August 10, 2009

Professionalism and attitudes toward change

Just a brief note on a topic I will return to later…

I find that librarians think of change in one of two ways:

  1. Change is happening to the profession;

    or

  2. 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

  1. Mastery of specialized theory
  2. Autonomy and control of one’s work and how one’s work is performed
  3. Motivation focusing on intrinsic rewards and on the interests of clients – which take precedence over the professional’s self-interests
  4. Commitment to the profession as a career and to the service objectives of the organization for which one works
  5. Sense of community and feelings of collegiality with others in the profession, and accountability to those colleagues
  6. 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.

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12 Comments »

  1. Hmm. While I largely agree with your final assessment, I have a hard time with excluding all paraprofessionals from “the profession.” I’ve known a number of non-degreed library folk who are extremely interested in, informed about, and dedicated to the ideals of the profession and, sadly, some degreed librarians who do not seem to care much at all.

    Comment by laura — August 10, 2009 @ 11:39 am

  2. That’s true, but it’s not personal qualities that make someone a member of a profession.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — August 10, 2009 @ 11:55 am

  3. What I’m saying will make more sense when you read the paper…

    Comment by Rory Litwin — August 10, 2009 @ 1:08 pm

  4. hi Rory, sounds like a good project, but what do you mean above by “environment”
    this among many things, leaves me hanging.

    can you pls add a bit more on this?

    sorry I’ll miss your talk tomorrow in Philly but I’ll look forward to the web recap –Karen W

    “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;
    or

    Change is happening in the **environment** 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.

    Comment by karen w — August 10, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  5. I thought it was clear enough – environment as in “environmental scan” – economic, social, political, cultural trends that affect the profession, the outside conditions that we deal with.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — August 10, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

  6. Karen, clarified it in the text. I do see that that could have been clearer now.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — August 10, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

  7. ok thanks-just when read it, it could mean alot of things and that’s ok too but was just wondering…this is clearer & thank you

    Karen W

    Comment by karen w — August 10, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

  8. I’m not talking about personal qualities, or I’m not sure what you mean by that. I am saying that I know non-degreed librarians who exhibit all the characteristics listed by Roberts and Donahue. Perhaps, as you say, your full paper will clarify what you mean.

    Comment by laura — August 11, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  9. Kramer auto Pingback[...] literature and consider another blog post I read today on professionalization at Rory Litwin’s Library Juice. (Perhaps the confluence of events inspired my own thinking.) In that post, Litwin cites an article [...]

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