Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ethical question, this one about staffing

I have noticed that we get more 'directional' questions (where is the bathroom, how to I log on to a computer, etc. etc.) when I am on the desk compared to when only librarians are on the desk. This could be because I am better at logging them or it could be because patrons are more willing to ask me those questions. I think that it might be the latter, but not because of anything about me personally. Rather,  it might be just a matter of denmographics. I am substantially younger than most of my colleagues, and I get the impression that people care less about sounding stupid in front of me--"just a kid"--than sounding stupid in front of a middle-aged librarian.

It's a given that some questions in a library are going to go unanswered because they go unasked, no matter what you do. But in theory, if the library could reduce the number of questions that go unasked by hiring staff who are more approachable not because of training or attitude but simply because of how they look, would that be ethical?


  1. this makes me nervous. what if you had an all-white clientele who wanted to ask questions only of white staff? Generally, in employment law, the discriminatory preferences of customers are not a sufficient reason for employers to hire in a discriminatory way. (Okay, I'm talking law, not ethics, but I think the law sets a reasonable ethical standard in this case.)

  2. It makes me nervous, too. Especially because you figure I can't be the only person who has noticed this, so people probably ARE hiring based on whether people look approachable, even if only subconsciously. You wonder if that perpetuates the predominance of women in reference work (especially in public libraries where there is probably more of an emphasis placed on approachability relative to research skills compared to academic and special libraries), since women are thought of as better listeners.

  3. I think hiring young people indiscriminately because they are more approachable is probably discriminatory however I don't think hiring people because they give off an approachable air (and actually have an approachable personality once you talk to them) is discriminatory. Some people do have warmer and more open personalities (regardless of age) and I would argue that observers pick up on subtle cues that someone will have this personality. I would argue that approachability is a personality trait and so far no one has said that you can't be choosy about hiring based on personality in a service profession.

    Also, have you considered the possibility that you get approached more because you actually have a more approachable personality rather than because you are young?