Just a brief note on a topic I will return to later…
I find that librarians think of change in one of two ways:
- Change is happening to the profession;
- Change is happening in the environment (social, cultural, economic, political) and the profession determines how it will change in response.
These two ways of thinking about change don’t reflect an attitude of embracing it or resisting it, but rather an attitude of greater or lesser professionalism. Embracing or resisting change is something else.
Keith Roberts and Karen Donahue summarize the characteristics of a profession as follows:1
- Mastery of specialized theory
- Autonomy and control of one’s work and how one’s work is performed
- Motivation focusing on intrinsic rewards and on the interests of clients – which take precedence over the professional’s self-interests
- Commitment to the profession as a career and to the service objectives of the organization for which one works
- Sense of community and feelings of collegiality with others in the profession, and accountability to those colleagues
- Self-monitoring and regulation by the profession of ethical and professional standards in keeping with a detailed code of ethics
I think that it is endemic of the period of deprofessionalization that we are in that library managers have begun to say that “professionalism” means performance of ones tasks according to high standards of quality (as judged by them). Thus, support staff and librarians are equally “professional” if management is pleased with their work, a move by management that undercuts the autonomy of professionals.
(I am working on a paper about deprofessionalization at the moment and will share a citation to it when it’s done.)
I think that we have to consider the context of the professional status of librarianship, or lack of it, when we look at the discourse surrounding change in the profession. The professionals who comprise a professional group share a responsibility for the nature and destiny of the profession itself. If it is controlled from the outside, it is not really a profession. That is why so many of us participate in ALA committees and other units. These committees, along with graduate programs in LIS, are where the work is done that maintains the professional status of librarianship.
If you regard change in the profession as something that we have no control over, that we have only to embrace or resist, then you are approaching professional questions with the attitude of a non-professional.
If you recognize that professional questions are not questions of choosing between predetermined options but questions of values, purposes, creativity, inventiveness, foresight, and planning, then you are fulfilling your responsibility as a professional to guide the profession through a changing environment as only its members can.
1. Roberts, Keith A. and Donahue, Karen A., “Professionalism: Bureaucratization and Deprofessionalization in the Academy,” Sociological Focus 33 no. 4 (2000) 365-383.