Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Librarianship as Profession

I was completely inspired by reading a post on the RIPS Law Librarian Blog by my friend and colleague, Paul Gatz.

The post, in essence, is a reminder that librarianship is its own profession. We need this reminder because we are often relegated to a "supplementary or secondary character" within our institutions. And, to be sure, law librarians do provide the service that is often thought of as supplementary or secondary. As noted: We pride ourselves on the high level and quality of service that we provide to our patrons – performing research, developing collections, and even crafting mission statements based on the needs of our primary institutions, whether law school, firm, or court

But we are more than that. Service is no doubt a necessary function of any library, but that recognition need not commit us to the idea that the library is a secondary or supplementary institution or that service occupies the whole of our professional identity as librarians. 

Indeed, at first glance, the library’s function is to provide information services of a high quality. But, with a sudden shift in perspective, we may see that the work we do in providing that service itself creates the library, an information system the value of which transcends any particular service.

What a wonderful, well-stated reminder that law librarianship is a profession with an identity far beyond the supplementary or secondary nature that it is often characterized as. Especially on the days when others think that this career is a default for people who didn't do well at something else. The reality is that many of us chose this profession because we saw value and believed in it.

This leads me to a post on InsideHigherEd where the author argues that librarians are falling short of their profession's needs. The author notes that when researching libraries, there's not enough information from the profession itself. To round out his literature review on libraries, the author had to "tap deeply into non-library and information studies literature." The author erroneously determines that LIS educators and researchers must not recognize the value in "library as place" ideals because they do not write about it. He notes that people outside of the profession and "already overworked library practitioners" have taken the initiative to research and write about the profession, and asks "where is the LIS research community?"

This may be the wrong question to ask, however. My first inclination, based on my knowledge of academia and the number of tenure-track positions nationwide (and where LIS faculty fall in funding), is that would-be LIS researchers can't meaningfully exist. How many faculty members in LIS programs across the country are tenure track with the full support to research and write in-depth studies on "longitudinal studies evaluating library activities...?"

It's important work that must be done, but it's nearly impossible to perform meaningful research while not being supported to do so. The right question to ask would be "where are the LIS programs that support a meaningful LIS research community?"

Librarianship is an important profession that has a lot to say. However ,because we are often treated as supplementary or secondary within our institutions, we don't have a lot of time or support to say it.

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