The “L-Word”

Before I get to the matter at hand, I have a confession to make. I love being a librarian. Although I fell into this profession by accident, all the signs were there pointing toward my eventual calling. I was fascinated by the public library as a child. I put rudimentary Dewey numbers in my books at home and “played library” with my younger brother and date due stamp my Aunt Adele loaned us. I was the only one on my dorm floor in my undergrad career who understood how to do research, and I helped many through the required and dreaded “library skills workbook”. Connecting folks with the human record is what I live to do. Librarianship is in my mind and in my heart and in my soul and I cannot see it any other way.

In contrast, there are many in our profession who desire to be information scientists. The seek to run from the “L-Word” as fast as they can, perhaps because they feel librarianship isn’t a real profession or a real academic field. Perhaps they seek the greater prestige and financial gain that information technology brings. Perhaps they think that librarianship or library science is subservient or secondary to information science. Perhaps they don’t have the same strong feelings for the profession that I do. Whatever the case may be, we’re in a 50+ year struggle for the soul of librarianship, and if I’m being honest, it makes me sad that many good people that I know are willing to sell the profession out for a “few magic beans” much like Jack in “Jack and the Beanstalk”.

So why is Matt writing about this now? Well, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign has decided to be the latest “library school” to drop the word library from the name of the school. To be fair, the GSLIS at UIUC is a founding member of the iSchool movement, and has been heavily involved in information science for a very long time. Additionally, the school is retaining a commitment to its ALA-accredited MS in LIS program. But something doesn’t sit well with me about this name change, and I’m not the only one based on recent Twitter conversations I’ve had since this was announced.


Minerva, by Elihu Vedder at the Library of Congress. Photo used with CC BY-NC-ND license from travelrelationship on

As I see it librarianship (and I use the term librarianship and library science interchangeably, more about the reasons why in a later post) and information science are two separate, yet related fields of research. Librarianship is, according to Michael Gorman in his Our Enduring Values Revisited,  “facilitating learning by fruitful and wide-ranging interaction with the human record”. Said another way (by David Lankes), “the mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities”. Information science, on the other hand, can be defined as a field primarily concerned with “the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval, movement, dissemination, and protection of information.” Wayne Weigand says it best when he posits that “the common misconception that libraries are part of the world of information is an inversion of reality”. The differences between these two related fields of study are important, and “information science” cannot assume the place of librarianship as a separate field.

But this is not a simple conflating of two related fields in the case of the Illinois “name change”. The underlying forces at play here are more nefarious than just confusion over librarianship’s place in higher education. It has been explained to me a few times in the discussion of the change with various groups that this was done to ensure the viability of the school and give it more “prestige” in the pantheon of academic programs. After all,  who wants to continue to fund a “library school”? Few, if any, grant-making organizations fund “library research”, but millions of dollars are given every year to research in information sciences and technology. After all, isn’t librarianship a dying profession? Who uses the library anymore anyway? All the information you’d ever need is on Google.

It bothers me that librarians have a) lost their way in the rush towards information science and technology, and b) see no future for librarianship other than as information scientists and technology mavens. Librarianship remains a vibrant and vital profession, apart from information science and technology. Librarians are called to create institutions and places that “allow every person in the communities served…to continue his education, to become more knowledgeable, and to live the life of the mind in the way in which he chooses…Through lifelong learning, libraries can and do change lives, a point that cannot be overstated.” (Gorman, p. 40) We librarians need to recapture and revitalize our profession and our course of study, especially at this time when the world needs us the most. Retreating into the relative “safety and security” of information science will not do. Librarianship must take its rightful place as the critical task of “facilitating human interaction with the human record”. (Gorman, p. 16)

Wright on Librarianship and Management


Source: postscapes on Used per CC BY 2.0 License.

As a means of reading more of Jesse H. Shera’s work, I read the brief, but interesting biography, “Jesse Shera, Librarianship, and Information Science” by H. Curtis Wright, the former dean of the library school at Brigham Young University (which closed well before I entered the profession). Wright was a scholar of library history and philosophy and contributed much to the Journal of Library History. It is in this journal that I found the 1978 article “Inquiry and Science and Librarianship”.

I was especially interested in his “two views of librarianship” (p. 255), which posit a managerial view of librarianship that is functional and materialistic in outlook and a user view of librarianship, which aims to provide patrons “with access to the metaphysical resources of information itself, not supplying them with the physical instruments by means of which information is expressed.” (p. 255) This reminds me greatly of Lankes’ more contemporary “Atlas of the New Librarianship” which suggests that “the mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities”.

The “money quote” from Wright’s article is this:

The librarian, who can no longer get ahead as a librarian, has turned to administration as the best way up, the route to the summit. But administration is also the librarian’s way out of librarianship, for it leads to the top of the wrong mountain, where there is not librarianship, only more administration. (p. 256)

Although this article was written nearly 40 years ago, I feel the situation in librarianship hasn’t changed much since then. LIS programs and iSchools all have “information management” at their core. Students are instructed in how to manage, organize, and provide information resources. But perhaps we have been getting it all wrong these past 40+ years.

Management and provision of resources is not the true mission of librarians, but rather providing access to the “metaphysical resources of information itself”, this facilitation of knowledge creation, is what librarianship is all about. My hope is that we can break, as a profession, from “information managers” to knowledge facilitators. Our profession demands it.

Wright, H.C. (1978). “Inquiry in Science and Librarianship”, The Journal of Library History (1974-1987), 13(3): 250-264.

Shera on Humanism and Librarianship

downloadI’ve been reading a lot lately on humanism and librarianship, and stumbled upon this quote from Jesse H. Shera that I think encapsulates the essence of the tension in librarianship between the social sciences and the humanities. Although this quote is nearly 40 years old, it still speaks volumes about contemporary librarianship now and in the future.

“[L]ibrarianship, despite its increasing utilization of the sciences and its affiliation with the social sciences, remains in its essence humanistic. It is humanistic because it is basically concerned with that elusive and subtle relationship between the human mind and the record of great adventure. Librarianship classifies as a social science because the library, as an institution, is a creature of society, and its goal is the improvement of society by helping the individual to understand himself and the world to which he is a part. But the library is also concerned with man as a rational being. Thus, it remains primarily a humanistic enterprise. The traditional lines of demarcation are breaking down and in certain areas becoming almost obliterated; and librarianship, in both its technology and its services, is drawing even closer to the social and physical sciences. But we would do well to remind ourselves of the library’s humanistic origins; otherwise in excessive enthusiasm for the technology of science and the social action of the behaviorist, we may lose sight of the individual and his needs and the humanistic values implicit in them.” (Shera, JH. Introduction to Library Science: Basic Elements of Library Service. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1976. p. 9)

Market Orientation, Part Two

In my previous post, “The Future of Libraries? Adopting a Market Orientation“, I stated that the future of libraries is identifying the wants and needs of our communities and stakeholders and meeting them. Market orientation is taking this concept (the “marketing concept”) and making it central to the goals, objectives, and mission of an organization. I received a lot of positive feedback on this post, with many librarians agreeing that this is an optimal “way forward” for libraries that have been historically concerned more with products — collections, services, spaces, etc. — than with finding the wants and needs of their communities and meeting them.

I also received some thought provoking negative feedback on the post, mostly from those who have concerns about the use of business terms in librarianship, the “commercialization” of public good organizations like libraries, and basing what we do in libraries on “market forces”. If we as librarians and library professionals feel that we need new terms to describe these concepts, then let’s create them. Furthermore, adopting a market orientation is no more “neoliberal” than using standard accounting practices or sound financial advice for investing library endowments. I liken marketing and the marketing concept as a “way of thinking” that has proven results in satisfying wants and needs. Our market orientation, as libraries, is how central we are making this concept to what we do on a day-to-day basis.

As I said in follow up comments and tweets, I’m not advocating that libraries adopt a “laissez-faire” attitude and base everything we do on the whims of the market. As professionals, we need to guide and inform the wants and needs of our patrons. Even in business, customers often come to a firm with no clue about their individual wants and needs. Market orientation is a way to be aware and focused on these wants and needs, while guiding and informing our communities and the stakeholders we serve.

These ideas are more fully fleshed out in an article in the Journal of Library Innovation published today by Arne J. Almquist titled “The Innovative Academic Library: Implementing a Marketing Orientation to Better Address User Needs and Improve Communication“. Dr. Almquist details how the university library at his institution, Northern Kentucky University, has made the marketing concept central to the mission and strategic plan of his library, and some of the results of these actions. He also dispels the myth that I have seen quite prevalent in librarianship that marketing is only promotion and advertising. While these are important they are only marketing functions, and the marketing concept is much richer than promotion and advertising.

I would highly recommend that any librarians interested in preparing themselves for “the future”, read this article. I firmly believe that employing the marketing concept, and developing a market orientation, is a strategy that libraries can employ for years to come to truly meet the wants and needs of those we serve. Without our stakeholders — patrons, communities, students, faculty, and the like — libraries are nothing. Meeting their wants and needs will truly illustrate the values of libraries, and make us stronger as organizations and as a profession.

The Future of Libraries? Adopting a Market Orientation

I have been a librarian for over 15 years, and not a year has gone by without a discussion about “the future of libraries” in the profession. Much of the conversation has been dominated by library futurists, thought leaders, and visionaries, with little regard to the actual wants and needs of the communities and stakeholders that libraries serve. As the most recent discussion swirled around the creation of the American Library Association‘s Center for the Future of Libraries, and the companion Summit on the Future of Libraries that took place last weekend, it became evident that the “usual suspects” were once again prognosticating on the future of libraries with little input from those we serve both in the profession and in our institutions every day.

At first, I tweeted that I was “staying out of “future of the library” debates on social media, not because I don’t care about libraries, but out of a dislike for futurists”, but I quickly got pulled into the online debate about the Summit and who was and was not invited. Much of the discussion inside the Summit was the stuff that many of us in the profession have heard time and time again, increased technology, huge social upheaval, and the future irrelevance of libraries in the lives of most people. This type of nihilistic and self-serving (many of the participants in the Summit were from the realm of IT and technology) prognostication is worthless without gauging the true wants and needs of our users. Additionally, I found it classist and paternalistic to be discussing the future of libraries with little or no input from the communities that we serve.

As I was kvetching about this later to my partner, the marketing professor, he asked me “So what do you think is the future of libraries?” Without batting an eye, I said, “The future of libraries is identifying the wants and needs of our communities and stakeholders and meeting them.” In other words, adopting a market orientation, a “business approach or philosophy that focuses on identifying and meeting the stated or hidden needs or wants of customers.” When organizations adopt a market orientation, they seek to identify what customers/clients/stakeholders/users want and need first and then develop products and services to meet these needs. Indeed, many libraries have always done this and will continue to do so in the future, and have been quite successful during the myriad of changes in the profession in the last 50 years, but I also know that the number of libraries who have not adopted a market orientation is much higher, and these libraries continue to struggle.

Instead of listening to publishers, vendors, futurists, thought leaders, or anyone else paid to give opinions on the future of libraries, we need to identify what our communities and stakeholders want the future of libraries to look like, and then make this a reality for them. This means that libraries and librarians will need to reach out to communities, research their wants and needs, and truly listen to what we are being told. This means that we may need to let go of old assumptions, or new ones, and be flexible enough to change as the wants and needs of the communities we serve change. This means that we need to assess what we are doing right and keep it, and figure out what we are doing wrong, and change it. If we can develop the tools of market orientation to do this, I think the future of libraries will be bright indeed.

Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is


This week the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) called upon the American Library Association to move its 2016 Annual Meeting from Orlando, FL to another venue due to racist and discriminatory laws in Florida like “Stand Your Ground”. I stand with the BCALA 100% and call upon the ALA to look for other venues for the 2016 Annual Meeting. While I think that BCALA’s call for action is a good start, I’d also like to bring attention to another area where ALA is breaking its own policies and call upon ALA to reconsider other future conference venues because of it.

In 2011, ALA Council passed legislation that was encoded in the ALA Policy Manual at A.7.1.1 “Non-Discrimination in Conference Contracts” (emphasis mine):

There shall be no discrimination, including that based on race, origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, creed or disability, in the use of any facilities used by the American Library Association. This policy shall become a part of ALA contracts for the use of space. The ALA will avoid entering, whenever possible, into convention center contracts with organizations and legal bodies in cities, counties, or states that by law discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people. ALA will provide materials for promoting sensitivity to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression for all employees on the floor of each convention center, including employees of companies to which the convention center has contracted for services on the floor of the convention.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the following states do not discriminate against LGBT people:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Based on this policy, the following upcoming conferences are in violation of this policy, at the present time, and should at least receive serious reconsideration for alternate venues:

  • 2016 Annual Conference, Orlando, FL: June 23-28, 2016
  • 2017 Midwinter Meeting, Atlanta, GA: January 20-24, 2017
  • 2018 Annual Conference, New Orleans, LA: June 21-26, 2018
  • 2020 Midwinter Meeting, Philadelphia, PA: January 17-21, 2020
  • 2021 Midwinter Meeting, Indianapolis, IN: January 22-26, 2021

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of ALA fought hard to get this policy approved and codified into the ALA, and we have advocated for years for conference venues in states that include LGBT people in anti-discrimination policies. Discrimination against the LGBT community is a pervasive issue and can effect employment, housing, benefits, and a whole host of other civil rights that are being denied to LGBT people in these states without LGBT anti-discrimination laws.

I suspect that many LGBT members of the ALA stand with BCALA on the issue of moving the Orlando conference to another venue. After all, according to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” I call upon BCALA, other ethnic caucuses and groups within ALA, and any ALA members who care about social justice to stand with me and expand the call to move the Orlando conference to all conference venues located in states that do not have protections from discrimination for LGBT people. Together we form a much stronger coalition for change in the Association and the attainment of important social justice goals. Let’s really put our money where our mouth (and our policies) are.

Midwinter in the City of Brotherly Love

When I was younger, the show “Angie” was quintessentially Philadelphian, at least in my mind. Enjoy the opening credits and late 70s/early 80s scenes from this “classic” TV sitcom while I give my tentative schedule of events at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia this weekend. I hope to live tweet ( and blog throughout the weekend.

Friday 1/24

Friday, 01/24/2014 – 09:00am – 12:00pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – 103 A

Taiga Forum Update
Friday, 01/24/2014 – 02:00pm – 04:00pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – 102 B

Exhibits Open / All Conference Reception
Friday, 01/24/2014 – 05:30pm – 07:00pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – Exhibit Hall A-C

Presidential Candidate, Sari Feldman, Meet & Greet Reception
Friday, 01/24/2014 – 07:00pm – 08:00pm
Marriott – Grand C

Presidential Candidate, Maggie Farrell, Meet & Greet Reception
Friday, 01/24/2014 – 08:30pm – 10:00pm
Marriott – Grand B

Saturday 1/25

Executive Board Meeting (GLBTRT)
Saturday, 01/25/2014 – 08:30am – 11:30am
Marriott – Room 310

Council/Executive Board/Membership Information Session
Saturday, 01/25/2014 – 03:00pm – 04:30pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – Grand BR B

ALA Presidential Candidates Forum
Saturday, 01/25/2014 – 04:30pm – 05:30pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – Grand BR B

Challenges of gender issues in technology librarianship
Saturday, 01/25/2014 – 04:30pm – 05:30pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – 201 C

ALA Council Reception
Saturday, 01/25/2014 – 09:00pm – 10:00pm
Marriott – Grand I

Sunday 1/26

ALA Council I
Sunday, 01/26/2014 – 08:30am – 11:00am
Pennsylvania Convention Center – Grand BR B

ALA-APA Council
Sunday, 01/26/2014 – 11:00am – 11:30am
Pennsylvania Convention Center – Grand BR B

LRRT 2014 Mid-Winter Discussion Forum: Building & sustaining your research agenda
Sunday, 01/26/2014 – 01:00pm – 02:30pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – 120 C

Office for Intellectual Freedom & Freedom to Read Foundation Discussion Group
Sunday, 01/26/2014 – 03:00pm – 04:00pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – 203 A

Draft revised Standards for Accreditation of LIS Master’s Programs
Sunday, 01/26/2014 – 04:30pm – 05:30pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – 201 B


Social (GLBTRT)
Sunday, 01/26/2014 – 05:30pm – 07:30pm
Offsite Location – Off Site
Social event

ALA Council Forum I
Sunday, 01/26/2014 – 08:30pm – 10:00pm
Marriott – Grand I

Monday 1/27

Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observance and Sunrise Celebration
Monday, 01/27/2014 – 06:30am – 07:30am
Pennsylvania Convention Center – 113 AB

ALA Council II
Monday, 01/27/2014 – 10:00am – 12:15pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – Grand BR B

ALA Executive Board Candidates Forum
Monday, 01/27/2014 – 12:30pm – 01:30pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – Grand BR B

Wrap Up/Rev Up Celebration
Monday, 01/27/2014 – 02:00pm – 03:00pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – Grand BR A

Library Camp
Monday, 01/27/2014 – 03:30pm – 05:00pm
Pennsylvania Convention Center – 120 C


ALA Council Forum II
Monday, 01/27/2014 – 08:30pm – 10:00pm
Marriott – Grand I

Tuesday 1/28

ALA Council III
Tuesday, 01/28/2014 – 09:30am – 12:30pm