Librarianship: How to solve our existential crisis

Why is it that librarians spend so much time trying to figure out who they are and what they do?   I’ve read several thought-provoking blog posts over the past couple weeks about how librarians should define themselves and whether or not librarianship is a true profession, and after reading each post I wonder why we’re allowing ourselves to get caught up in this debate in such a way, again and again, and again.

This is not to suggest that these issues don’t have merit.  Ryan Deschamps’ post on professionalism and librarianship stirred up a hornet’s nest, and it was the right thing to do: it’s good when we stake our individual positions on this matter from time to time.  Ryan has shown it from all sides, allowed others to come out for or against, and even staked his own ground, which we should all consider, too.  Mark and Deborah‘s posts over at Re:Generations, meanwhile, have demonstrated some of the reasons why we wonder what we are or what we may like to perceived as professionally.

But I’m still bothered by this entire debate.  It’s not that I think it’s pedantic – it is a necessary debate. However, this debate requires not just commentary but other facts and arguments, and

Reference is cool, but what else do we do for society?

also different voices.  I would like to see this considered, en masse, outside of the LIS blogosphere.  I think some of the answers librarians are looking for when we try to figure out who we are might be found if we didn’t limit these question to just our peer group.  We usually end up talking in circles (as has been seen time and again) if we keep this conversation to ourselves.   If you asked your friend, neighbour, spouse, city councilor, and postal carrier what a librarian is and what a librarian does, what answers would you expect to hear?  I think we, Librarians, should stop asking ourselves what our place is in the world and actually talk to the world at large to see where we stand and where we can go from here.

For what it’s worth, I believe that many people in LIS have skills and expertise that can be used – and ought to be used – in the communities we serve.  Meghan Ecclestone pretty much took the words from my mouth when she asked why CBC’s Q didn’t invite a librarian on to talk about possible revisions to a racist Tin-Tin and its censorship/collections/cultural implications even though Jian Ghomeshi opened up the programme by asking all of Canada, “What’s a librarian to do?”.

Our expertise lends itself to large social concerns

LIS professionals have expertise in copyright, policy, information ethics, data generation and preservation, IT and IS, just to name a few.  Do our friends, neighbours, and culture players understand this?  Probably not.  If we’re going to ask ourselves if we’re a profession or if we’re professional, I think we should ask ourselves if the communities we live in and serve understand our expertise and if we offer it well enough to society at large.

2 thoughts on “Librarianship: How to solve our existential crisis”

  1. Hi Michael,
    I suspect that there needs to be more of an effort on librarians' parts to make themselves more accessible to mainstream media forums, in order for them to be the "go-to's" for a story on — as you said — copyright, policy, information ethics, data generation and preservation, IT and IS. I dunno — perhaps those interviewees featured in the Q story made themselves more available?? Lots of professional associations in other industries have a highly developed media/PR/marketing strategy that I suspect (but am reallllly not sure) we're lacking. I think our professional associations are busy trying to lobby political actors to not decimate budgets any further.
    With regard to our ongoing existential crisis, I like how the article I referred to from LNG sees this as a PR issue; it needn't be over-thought or analysed to death; it's simply a matter of doing what we do, but letting others know about it. It's also action-oriented instead of… I dunno… talk-oriented? Because we are really great at talking already. 🙂

  2. Hi Michael,
    I suspect that there needs to be more of an effort on librarians' parts to make themselves more accessible to mainstream media forums, in order for them to be the "go-to's" for a story on — as you said — copyright, policy, information ethics, data generation and preservation, IT and IS. I dunno — perhaps those interviewees featured in the Q story made themselves more available?? Lots of professional associations in other industries have a highly developed media/PR/marketing strategy that I suspect (but am reallllly not sure) we're lacking. I think our professional associations are busy trying to lobby political actors to not decimate budgets any further.
    With regard to our ongoing existential crisis, I like how the article I referred to from LNG sees this as a PR issue; it needn't be over-thought or analysed to death; it's simply a matter of doing what we do, but letting others know about it. It's also action-oriented instead of… I dunno… talk-oriented? Because we are really great at talking already. 🙂

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