Professional Life

On professionalism

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.

13 thoughts on “On professionalism

  1. You wrote: “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. ”

    Do new professionals read professional literature/ peer-reviewed publications too ? are they different ?

    on the job, if you are asked to prepare a bibliography for your users in an academic library what types of resources would you provide them with first – Twitter posts ? some blog posts ? would you also provide professional publications or know where they exist ? We can have many things “in the mix” sure but part of our work is to evaluate information not only for our library communities but for ourselves also.

    here is one example of a title I would strongly recommend from 2008 from Dr Bill Crowley Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois. There is much good background to these issues. cheers, KW

    – Renewing Professional Librarianship

    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Renewing-Professional-Librarianship/Bill-Crowley/e/9781591585541

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    • Thanks for your comment. I do read professional publications and find them useful for a variety of reasons, but my point was to not discredit Tweets and blogs outright because, like publications, they have utility, too.

      If I were to prepare a bibliography for academic library users (which I do regularly), of course I would include scholarly articles. But, depending on the topic, I might include relevant New Yorker articles, too, with the understanding that it isn’t peer-reviewed. Your point about knowing how to evaluate resources for ourselves is an important one. Like I said, a lot of blogs just aren’t good, but there are some that pass (at least my) librarian scrutiny.

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  2. As someone who blogs about library issues, I completely agree about focusing on the big issues and not just what is going on with ebooks this week. I think a key part of being a professional is participating in the discourse with other professionals. Another key is being engaged and involved in making the profession and libraries as a whole a better place for us and our members.

    The forum for this professional discourse can vary. You can publish scholarly journal articles, you can present at conferences, you can blog, you can tweet, you can volunteer in professional associations, or you can chat with colleagues at get-togethers, conferences, or even unconferences. I’ve done all of these things and they have their own benefits and drawbacks. The most important thing to remember is that being a professional is not just publishing articles, it’s participating in living discourse and being engaged in ways that move the profession forward. A professional is not someone who simply punches in and out at work. A professional is excited, interested and passionate about the future of libraries and how they can improve people’s lives.

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    • Andy writes: “The most important thing to remember is that being a professional is not just publishing articles, it’s participating in living discourse and being engaged in ways that move the profession forward. A professional is not someone who simply punches in and out at work.”

      What do you think about all the library workers out there who do punch in and out of work daily — and many who do not even have a MLS/MLIS degree either –and work in libraries… helping the community every day…in fact, many people working in libraries today, without graduate degrees are some of the best library professionals I know.

      Are they some type of ‘non-professional’ because they work each day in the profession but don’t have time or interest – to brand/sell themselves or their latest e-book, write blogs & promote themselves at conferences instead ? what’s effective or not and why ? Remember too all the many people in the profession who have no interest period in belonging to any professional organizations for a variety of different reasons. Just some thoughts …cheers KW

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      • Karen, thanks for your reply. I definitely think you are correct that not everyone has time or interest to blog, or present at conferences, or participate in professional associations. Nor should they. People engage in different ways. Those are just some examples of participating in professional dialogue and wanting to move the profession forward. Other examples that I mentioned were going to conferences just to learn and talk to others. Another way could be having engaged discussions with colleagues at your institution about how to improve your services (or commenting on an interesting blog!). That spirit engagement though is I think what I’m trying to get across as being important.

        I like what Rebecca said about paraprofessionals below. I would argue that there are probably some paraprofessionals who are more professional than some librarians. They are engaged, look for ways to move the library forward and want to learn. This shouldn’t be overlooked.

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    • While I do think its important to maintain a work-life balance, I agree that professionalism begins with having conversations about moving the profession forward. Those conversations take place in a lot of places, but they absolutely SHOULD take place! I also think that there are plenty of paraprofessionals who embody librarianship and should be invited to contribute.

      My biggest frustration is our professional “low self-esteem” and our perceived crisis of identity. Once we start talking about what we do, how we do it, and how we can do it better, there won’t be a crisis. Thanks for your insight!

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      • Thanks for the post. I think the principal issue is that there is a significant generational divide in the LIS community. While we may espouse progressive politics, I find that the LIS community as a whole is profoundly conservative when it comes to changing our methodologies. This in turn has led many to describe our field as “in crisis.” Maybe it’s because I do not work in a library, or in a traditional LIS position, but I find this idea to be slightly out of wonk with reality. The reality is that the field is changing and so should we. I think this is a concept that many new LIS professionals and para-professionals embrace, but is at odds with the messages we receive while in school and from professional publications.

        Once we accept change, we can make progress.

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  3. Pingback: On professionalism « Hack Library School | academic library | Scoop.it

  4. @librarianmaybe said: “I think the principal issue is that there is a significant generational divide in the LIS community. While we may espouse progressive politics, I find that the LIS community as a whole is profoundly conservative when it comes to changing our methodologies. ”

    But are you saying that libraries have never changed over the decades?… or is this just another stereotype / image others may have due to other factors going on as well.

    most workplaces will have multi-generational issues in the workplace today and leadership & management are really necessary skills to have in any workplace today and also part of the challenges cheers-Kw

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    • Sorry to take so long in responding to this:

      My main point is that based upon my experiences in LIS school (Simmons GSLIS) and work the LIS community tends to talk a big game, but ultimately responses tends to veer towards conservative.

      Let me also make it clear that my perception is colored by the fact that my company and position operates in a purely digital environment and that we are in the middle of completely digitizing our paper holdings utilizing a customized XML schema (DITA) for this purpose. I know that there are huge hurdles to full digitization, but I don’t think our profession has much of a choice.

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