I'm generally reluctant to state opinions on my blog. I really enjoy discussing hot topics with friends and colleagues, but part of my enjoyment of it comes from the fact that the exchange of ideas goes both ways. Although we may agree to disagree, more often than not I'll learn something from the discussion and consider issues from different viewpoints. But blogging isn't really like that. If I put something out there, it feels like I'm publishing a "statement". So I'm going out on a bit of a limb with some opinions here. But I prefer discussing (debating even?) ideas much more than delivering a monologue!

I'd been having a bit of an internal discussion with myself lately about the nature of working as a librarian in the public service (as you do). When I read bookgrrl's "Free-range librarian" blog post on the weekend, I thought it might be time to write them down and see what other people think.

Librarianship is not my first career. It's my third. I studied and worked in the sciences, and then worked in the Australian Public Service for six years. I was engaged in a variety of roles, including coordinating inter-governmental meetings, strategic planning, organisational performance measurement, change management, industry policy, tender evaluations and contract advice. It might sound a bit like buzzword bingo, but I learnt a lot about the public service during that time, and I think I gained quite a different perspective than people who work within a specific profession in the public service. I've brought this background with me into librarianship, and it has shaped my opinions, actions and feelings in this career.

The vast majority of librarians work in public service. Whether they work for a government department, a university, a school, a public library, a hospital, a state library, etc. - most are employed either directly or indirectly by the government and funded by the taxpayer. And that makes us public servants. Right? So we work for the public. Right?

Well, I beg to differ. Sometimes I feel that the name "public servant" is a bit of a misnomer. We work *indirectly* for the public. The people elect their Parliamentary representatives (whether Federal, State or Councillors in Local Government). The Parliamentary representatives who make up a majority form Government. The members of the majority party also select a leader, who assembles a Cabinet of Ministers. These Ministers oversee Government departments and agencies. Public servants are employed by the Government departments to carry out Government policies and programs. And that's where we come in.

So who do I work for? In a Government library, I work for my employer - the Government department. My department works for the Minister, and so on. In a public / council library, I work for my employer - the Council, who works for the elected councillors. In an academic library, I work for my employer - the university. The only people who work *directly* for the public are our elected Members of Parliament (Federal, State or Local Councillors). Sometimes the general public are our clients, such as in a public library. But they are not our bosses. And we cannot presume to act on their behalf against the directions of our employers. If our employers are acting unethically, well, that's what whistleblowers protection legislation is there for. But in other circumstances, it is not appropriate for us to act on behalf of the nebulous public rather than our employers.

But ... we're librarians - a profession within the public service, with values of its own. No, I'm not getting into the profession debate here! But I do want to acknowledge that we are administered (for lack of a better word) by a professional organisation with a statement of core values, and a statement on free access to information. And they are worthy values.
But ... as public servants we also operate within a set of values that perhaps we don't often think very much about. And those values are often set out in legislation. In the Australian Public Service, the Public Service Act 1999 includes the APS Values. This is the case at the state level too - in Victoria, public sector values are described in the Public Administration Act 2004.

So, what do we do if our professional values seem to clash with our employer's values, or with our employer's directions? I believe that when such a situation arises, it is our professional responsibility to work within our organisation to promote our professional values, and to convince our employers of their worth. But that's all. Because surely, in the end, our employing organisation must have the final say. And if we can't live with that, then it might be time to change employers.