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.

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

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)

Is there a glut of newly minted librarians?

Brett Bronfield does an excellent job of crunching the numbers and analyzing the supply and demand for MLS/MLIS graduates in the “In the Library with the Lead Pipe” blog. Common wisdom (as handed down from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and ingrained in our professional psyche) would say that the profession is graying and we’re on the precipice of an upspwing in demand for librarians to fill this void. But I have been hearing the same rhetoric for the past 15 years.

Bronfield’s excellent analysis places two questions in my mind: 1) Why isn’t the ALA or some other organization crunching these numbers and reporting on trends in library employment on a regular basis? and 2) Why don’t we as librarians currently holding a position care more about this issue? I look forward to further analysis (will there be a Part 2?) on this important topic.

Is the United States Training Too Many Librarians or Too Few? (Part 1) | In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Becoming a Librarian-Scholar

One of the most challenging, yet rewarding, aspects of my current tenure-track, faculty-status position is the expectation of involvement in research and scholarship in the field. Although I have been an MLS-holding librarian for over 15 years, this is the first position where I have been required to contribute to the field through scholarship. I have struggled with developing a research agenda, conducting research, writing academic papers, and presenting at conferences, but discovered along the way that I enjoy research and scholarship, and involvement in these activities has renewed a lagging interest in the field and reignited my interests in librarianship.

I no longer consider myself only a librarian, however. I recently heard the term “librarian-scholar” at a promotion and tenure retreat, and feel that this term truly captures the type of work that I am doing now. And I would argue that all librarians, no matter the position, are also called to be librarian-scholars. Librarianship needs scholars to keep the profession alive, seek out new methods, procedures, and theories, and to add to the value and worth of what we do as librarians.

But research and scholarship is not areas in which librarians are regularly trained. The Master in Library (and Information) Science degree does not typically require a thesis process or other “capstone” research for graduation and very few research methods courses, if any, are offered, let alone required, as part of the ML(I)S degree. Librarians receive much training in supporting the processes of research and scholarship, but very little practice or experience in performing research and scholarship of their own.

One change I would advocate in library and information science education is a greater focus on turning out librarian-scholars, including a required course in research methods and the requirement of a thesis or capstone paper as a requisite for graduation. Many other professional degrees, including the MBA and MSW, have similar requirements and I believe that this contributes to better scholarship in these fields. Scholarship and research was never much of a concern before my current position, but now I as I have taken on the role of a librarian-scholar, I cannot see any way that one can be a librarian without scholarship.