March 4, 2012

Deprofessionalization and the library blogosphere

Librarianship as a profession is, as we all know, threatened. The threat can be identified most directly as a reduction in public support for government institutions, especially those institutions or their components considered “less essential.” Where librarians feel that our jobs, or our job prospects in the case of new librarians, are threatened, we have a personal stake in the fate of libraries, which in our discourse with the public can put the taint of self-interest on our arguments for the value of what we do. But for most of us, it is not so much a matter of protecting our jobs but protecting our ability to do the kind of work that we believe in. That passion for the profession serves us well in making the case to the public about our role, where our personal stake may not.

In terms of the question of public support for libraries, our belief in the values of the profession is an essential rhetorical tool. However, it is only one piece. The other piece is professional expertise. Our expertise as librarians is part of a dynamic where the threat to libraries is being felt in a less direct and less noticeable way, which is the process of deprofessionalization.

Library administrators and funding institutions have an interest in the deprofessionalization of librarianship in two ways – economic efficiency and control. Library support staff, who are being trained up to take on most responsibilities now handled by professional librarians, cost libraries less in wages. Because they are not a part of a profession that makes a claim to autonomy in the workplace, and not guided by a professional code as well as by management directives, they are more subject to direct management by their supervisors. That is to say, they are workers with bosses where librarians tend not to have bosses in the same way, tending rather to occupy roles in their organization where management is partly a collegial process. It goes without saying that library administrators want the ability to determine what happens in the libraries for which they are responsible, and therefore have interests that are in tension with those of their professionals on the staff.

In order to make a claim to professional autonomy, librarians need more than a set of admirable values to justify it. They need a body of professional expertise that is incontrovertible, made up of knowledge and skills that others recognize required extensive education to gain. They need to be able to make the case that what they offer as professionals is something that other people cannot do nearly as well. They need to show that what they do is not only interesting and admirable and important, but that doing it takes expertise, and that they possess that expertise. The importance of the professional status of librarians was first recognized in the 1920s in the famous Williamson Report, which led directly to the establishment of graduate level education as a prerequisite for employment as a librarian. The reason for the masters in librarianship has a lot to do with the importance of professional autonomy for the pursuit of the honorable goals of librarianship as a profession, which are not necessarily the direct priority of institutions. That autonomy is just as important as the fact of our employment, if our employment is to have any meaning in a social sense.

Part of the process of deprofessionalization, somewhat ironically, has been a move among library management thinkers toward a reconception of the professional librarian as primarily a supervisor of front line staff. This pattern first appeared in the area of technical services, as a result of the advent of shared cataloging, but it has begun to spread to other areas of library work as well, with the move toward cross-training support staff in formerly-professional work roles.

(Readers who are interested in the issue of the deprofessionalization of librarianship may be interested in a paper I wrote about it for Progressive Librarian a couple of years ago.)

Making the case for the importance of maintaining our presence in libraries as professionals is, as I mentioned, dependent on being able to claim an area of indisputable expertise. This expertise should be understood as constituting what it means to be a librarian. The knowledge and skills that make up this expertise, and the work that goes into advancing that knowledge and those skills, should be our primary concern as librarians, and should be the main content of our communication with each other as librarians, especially where that communication is before the public.

This is where I find the library blogosphere to be a problem, and to be a contributor to the deprofessionalization of librarianship. I realize that this is a controversial statement to make and not likely to be popular, so let me qualify it a bit before making my case. It’s important to say that there actually is substantial amount of discussion in the library blogosphere about real professional issues, exploring new problems and advancing the profession’s knowledge and expertise. This can take the form of intelligent essays like those that appear in Lead Pipe, and can also be found in the more personal musings of typical library blogs, from time to time.

My concern is that this kind of communication that serves to advance our knowledge and skills does not make up the majority of what counts as the professional communication of librarians in the Web 2.0 era. What I mostly see in the library blogosphere is a mix of celebration of our professional values in a less-than-substantial way; celebration of our pop culture presence; demonstration of our interest in pop culture; a rather immature obsession with our image in the culture; and general personal blogging under the heading of “librarian.” Because the library blogosphere has nearly replaced the reading of journals for most younger librarians, this content has to be seen as the material that now constitutes the self-conception of librarianship for the librarians who read it, education and work responsibilities aside, for ourselves and before the public. As a result of the interests of library bloggers, in a postmodern transformation, the profession of librarianship is being replaced by the signifier of librarianship. The implication for the problem of deprofessionalization is that the library blogosphere is unwittingly abetting it. The claim to professional expertise is slipping through our fingers, replaced by a mere claim to a cultural identity. A claim to a cultural identity doesn’t constitute a claim to professional autonomy, and professional autonomy is what is needed in order to advance the goals of the profession that we all celebrate.

So, for the sake of our ability to make an indisputable claim to professional expertise, please start using the blogosphere for the kind of communication that advances the knowledge base of the profession. Read the journals, and blog about the articles that you read there. That means not American Libraries and Library Journal, but Library Quarterly, Reference Services Review, and JASIS, and journals is related fields, like Reading Research Quarterly and Media, Culture, and Society. These are just a few of hundred of journals with research that is relevant to building up the foundations of our field. That research is extremely interesting and useful for our work, especially as we respond to the changes around us. We should be reading from these journals and communicating about what we read in our professional blogging. Our blogs should demonstrate our personal interest in the elements of our own expertise. If we don’t share and advance the knowledge base of our profession in this way, our claim to professional status will continue to weaken, and our professional identity, the subject of so much direct concern, will be reduced to a style that anyone can wear, regardless of social role and life commitment.

I hope this message is taken in the spirit of a shared concern for the profession that we all believe in.

[Note added two days later... Reactions to this post so far are making me feel it was a mistake to talk about the scholarly literature as the solution to what is wrong with the library blogosphere. This idea seems to have created a distraction from my main point, which was about what is wrong with the library blogosphere and the effect it is having on the profession. Paying more attention to the scholarly literature is just one thing bloggers might do to improve the library blogosphere. I was not intending to say that the lack of attention to the library literature in the blogosphere is what constitutes the problem. It's not that at all. It's just the personal, trivial nature of most of the blogging that goes under the "librarian" heading. Blogging about scholarly and professional literature is just one of many things library bloggers could do to use the blogosphere in a way that does more to advance the profession and show that the "librarian identity" is a matter of expertise rather than something to do with Catwoman.]

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38 Comments »

  1. If that’s the way support staff are treated in your library, you have a problem.

    Comment by Karin Wikoff — March 5, 2012 @ 3:18 am

  2. Interesting opinion at a time when many in academia are exploring new communication models away from the traditional journal concept. I’ve “blogged about the impact this trend could have on LIS professionalism vs. traditional publishing.

    As our profession expands to encompass new roles and services and expertise diversifies, the content of traditional LIS journals seems less relevant to many new practitioners. In many ways your concept of a cultural identity held together by blogs is more accurate and perhaps more useful than a set of quarterly articles aimed at a specific set of people.

    I’d rather see a professionalization of blogging rather than a resurgence of journal publishing, maybe with professional organizations assuming a shepherding / editing aggregation role with regards to this.

    Many young career Librarians, especially those in public library roles simply don’t have access to LIS journals, never mind the other interesting and useful ones you mentioned. Therefore, some information on blogs is really helpful for them.

    Blogs mitigate this. I would argue that Librarians don’t always need true peer review for their communication, only for true research. Most LIS journals are in reality an uneasy mixture of the two.

    Comment by Ed Chamberlain — March 5, 2012 @ 3:32 am

  3. Apologies, bad link in above post:

    http://edchamberlain.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/emerging-ils-professional-communication-models/

    Comment by Ed Chamberlain — March 5, 2012 @ 3:32 am

  4. I’m interested in your assertion that, ‘the library blogosphere has nearly replaced the reading of journals for most younger librarians’. I tend to think that, to our shame, reading the professional literature has always been a minority activity in this great profession of ours. But I see no evidence that the younger generation are any worse, or better, than we were.
    I blog about the trivial and about more lofty matters, but I would never encourage any reader to think that they were indulging in anything more than harmless diversion.

    Comment by Tom Roper — March 5, 2012 @ 7:39 am

  5. There are a lot of commonplace ideas in the blogosphere, about LIS journals for instance, that really aren’t true. Most of the new ideas that are being tried are coming out of the LIS journals and reported in the LIS journals. It is not that the content of LIS journals is irrelevant, it’s just that it’s a mode of communication that younger librarians have labeled as being not their own. This is unfortunate, because they provide a model of communication within the profession that is more serious, rigorous, and in fact full of new ideas than the library blogosphere that has replaced them as professional reading. Two basic, important differences in terms of the problems I am talking about are that the journal literature is intellectually focused and not about personal expression.

    In academia, there are new models for the publication of scholarly journals, but not for replacing them. So I’m unclear on what you mean by “new communication models.” If you are referring to blogs, then I think we come back to the problem I am trying to address. Your suggestion of a professionalization of blogging would be another good solution to the problem I am describing here, but it is still worth saying that there is a lot of worthwhile research in the journal literature that people should be reading. Not to mention making their own.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — March 5, 2012 @ 7:49 am

  6. Sorry, Ed. Only just now read your post.

    My comment is that with the new models you refer to, we are still talking about scholarly publishing, and it is the scholarly literature that I think librarians should be reading but are not. New publishing formats for scholarly research like the ones you describe are fine. I’m not sure how they would encourage librarians to read the work in LIS, but if they did, that would be great. The point I am making is just that reading the literature (the journal literature meaning the scholarly research) is one way that the library blogosphere could be improved.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — March 5, 2012 @ 7:53 am

  7. Tom,

    You might be right, but it is an impression that I get from librarians I have known, and occasionally from things I read in the library blogosphere where people talk about library blogging and what it means to them.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — March 5, 2012 @ 7:55 am

  8. If younger librarians find the scholarship of their profession inaccessible and/or in mode of communication “not their own,” then we are doomed. How can we possibly expect to be good librarians or build any sort of expertise we we cannot embrace ALL modes of communication?

    Comment by Denise — March 5, 2012 @ 11:19 am

  9. Kramer auto Pingback[...] to our profession is somehow (sorry, I promise I’ll stop using the p-word soon) “deprofessionalizing” it [...]

    Pingback by The World Is Yours | Professionalization, Libraries, and People Who Blog — March 6, 2012 @ 7:14 am

  10. Catwoman? Batgirl, dude.

    Your cultural literacy is sadly lacking.

    Comment by Steve Lawson — March 6, 2012 @ 8:37 pm

  11. A more serious reply: I believe that most librarian bloggers (and I certainly include myself) value our blogs and the blogs of others precisely because they straddle this personal / professional line. We might very well sometimes use them to “advance the knowledge base of the profession,” but we also use them to explain to ourselves and our readers what’s on our mind on a more day-to-day basis. We try and articulate our thoughts about the issue of the moment. We try and make friends, and sometimes end up making some enemies. It’s not a purely professional space, because that’s not what we want it to be. There are the journals you mention for that pure professionalism.

    And while I’m sure you realize that you have very little chance of changing the nature of the discourse on library blogs, you do yourself a disservice when you rely on generalizations and unsupported statements in your argument for greater professionalism. “The library blogosphere has nearly replaced the reading of journals for most younger librarians?” “It goes without saying that library administrators want the ability to determine what happens in the libraries for which they are responsible, and therefore have interests that are in tension with those of their professionals on the staff?” Both of those statements seem contestable to me.

    Comment by Steve Lawson — March 6, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

  12. Kramer auto Pingback[...] Deprofessionalization and the library blogosphere – Library Juice (USA).   "Library administrators and funding institutions have an interest in the deprofessionalization of librarianship in two ways – economic efficiency and control. Library support staff, who are being trained up to take on most responsibilities now handled by professional librarians, cost libraries less in wages.". [Interesting piece.  Volunteers, of course, cost even less ... but on the other hand, control is harder than with paid staff - Ed.] [...]

    Pingback by Public Libraries News: 500 books is a library — March 7, 2012 @ 2:28 am

  13. [...] Annie Mauger,  invites librarians via Twitter to ponder some views expressed in a blog, ‘Deprofessionalisation and the blogosphere’  The article decried the standard of social media communication being conducted by professional [...]

    Pingback by Passion for the Profession can be expressed in many ways « Information & Libraries Scotland — March 7, 2012 @ 8:17 am

  14. Thanks for your comments, Steve. You make some good points.

    Regarding the nature of the blogosphere, I agree that it makes sense to use it in the way that you describe, in a sense. But I see a problem in the actual content of most of the library blogs, in that they create an impression of librarians that is at odds with our need to maintain professional status based on expertise. Not all library blogs, but most, it seems to me, read like we are a group of rather unserious people with rather trivial priorities. If I think of the way attorneys blog in the context of their profession, for example, it’s not mainly about their anxieties about their image as lawyers. Not that they don’t have those anxieties, but they aren’t going to display such trivial, personal concerns when their profession gives them more important things to write about.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — March 7, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  15. Even though I continue to disagree with you, I do want to thank you for writing something thought-provoking and for taking the more serious of my comments seriously.

    The problem I continue to have here, is that, while I acknowledge that librarian blogs are often “unprofessional” in their tone or concerns (and I include mine in that category), I don’t buy your idea that this is harming the profession, and I don’t see you providing much evidence to support your claim.

    For my part, I think the library blogosphere is too often boring. I could write a post using yours as a template, saying that we are harming the profession by being too dull and predictable and boring and that I would rather read less-boring posts, just as you would rather read more-professional posts. But in the end, I’d just be stating a personal preference, which is what I’d argue is happening in your post.

    Comment by Steve Lawson — March 7, 2012 @ 11:02 am

  16. I realize I’m making a claim without providing evidence to back it up, which would have to be in the form of some kind of research. It could be done by surveying people on their views about the profession after having them read a few different kinds of things. That wouldn’t prove all that much, but it would show something. I realize I don’t have that kind of data, but I’m writing out of a feeling of confidence about what the result would be. I could be wrong, I know. It’s only my opinion. But it isn’t only an opinion about what I like to read but an opinion about the impression it makes to people who might encounter the profession through the library blogosphere.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — March 7, 2012 @ 11:16 am

  17. I find the professional librarian literature to be less relevant to me, both personally and in my library, than the diversity of blogs that I read. My personal bias is that the blogged content tends towards the practical and more useful, as well as being current. You can find professional, well-written, well-thought out content on librarian blogs.

    It’s not clear to me that there is any more or less hand-wringing on librarian blogs about the future than on the legal blogs that I read. Lots of people are thinking about where they are going, and blogs may come across as a less formal way to deliberate about it. I’m also not aware that anyone but librarians perceives these blogs as representative; there is significant print-based stereotyping to overcome and non-librarians may be better able to understand the personal/professional blurring of blogs.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    Comment by David Whelan — March 8, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

  18. Kramer auto Pingback[...] Deprofessionalization and the library blogosphere [...]

    Pingback by Dots & Loops • What I mostly see in the library blogosphere is a... — March 9, 2012 @ 11:49 am

  19. Kramer auto Pingback[...] Deprofessionalization and the Library Blogosphere by Rory Litwin March 04, 2012 Librarianship as a profession is, as we all know, threatened. The threat can be identified most directly as a reduction in public support for government institutions, especially those institutions or their components considered “less essential.” Where librarians feel that our jobs, or our job prospects in the case of new librarians, are threatened, we have a personal stake in the fate of libraries, which in our discourse with the public can put the taint of self-interest on our arguments for the value of what we do. But for most of us, it is not so much a matter of protecting our jobs but protecting our ability to do the kind of work that we believe in. That passion for the profession serves us well in making the case to the public about our role, where our personal stake may not. In terms of the question of public support for libraries, our belief in the values of the profession is an essential rhetorical tool. However, it is only one piece. The other piece is professional expertise. Our expertise as librarians is part of a dynamic where the threat to libraries is being felt in a less direct and less noticeable way, which is the process of deprofessionalization. Library administrators and funding institutions have an interest in the deprofessionalization of librarianship in two ways – economic efficiency and control. Library support staff, who are being trained up to take on most responsibilities now handled by professional librarians, cost libraries less in wages. Because they are not a part of a profession that makes a claim to autonomy in the workplace, and not guided by a professional code as well as by management directives, they are more subject to direct management by their supervisors. That is to say, they are workers with bosses where librarians tend not to have bosses in the same way, tending rather to occupy roles in their organization where management is partly a collegial process. It goes without saying that library administrators want the ability to determine what happens in the libraries for which they are responsible, and therefore have interests that are in tension with those of their professionals on the staff. In order to make a claim to professional autonomy, librarians need more than a set of admirable values to justify it. They need a body of professional expertise that is incontrovertible, made up of knowledge and skills that others recognize required extensive education to gain. They need to be able to make the case that what they offer as professionals is something that other people cannot do nearly as well. They need to show that what they do is not only interesting and admirable and important, but that doing it takes expertise, and that they possess that expertise. The importance of the professional status of librarians was first recognized in the 1920s in the famous Williamson Report, which led directly to the establishment of graduate level education as a prerequisite for employment as a librarian. The reason for the masters in librarianship has a lot to do with the importance of professional autonomy for the pursuit of the honorable goals of librarianship as a profession, which are not necessarily the direct priority of institutions. That autonomy is just as important as the fact of our employment, if our employment is to have any meaning in a social sense. Part of the process of deprofessionalization, somewhat ironically, has been a move among library management thinkers toward a reconception of the professional librarian as primarily a supervisor of front line staff. This pattern first appeared in the area of technical services, as a result of the advent of shared cataloging, but it has begun to spread to other areas of library work as well, with the move toward cross-training support staff in formerly-professional work roles. (Readers who are interested in the issue of the deprofessionalization of librarianship may be interested in a paper I wrote about it for Progressive Librarian a couple of years ago.) Making the case for the importance of maintaining our presence in libraries as professionals is, as I mentioned, dependent on being able to claim an area of indisputable expertise. This expertise should be understood as constituting what it means to be a librarian. The knowledge and skills that make up this expertise, and the work that goes into advancing that knowledge and those skills, should be our primary concern as librarians, and should be the main content of our communication with each other as librarians, especially where that communication is before the public. This is where I find the library blogosphere to be a problem, and to be a contributor to the deprofessionalization of librarianship. I realize that this is a controversial statement to make and not likely to be popular, so let me qualify it a bit before making my case. It’s important to say that there actually is substantial amount of discussion in the library blogosphere about real professional issues, exploring new problems and advancing the profession’s knowledge and expertise. This can take the form of intelligent essays like those that appear in Lead Pipe, and can also be found in the more personal musings of typical library blogs, from time to time. –Rory Litwin Full article: Library Juice [...]

    Pingback by Concerned Librarians of British Columbia: Deprofessionalization and the Library Blogosphere by Rory Litwin — March 12, 2012 @ 12:40 am

  20. [...] for staff to undertake research and development as simply part of their job.  Last week Rory Litwin wrote in a rather more controversial blog post that In order to make a claim to professional autonomy, [...]

    Pingback by You need an R&D culture, not an R&D department | It's Not About the Books — March 12, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

  21. Kramer auto Pingback[...] than being seen as on par with an accountant.*we had a thing called 'professional day' and also this post and various individuals' opinions. Posted by sparklenight at 16:27 Email [...]

    Pingback by Contrary Librarian: If you are defining 'professional' for me, then I don't want to be one. — March 17, 2012 @ 11:45 am

  22. I think what you’re calling deprofessionalization is happening in lots of professions. Academic faculty, for instance, have blogs where they post “personal musings”, sometimes insightful and sometimes meaningless drivel. Of course, the difference is that faculty are also generally expected to publish in more traditional formats. But I think the other way to look at deprofessionalization is “democratization”. More and more librarians have access to the conversation now thanks to blogs, twitter, and other social media tools. I think public librarians in particular are able to participate in a way they didn’t before, since they typically have not been compelled or had access to the same kind of scholarly publishing opportunities academic librarians have. Public discourse has become more inclusive. Yes, the conversation is more casual but I think that’s a shift in the larger culture and less a shift in librarianship. Are there less library-related publishing opportunities now than before? Are library publications not examining important issues they would have otherwise? I genuinely don’t know the answer to these questions. If the answer is yes, then perhaps your concerns need addressing, especially in the preparation of library science students. If the answer is no, then it would seem to me that the conversation is only made richer by personal library blogs.

    Comment by Jen — March 20, 2012 @ 8:21 am

  23. [...] 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 [...]

    Pingback by On professionalism « Hack Library School — March 26, 2012 @ 6:34 am

  24. Completely minor quibble, but I’m not sure what you meant by Catwoman in your Edit Note, unless you were referring to a lot of people being annoyed by and blogging about the crappy overhaul she underwent as part of the New 52. I suspect you meant the original Batgirl, who was a librarian at one point.

    Comment by Kit — March 26, 2012 @ 7:53 am

  25. Coming from the hard sciences, I find library literature to be poorly written, mostly inconclusive, and misleading – a disappointment and torture to read for every school assignment. The kinds of things being written about in journals are not presented well, and generally only present a smidgen of new information in 15 pages of babbling about theory.

    AL and LJ have interesting articles about relevant subjects, but they’re short, and really only touch on the surface of any issues.

    Also, I think it cheapens everyone’s degree when public libraries don’t require an MLS for reference or public services positions. I know it’s a money saver, but why are we even pursuing an MLS if experience matters more? Why don’t we all just pursue MBAs if only management positions require master’s degrees? The MLS needs a major overhaul to remain relevant and offer graduates skills that are appealing to libraries now.

    Comment by Jessie — March 26, 2012 @ 8:53 am

  26. Most people have interpreted this post as being about the journal literature, but that’s really just a tangential point. Mostly it’s about the blogosphere. I am a little annoyed that 90% of bloggers and commenters are summarizing this post as being about the journal literature. I mentioned journals as an afterthought. That’s my sole response….

    Comment by Rory Litwin — March 26, 2012 @ 9:10 am

  27. Hi Rory,

    As someone who does not neatly fit into the LIS community, I find your assertions to be alarming for several reasons. Rather than hurt the LIS communities professionalism, I believe that blogs actually help move it forward. I no longer subscribe to many LIS journals not because I cannot afford them, but because they are generally irrelevant to my particular aspect of the LIS profession. My observation, as a new-ish LIS professional is that our field is that our field maintains an official position that is far too conservative for the changes that are occurring on a daily basis. Blogs, Twitter, and other social media tools are the most efficient, cost effective, and up to the minute tools that our profession can utilize. By saying that they instead take away from the field demonstrates, I believe, a profound generational divide in our community. The blogosphere is full of seemingly irrelevant information, but then again, the same case could be argued for peer reviewed publications. In my professional arena a publication that comes out once a month or quarter is much too slow when ideas can change hour to hour.

    These points aside, thank you for your post as it definitely made me seriously think about my part in the LIS community and the blogosphere as a whole.

    Comment by Alex Berman — March 26, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

  28. Note- I apologize for the typos.

    Comment by Alex Berman — March 26, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

  29. [...] see lots of people misreading Rory Litwin’s Library Juice post on professionalism, focusing on the blogs v. journals paragraph. I think the more interesting angle [...]

    Pingback by liblather « the girl works — March 28, 2012 @ 10:23 am

  30. [...] people – but it also walks the line between accessible and unprofessional. Objections to the perceived “deprofessionalization” of librarianship thanks to the rise of blogging have been discussed at the Library Juice blog recently, and it’s certainly a sticky issue. [...]

    Pingback by ‘Blogging for a Good Book’ as a Readers’ Advisory Blog « The Social Library — April 9, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

  31. At the risk of becoming another target of the ire of your readers (who seem keen to shoot down your thoughts without offering an alternative), I have noticed that several of the Librarian Blogs which I regularly read have indeed been morphing from critical discussion of pertinent professional issues to “Oh my God, did you hear the Hunger Games’ director is not returning for the next instalment????!!!” commentary. It is disappointing. Professional blogs, IMHO, should strive to advance the profession by encouraging thoughtful discussion and sharing of key issues and information. Personal blogs are the place for pop culture. Chin up… chances are good that more than one protester here is catching a glimpse of him or herself that is less than flattering.

    Comment by Seoirse — April 17, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

  32. I’ve been watching the comments keep coming on this discussion and if they agree with you, they seem to think anyone with a dissenting opinion is just not giving your ideas a fair shake. As one of those dissenters, I think that’s a little short sighted too. To be clear, I don’t agree that talking about pop culture, personal opinions, local experience, or other informal topics deprofessionalizes us. Pop culture, for instance, IS our business as librarians, or at least for many librarians. It’s our job to know about it, understand it, appreciate it, even celebrate it. This isn’t our only job, but it’s part of it and there’s no reason to be ashamed of that. It DOES take professional expertise to curate a collection of animated movies, to help a reader identify a graphic novel to read, to create programs that engage a community, etc. As for a celebration of the librarian in pop culture–again I’d argue that while it doesn’t exactly advance the cause of professionalization, it doesn’t hurt it either. Anyone who reads it knows it’s not a serious discussion of the significance or direction of our profession. Blogs aren’t professional journals. Why should they be? If you wants to read a serious, in-depth academic article, you can read a journal. If you want to read a personal musing, professional observations, exploration of librarian images, or the seed conversation for a later academic article, blogs are the way to go. As I said in my earlier comment, you could make an argument that the blogs are informal, but again I don’t believe that’s a bad thing. The world is getting more informal. A blog in any field is more informal than a journal. And moreover, many library bloggers are not journal article writers–never would have been, never will be, never wanted to be. Instead, they’re adding to the wider conversation in the way that interests them. They don’t want to engage in an intense academic debate. Does that diminish them or their profession? I don’t believe so.

    That seems to be the fundamental difference in opinion here–does talking about more “trivial” stuff (which is of course a value judgment) make us seem less professional to each other or to the wider world? My answer is no. Librarians are not sacred gatekeepers to some ancient wisdom. We’re like any other profession. Sometimes what we do requires specialized expertise, and sometimes it doesn’t. To pretend that everything we do is complicated, meaningful, and undoable by anyone else is not going to help us survive. (What will help us is a discussion for another time.)

    All that said, I strongly believe in the value of professional literature. I think new librarians SHOULD be reading more professional literature and engaging in the academic discussion. But reading and creating professional literature can coexist with blogging about the sexy librarian stereotype or the newest book-to-movie adaptation.

    Comment by Jen — April 18, 2012 @ 6:03 am

  33. Kramer auto Pingback[...] Deprofessionalization and the Library Blogosphere by Rory Litwin March 04, 2012 Librarianship as a profession is, as we all know, threatened. The threat can be identified most directly as a reduction in public support for government institutions, especially those institutions or their components considered “less essential.” Where librarians feel that our jobs, or our job prospects in the case of new librarians, are threatened, we have a personal stake in the fate of libraries, which in our discourse with the public can put the taint of self-interest on our arguments for the value of what we do. But for most of us, it is not so much a matter of protecting our jobs but protecting our ability to do the kind of work that we believe in. That passion for the profession serves us well in making the case to the public about our role, where our personal stake may not. In terms of the question of public support for libraries, our belief in the values of the profession is an essential rhetorical tool. However, it is only one piece. The other piece is professional expertise. Our expertise as librarians is part of a dynamic where the threat to libraries is being felt in a less direct and less noticeable way, which is the process of deprofessionalization. Library administrators and funding institutions have an interest in the deprofessionalization of librarianship in two ways – economic efficiency and control. Library support staff, who are being trained up to take on most responsibilities now handled by professional librarians, cost libraries less in wages. Because they are not a part of a profession that makes a claim to autonomy in the workplace, and not guided by a professional code as well as by management directives, they are more subject to direct management by their supervisors. That is to say, they are workers with bosses where librarians tend not to have bosses in the same way, tending rather to occupy roles in their organization where management is partly a collegial process. It goes without saying that library administrators want the ability to determine what happens in the libraries for which they are responsible, and therefore have interests that are in tension with those of their professionals on the staff. In order to make a claim to professional autonomy, librarians need more than a set of admirable values to justify it. They need a body of professional expertise that is incontrovertible, made up of knowledge and skills that others recognize required extensive education to gain. They need to be able to make the case that what they offer as professionals is something that other people cannot do nearly as well. They need to show that what they do is not only interesting and admirable and important, but that doing it takes expertise, and that they possess that expertise. The importance of the professional status of librarians was first recognized in the 1920s in the famous Williamson Report, which led directly to the establishment of graduate level education as a prerequisite for employment as a librarian. The reason for the masters in librarianship has a lot to do with the importance of professional autonomy for the pursuit of the honorable goals of librarianship as a profession, which are not necessarily the direct priority of institutions. That autonomy is just as important as the fact of our employment, if our employment is to have any meaning in a social sense. Part of the process of deprofessionalization, somewhat ironically, has been a move among library management thinkers toward a reconception of the professional librarian as primarily a supervisor of front line staff. This pattern first appeared in the area of technical services, as a result of the advent of shared cataloging, but it has begun to spread to other areas of library work as well, with the move toward cross-training support staff in formerly-professional work roles. (Readers who are interested in the issue of the deprofessionalization of librarianship may be interested in a paper I wrote about it for Progressive Librarian a couple of years ago.) Making the case for the importance of maintaining our presence in libraries as professionals is, as I mentioned, dependent on being able to claim an area of indisputable expertise. This expertise should be understood as constituting what it means to be a librarian. The knowledge and skills that make up this expertise, and the work that goes into advancing that knowledge and those skills, should be our primary concern as librarians, and should be the main content of our communication with each other as librarians, especially where that communication is before the public. This is where I find the library blogosphere to be a problem, and to be a contributor to the deprofessionalization of librarianship. I realize that this is a controversial statement to make and not likely to be popular, so let me qualify it a bit before making my case. It’s important to say that there actually is substantial amount of discussion in the library blogosphere about real professional issues, exploring new problems and advancing the profession’s knowledge and expertise. This can take the form of intelligent essays like those that appear in Lead Pipe, and can also be found in the more personal musings of typical library blogs, from time to time. –Rory Litwin Full article: Library Juice [...]

    Pingback by Concerned Librarians of British Columbia: March 2012 — May 13, 2012 @ 11:51 am

  34. Kramer auto Pingback[...] doing quality work who don’t feel the need to blog. Why should I bother? 4). This blog post on librarians and deprofessionalization that I read recently. The take-away is that the librarians need to read less blog posts and more [...]

    Pingback by Blogs, social networks, and librarians | MissCybrarian — June 12, 2012 @ 12:02 am

  35. [...] publishing in this context. To get a sense of what we mean by this, please read the following blog entry (thank you, Richard) on ‘Deprofessionalization and the library blogosphere’ and also a [...]

    Pingback by thecardigancontinuum — June 19, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

  36. [...] publishing in this context. To get a sense of what we mean by this, please read the following blog entry (thank you, Richard) on ‘Deprofessionalization and the library blogosphere’, article (thank you [...]

    Pingback by Meeting on 2nd July « thecardigancontinuum — June 27, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

  37. Kramer auto Pingback[...] [...]

    Pingback by Cites & Insights 12:9 - Thinking About Blogging Part 2 — September 26, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

  38. Kramer auto Pingback[...] of social media in response to a discussion triggered by CILIP chair Annie Mauger’s “Deprofessionalisation and the blogosphere” post. It seems to be part of a really interesting debate about the nature of professional [...]

    Pingback by 2012 March 08 » Nicola Osborne — January 27, 2014 @ 9:19 am

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