- Renewing Professional Librarianship: A Fundamental Rethinking
Many librarians will find this book gratifying for helping them recognize what they probably sense is going astray with their beloved profession. As more and more people become self-sufficient in retrieving information (or believe they are), information provision is diminishing in importance. Crowley’s thesis—a better word is manifesto—is that librarians are more than just information intermediaries; they have many responsibilities for facilitating learning for people of all ages (“cradle to grave”). The profession can be saved from being downgraded by promoting “lifecycle librarianship” for academic, school, and public libraries that emphasizes their educational mission. The library needs to be seen not as “a low-cost purveyor of information” but “as a community learning resource requiring well-educated professionals” whose values are different from the for-profit sector (such as may be appropriate for corporate information specialists). (p. 38) Of course librarians deal with information, and of course they are information providers, organizers, disseminators, and even creators. To be effective, librarians also need to be qualified to support reading and lifelong learning, including a wide range of self-help and coping skills and knowledge.
Another primary audience—perhaps the main target of the book—is faculty and administrators in the academic programs that purport to be educating future librarians— library schools, iSchools, library and information science (LIS) programs, or whatever they are calling themselves these days. Crowley argues that librarianship is being redefined out of existence by well-meaning, but misguided, educators who focus solely on information research and issues to the exclusion of the broader range of concerns of librarianship. He also blames university administrators who see information science and technology research as more prestigious and lucrative than library research and public library managers who focus on information-oriented business models. Another culprit is the American Library Association’s (ALA) accreditation process, which places too much emphasis on information science, reducing librarianship to a minor component. Accreditation has been “kidnapped” by the information science folks—by those involved with corporate knowledge management and research information centers to the detriment of the distinctly different field of librarianship. Among the risks of equating librarianship with information provision is that information studies and informatics belong to many disciplines, including business, health and medicine, biology, and others. In computer science, information science is disdained as “computer science light.” Librarianship alone has a distinct identity that will endure even if information is eaten up by other fields.
Crowley is a reformer hell-bent on fixing library education by redefining librarianship itself. His assertions about the sharp distinctions that must be maintained between information science and library science, however, do not square with my own observations. As a practitioner and an educator who has straddled the intellectual domains, conference venues, and literatures of the two specialties for my entire career, I believe that they have both benefited from the close relationship in single academic programs. Libraries have been laboratories for information science research, and practitioners have provided [End Page 292] the problems and challenges to information scientists and theorists (sure, it works in practice, but does it work in theory?). In turn, information science has benefited librarianship by making librarians more aware of user preferences and behaviors, helping librarians become early adopters of technology, keeping librarians aware of cutting edge research and development, and more. Although I applaud Crowley’s articulate arguments for preserving and valuing the unique contributions and values of librarianship, I would hate to see his manifesto used as a wedge to drive the specialties within our diverse field further apart.
Increasingly, librarianship is being taught by aging library science faculty nearing retirement (Crowley calls them “library-friendly faculty”) or by practitioners who are being paid ridiculously low adjunct wages and who have no say in overall curriculum standards or design. Thus, the window of opportunity for reforming library education is rapidly closing as more and more faculty are hired who do not have library backgrounds but who control the doctoral programs that are preparing the next...