Library Science & Librarians: Current & Historical Contexts


According to a recent study of Library Science, a common notion of the librarians about their own profession is revealed; which indicates lower self-esteem towards their profession. Most of the librarians believe that, they are not respected as a professional group. It also exposed the curriculum designed to educate new library science students on the history of libraries and librarianship, their connection to society, intellectual freedom, and the future of information dissemination. Yet it identified a disturbing theme: librarians are very insecure about their profession – so insecure that it has become a pervasive anxiety throughout the field of librarianship. While some insecurity results from the undesirable physical stereotype of librarians perpetuated by the popular media, library-literature is the real offender as it portrays the more serious crisis of professional insecurity, i.e., the feeling of not being valuable or valued by others. To make matters worse, newcomers to the library profession adopt this insecurity through their exposure to the literature of the field, thereby creating a vicious cycle.

The Historical Context
The study also offered numerous examples of library professionals lamenting their perceived poor status of the “…librarians are very insecure about their profession -so insecure that it has become a pervasive anxiety throughout the field of librarianship.” library field. Where did this concern with status begin? There had to be some impetus to not feeling valued. In this point we can refer for some fascinating possibilities in Richard E. Rubin’s book Foundations of Library and Information Science.

One possibility is the founding of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1876. Rubin states that this was an “important guidepost” as the creation of the ALA “substantially increases professional identity” and provides “librarianship with an identity outside the profession” (2000). These statements, while seeming to promote the benefits of the presence of the ALA to the profession, actually illustrate Rubin’s point of view (and potentially the point of view of the founders of the ALA): that the profession of librarianship did not currently have enough of an identity either inside or outside of the profession. By saying that the ALA was needed to increase professional identity, Rubin implies that the founders thought that the current professional identity was somehow lacking. Librarians of the time, impressed with the idea of being represented by their new professional association, may not have noticed the implied insult to their self-image, but simply internalized the idea that their profession was lacking a suitable identity. Perhaps now that the ALA was there for them, their profession would be more valued. But this kind of thinking reinforces the idea that librarianship was somehow not producing an acceptable self-image and was not already valued prior to the creation of the ALA.

Another possibility as to an initial source of librarians’ professional insecurity is Melvil Dewey. Considered a “prime force in the professionalization of librarianship” (Rubin 2000), Dewey contributed hugely to the field of librarianship. Yet he may also have contributed to the lack of a secure self-image when he wrote “The time has come when a librarian may without assumption speak of his occupation as a profession” (Rubin 2000). Although he seemed to be trying to promote librarianship as a profession, his statement implies that for some, unnamed reason, before that “time” had come, librarians could not call their occupation a profession. Had not librarianship previously been a true profession?

The Current Context
A huge amount of professional uncertainty is passed on through library literature. When I read in Harris, Hannah, and Harris’ book Into the Future that “The librarian of the electronic age could become a valued professional” (Harris et al. 1998), I think that librarians are not currently valued professionals. When suggesting that a librarian can become a valued professional, supported evidence is needed to show that the librarian was not already a valued professional.

Professional insecurity is also spread throughout the profession by the fact that librarians spend much time and energy in an effort to connect to each other through writing and professional organizations. Professional organizations abound and membership is highly recommended by library science educators. Yet George Bobinski wonders in his article, Is the Library Profession “The three-year existence of a column – in the main journal for the profession published by the ALA – that focused solely on the image of librarians is a prime example of the obsessive nature with which librarians undertake the issue of their image.” Over-Organized? about the “proliferation of library associations” (2000). Bobinski declares that librarians spend “too much time talking and writing to ourselves” in professional library organizations and publications. Since a good number of these written communications focus on the lack of status of the library profession, how to improve librarians’ status, image stereotypes of librarians, and similar themes these writings are a supremely effective way for members of the library profession to obsess about their status anxiety.

A prime example of this obsession over status anxiety is seen in the regular column introduced by American Libraries entitled

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