What Should We Be Reading?

As it’s National Library Week, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the things that unite us. Library education is meant to launch all of us into successful careers in the information world, and to provide a foundation upon which we can build.

Certainly, we are not rubber-stamped automata with identical skill sets. Our interests and electives can and do vary a great deal from student to student, from librarian to librarian. Still, something I have noticed in conversations with librarians and library students is a lack of common readings. We do not seem to have a central “canon,” as such, and while our field may be constantly influenced by related disciplines, librarianship has a long history of thought that we could all benefit by reading. Rather than make up an “authoritative list” on my own, though, I wanted to bring in as many perspectives as possible. I hope that this post will prompt a conversation, and later perhaps prompt action as curricula are redesigned throughout the country.

Three nominations, to get you started:
What Is a Document? & Information as Thing, both by Michael Buckland.
I’ve heard a number of times that graduate school is about changing a worldview. These eye-opening essays by Buckland contributed a great deal to my own worldview-changing, and they were also some of the most-recommended texts when I was starting library school.

As We May Think, by Vannevar Bush
This article is from 1945, and it lays the groundwork for a great deal of thinking about the way information retrieval may work in the future. It’s been cited as one of the influences in the design of the internet, and is worth a read to provide some historical information-science perspective.

A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks, by E.F. Codd
The paper that founded the school of thought on relational databases. While the math may be overly-detailed, skimming it is certainly worth your time if you work with the digital side of information.

So here is your assignment: What, in your readings, in your classwork and research, should be read by everyone looking to become a librarian? What should we share? Sound off in the comments!

Categories: Big Picture, Reading

8 replies

  1. Interesting readings! Very information science-oriented stuff… I don’t think many people in my program get readings like this unless they specifically take the digital libraries-oriented courses, and I agree with you that information professionals all could benefit from some of these considerations of what information is.

    My recommendation focuses on understanding the context and social structures of libraries (libraries as information infrastructures) and is more on the abstract or philosophical side. I know that some students are more interested in concrete, practical applications of knowledge, but I also think part of what I want to hack in library school is a deeper understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of librarianship rather than just more readings about best practices for a particular task.

    John E. Buschman, Dismantling the Public Sphere: Situating and Sustaining Librarianship in the Age of the New Public Philosophy, Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2003. Though his book is a decade old now, Buschman’s analysis of the impact on libraries of the shift in thinking about public and private spheres remains current and important. A shortened form of his argument is available online in article form: On Libraries and the Public Sphere. Buschman also has a newer book on libraries, classrooms, and democracy that I am planning on reading just as soon as I find some spare time….


  2. Our Enduring Values by Michael Gorman. I think its value is twofold: first, for its sensible, humanistic view on every facet of librarianship (delivered in the voice of a lovable curmudgeon) and second, for the measure of divisiveness it brings to the table–my class was split between loving it and hating it. Great debates were had on the merits of Gorman’s arguments.


  3. Ourshoorn and Pinch’s “How Users Matter” and Bijker’s “Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs.” It’s one thing to talk about [information] technology, it’s quite another to investigate how users are defined, come together, rebel, and appropriate technology for their own uses. Very formative works in understanding my doctoral research, and I wish I would have encountered them at the MLIS level.


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