Friday, November 04, 2005

Some thoughts on librarians' journal clubs

This post was prompted by a post from Mark Lindner of . . .the thoughts are broken . . . . He wrote a post in response to an article, which I cite below, regarding journal clubs for librarians. Mark is proposing the formation of a virtual journal club for librarians and others who may be interested. The article citation is as follows:

Hickman, Theodore and Lisa Allen. "A Librarians Journal Club: A Forum for Sharing Ideas and Experiences." C&RL News 66.9 (October 2005): 642-644.

Before going on to read Mark's post, I went ahead and read the article. Having a membership in ALA and ACRL meant I could access the article online. My print journals are notoriously slow in arriving via snail mail. The article and Mark's post gave me some food for thought, but it also made me a bit reluctant to write some of the thoughts below because I find myself wishing that some of the conversations made possible by the club way described by Hickman and Allen could be put in place in my library. The odds for that at the moment are a little slim. I will say I had mixed feelings typing some of this since a part of it deals with work, but for me, "alea iacta est."

In my library, like many academic libraries, we route journals of academic and professional interest that we subscribe to. This does not always happen in a timely fashion, but it is just a fact of life. At any rate, a lot of what I would want to look at can be accessed online or through an alert service. What I never hear much though is my colleagues talking about what they read. I am sure they read. I see them sneaking an article here and there at the Information Desk, and I know of one who will read a professional article now and then when things are slow. What the authors describe in their article seems applicable. They write that "more commonly, professional staff is absorbed in completing the tasks and assigned duties that fall chiefly within their immediate area of responsibility." Any dialogue on this that does happen does so on the fly. If I ever ask people what they read, I will admit to feeling a little guilty. Like I am taking them away from something else they should be doing. I hate imposing on people. Sure, I will do various things, but it does not mean I will ask others to jump along. Maybe it is a bit of myself: I am perfectly fine trying out new things and falling on my sword if things do not work out. So, where do I come from with this?

In graduate school, groups like the ones described in the article were formed. And I don't mean just groups formed for specific classes. There is an old joke about graduate students that when the professor fails to show up for class, the students still go ahead and discuss whatever the assignment was rather than go home. Students formed groups on their own to explore readings and interests. It happened in English Studies and in Library School. While I did not make it to every meeting, when I did make it, I got a lot of benefit from the process. It is one thing I miss. And while I understand that the realities of work are different than the ivory tower, I do wonder if it means sharing learning and reading have to go on the wayside. Are such things not part of professional growth and development? I think so. I am willing to gamble at least some of my colleagues think so as well, but time becomes the factor. The reading part is easy; it's the sharing and reflection time that takes work. So, the next question, how do I make it work for me?

That is where blogging and my personal journal help. I can use writing to reflect on the items that I read. In the case of my blogs, it allows me to publicly share what I read. Of course, like any blog, whether others read it or not is a different matter. It is not a matter that bothers much since first and foremost the blogs are a learning tool, a workshop space, and a place for a little fun for me.

The article authors also note there is an absence of the topic in the scholarly literature. Does this mean it is not happening? I would like to think it is happening, even if on a small scale. But like many great things in librarianship, it is not getting written about. At least not in the scholarly journals.

The article authors describe the value of this activity as follows: "individual professional development, an opportunity to socialize informally with colleagues, and the birth of new service initiatives are extremely valuable to all library staff. First and foremost, journal clubs help with the challenge of 'keeping up' with the large amount of literature that is published." Challenges, according to the article, are keeping up interest after the initial period and over-reliance on the same group moderators. The authors wrote that "more librarian participation means more diversity of topics, as we each monitor different information sources, have different skill sets and professional backgrounds, and have unique perspectives on librarianship, which, if shared, would benefit the library as a whole." I will go on to add that there would be benefit for the profession as a whole as well. This is why I posted to Mark in the comments of his blog that he could count me in. The potential of librarians in various areas of librarianship sharing their ideas and readings with others, and then responding to the readings and each other is great. I think it can make for a powerful experience if it works.

Another issue I wondered about from the article is in settings where tenure is an issue. Does the club become a tool for furthering publishing agendas and research plans? In other words, does the club become more focused on finding research ideas, exploring publication opportunities and venues, etc.? Nothing wrong with this, but that would take away from the more casual nature of a journal club turning it into nothing more than a research agenda for tenure forum. That is not what such a tool is meant to be. In his article, Mark has a line that has to be simply labeled brilliant. He writes that "many of the topics that you think are most removed from your daily practice will impact what you do, sooner rather than later." I cannot think for a better reason to launch a journal club in the virtual world.

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