Library Schism: How Do Librarians Define Their Profession?


Are you a librarian or graduate from an ALA-accredited graduate program? If so, how do you define the library profession? What does it mean to you, and in which direction would you like to see it move? Is there a split occurring among those who identify with the profession, and if so, what’s causing that rift?

In the past two days I followed this rabbit hole of blog posts: “Waiting for Batgirl,” “What Not to Tumblr,” “Wear What You Want: Dressing to Lead Libraries,” “How to Never, Not Ever, be A Rockstar Librarian,” “‘So What Do You Do?’,”
I Neither Move Nor Shake: On awards and front-line/trenches librarians” “The Harlem Shake, Alyssa Edwards and an Ostrich, Boys’ Clubs, Rockstar Librarians, and Being ‘Nice’,” “ego, thy name is librarianship,” “How to Get Invited to Speak – Work, Pay Up, Represent” “Gender, “thought leaders”, ego, and subversion,” “On Big Name Librarians,” and “Meditations Upon My Lack of Fame.”

Don’t worry about my sanity; some skimming did occur.

Tension within the library profession is not new1; but, I wonder if this is a different kind of tension? Libraries serve their communities and the expectations and work vary greatly from public, medical, and academic libraries. Further, graduate programs have shifted from library schools to ischools. Do the the differences in graduate programs and library services make it harder to maintain a cohesive professional identity? Or does the professional identity scale toward general ideas of open access to information and preservation of knowledge?

In wading through these posts, two thoughts came to mind. In the midst of all these voices, how is the silent majority taken into account? What are their views on the library profession? Secondly, what are the connections between personal branding and the evolution of the gig economy? How are changes in the workforce and career expectations affecting library professionals?

 Again, if you work in libraries or identify with the profession, how do you see it? Do you sense a tension or is it just the loudest voices on the Internet?


[1The Dialectic of Defeat: Antimonies in Research in Library and Information Science.

Photo used under Creative Commons license. Attribution



I think that the professional identity definitely shifts toward general values that include not only access to information, but also teaching about how to access information and how to be information literate and media literate. Almost 15 years ago, Micahel Gorman wrote a book called Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century that sets forth such professional values as stewardship, service, intellectual freedom, rationalism, literacy and learning, equity of access, privacy, and democracy. I think these values still define the profession fairly well.

The schism might come in to play when we start talking about how to do/promote/teach these things, especially in view of the ever-changing political/social/technological landscape.

I am an academic librarian in a small health sciences university and I got my master’s degree about four years ago.

Matthew Windsor

Library Director: We have a question: Do you want to be a librarian, or do you want to appear to be a librarian? It’s an honest question. A lot of guys just want to appear to be librarians. tattoos, glasses, pretend they’re on TV.
Librarian Dignam: Yeah, a lot of people just wanna slam a patron’s head through a plate-glass window.
Librarian Porcaro: I’m all set without your own personal job application. Alright, Associate Librarian Dignam?
Librarian Dignam: What the hell did you say to me?
Librarian Porcaro: [to the director] With all due respect, ma’am, what do you want from me?
Librarian Dignam: Hey George Bush, she can’t help you! I know what you are, okay? I know what you are and I know what you are not. I’m the best friend you have on the face of this earth, and I’m gonna help you understand something, you punk. You’re no freakin’ librarian!


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