Wright on Librarianship and Management


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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)