A few weeks ago, Rory Litwin posted a bit of a treatise on professionalism in librarianship on the Library Juice Press blog. He addresses several trends he notices in the deprofessionalization of librarianship, and though the blogosphere was only one point of many, that’s the issue that got the most attention. Because I just can’t let sleeping dogs lie, I, too, want to chime in on the role of blogs in creating a professional community.
I’m in a unique and exciting position to work in two libraries: one, as a reference librarian at the University of Texas main library, and one as a teen services librarian at Austin Public Library. Working in two places, seeing how differently public and academic libraries operate, has had me thinking a lot about Big Tent Librarianship and what shared values these institutions have. If you asked me what the core values are for librarianship, I’d probably ask you in return “what kind of librarianship?”
As a soon-to-be graduate, I’m not sure I have a clear understanding of what it means to be a professional librarian. I don’t have the word “librarian” in either of my job titles (I’m an intern in both places), but I’m still doing librarian-level work; likewise, I know many talented circulation clerks and library assistants, some of whom have Master’s degrees, that do professional-level work. If I don’t work in a library, am I still a librarian? What does it mean to be a librarian? What resources are available for discussing these issues and engaging in professional dialogue? Do we have shared values and practices? Is it ok if we don’t?
One of Litwin’s main points of the blogosphere is that library blog readership is outpacing library journal readership and, in turn, we’re deprofessionalizing ourselves. Since he offered no statistics to back that up, I can’t say for certain if that’s the case. I can say that if it is the case, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Academic publishing is problematic; there are issues of access, who gets published, what kind of coverage is available, and so forth. In my experience, there is more of a responsibility for academic librarians to read and produce scholarly literature, but less so for public librarians. What kinds of librarianship is scholarly librarian literature for?
As a bourgeoning professional, I rely largely on blogs, Twitter, listservs, and electronic journals to keep up with library trends. I feel more connected to the profession and other professionals by engaging in this way. Blogs are a way to discuss scholarly issues, have a large audience and invite participation in ways not available in journals. What is more peer-reviewed than a publicly available blog? On the other hand, I’m frequently frustrated with the kinds of content posted on a lot of blogs. There are many, many blogs that address current issues or hot topics related to librarianship (like e-book prices), but fewer that tackle deeper issues of professionalism and values. Instead of wringing our hands in worry over the future of libraries, lets figure out what we’re good at and how we can do it better. Litwin is right that some blogs aren’t good. But he’s wrong to dismiss the blogosphere generally or proscribe a right or wrong way to blog; there are plenty of people out there who, for whatever reason, choose not to publish in scholarly journals but still write quality pieces.
All of this is to say that we need to open a dialogue for what it means to be an information professional and investigate and (if need be) challenge the idea of Big Tent librarianship, or at least figure out how we can use that vision to inform our professional identities. Our field is diverse and filled with people with a multitude of backgrounds and job descriptions. Where can we find common ground? The blogosphere is a good place to start those conversations.
What do you think about professionalism and the blogosphere? Where do you go to keep up with trends and engage with other professionals? Leave a comment here, on Facebook, or tweet Rebecca at @beccakatharine.