Monday, April 30, 2007

Discourse in Librarianship

Steven Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University, writes provocatively in the April 27 issue of Inside Higher Education about the lack of discourse in librarianship. According to Bell, in "traditional library literature one rarely sees an article that takes issue with the research or perspectives of a particular author." Instead, a premium seems to be placed on going along and getting along, a situation that does not promote vigorous intellectual dialogue about issues or ideas. Regular readers of Library Journal and American Libraries know that the content of those publications rarely makes intellectual demands on them. They are essentially current awareness publications, with the former title also publishing book reviews that aren't particularly insightful. At least some law librarians reading this will acknowledge that the educational sessions and discussions at the annual AALL conference are (mostly) far from riveting. Conference attendees sometimes seem to get more worked up about local restaurants than they do about the controversies of the day. Bell asserts that even in the library blogosphere, "the rules of disengagement dominate the landscape. ... Rarely does one see a post that starts with 'I have to disagree' or 'Boy, does he have it wrong.'"

It is interesting to note that the comments that follow Bell's article are not the bland posts of which Bell complaints; some of them are rather pointed, with one writer daring librarians to compare the level of discourse and engagement at an MLA conference with that at an ALA conference. Is Bell wrong about the level of discourse in librarianship, or did his article hit a collective nerve?


Betsy McKenzie said...

Gee, Marie! Now I feel compelled to argue with you about this post. Darn.

Jacqueline Cantwell said...

I read Bell’s piece and on first reflection, I wasn’t impressed. What could have been a reflection on how power and social structure limits librarians instead read more like a piece of self-promotion. A far better analysis of librarians is “Collaboration between theory and evidence-based practice : librarians and professors"

The blog Library boy has a good discussion and good links to interesting blogs. Walk Crawford points out that it is easier for tenured librarians to disagree. Since many law librarians work for law firms and government agencies, they must be circumspect. I have to say that the academic fad for quoting Bourdieu and Foucault amuses me. I would like to see some quotes of Deutscher and E.P. Thompson. Explain that to a academic review committee.

I have been surprised to not see any librarian discussion on the recent Harpers article on digital librarians. The poor SF librarians are rightfully described as resentful of being turned into computer technicians. What library school academic has studied their situation? What an interesting study that would be of the push to the digital library and the loss of professional standing.

IF memory serves me right, I have read some pretty nasty posts in library blogs. A lot of whining, but no criticism of power, system or structure. Where is the librarian possessed of the qualities of Auftragstaktik?

Anonymous said...

I would be pleased to draw your attention to two of my write-ups about "semantic web and facet analysis". In the first one I have questioned one compiler of a bibliography as well as questioned the kidnapping of Library Science ideas and re-namimg by Web experts. In the second one, again I have tried to inform how the Library professions' work could be followed by the web experts (with proper acknowledgement of course). Please check the first two links in:


F.J. Devadason, Librarian

M Taher said...

Hi Marie
Reading your blog's post I find you are one of those whom Shera and Ranganathan would love to chat. I forwarded your creative visualization of a lack of foundational concern to my buddies.
Response to this has been delighting. Also, I found thro' a buddy a similar concern in LJ's most recent issue: Brave New World Wide Web
Stay connected and pl correspond: mt2222 @ yahoo dot com