I’d call a Master.
I think a Master in any field is someone who has developed a nose for the work after years of practice and application. Does it come from getting an MA at the University? Explicit training and study can help, but until you get your nose to the grindstone you won’t be able to sniff out anything. In a library a Master would know not only the collection he oversees with intimacy, but also be familiar with the coda of cataloging, the principles of collections development, have the temperament of a social worker (because public libraries often serve the needy and underprivileged) and the tenacity of a journalist to dig up and uncover elusive information.
A Master librarian has a sense of serendipity, because so often what a person thinks they are looking for is not what they need, and what they need turns out to be in a book that might just fall off the shelves as if by magic. Having come up through the ranks themselves they can nurture talent where they see it, and also help the industrious.
I’d see a Master as someone whom could talk or demonstrate the depth of their learning and skill of application in an area once you get them greased up and the faucet of their intellect flowing. There are people like that around in many jobs, and if you are in the process of learning the ropes yourself, it is these people whom you want to talk to and make friends with. So often what we learn in any vocation does not come to us directly from instruction, but through the resonance emanating out of a particular individual. Just being around an adept at the top of their game can rub off on your own performance. In the guilds of old an Apprentice would live with his Master and share in the daily life of the family. While this may not seem acceptable to a rugged American individualist, the kind of day-in and day-out association with a Master working in any area also inculcated in a student the habits surrounding the work itself which would seep into the subconscious of the Apprentice. The little things you pick up on often have enormous leverage later on.
In today’s world we do have internships, and apprenticeships in some cases. What I see missing from many jobs and areas of activity is a sense of vocation and calling, and within that vocation groups fostering brother-and-sisterhood alongside the usual networking. In my next post in this series I will look at the socioeconomic dimensions of the guild and how in a competitive marketplace where the benefits of full-time employment are continuing to erode, the toolkit of the guild can offer a compensation package, that while not lavish by boomer standards, will be a boon to those on the limited planetary budget our collective future has in store for us all.