Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A thought on the library literature

It seems that reading the library literature may be either a rarity or a joke. I read a post by Sarah Houghton-Jan a while back on this topic, and I left it in the aggregator to ponder about it at some point. She wonders if library literature is generally useless. It is the dirty little secret that a lot of the library literature is pretty much written by people who just need to write something to get their tenure. OK, maybe it is a dirty secret, but it certainly is not a little secret. It is pretty widely accepted by those who write the articles as well as by those who read them. Part of the reason that this got me thinking is because I read a good amount of the professional literature in our field. I also read in other areas, but I am digressing now. Getting back to the professional literature of librarianship, the few people who visit this blog know that I keep reading notes on articles that I read. When I read those articles, it is usually because some topic caught my eye, and I am hoping to learn something new. I read a lot. That is a given. Unfortunately, when it comes to some of the library literature, I have read some stuff that could only be politely described as "low quality." A good number of articles I read or scan will not be noted on the blog. I will admit, to an extent I make my notes available here on the blog in the hope, infinitesimal as it may be, that on some distant planet, someone somewhere may find the notes useful as well. So, on that basis, I try not to blog about some article that says nothing new, that rehashes stuff I have read in a few other places (and much better written), or just is a vanity piece, again, to be polite.

It is not that librarianship is not a profession and discipline that does not need research. The area of instruction alone is a field that can draw from the works in education as well as create its own research in order to apply ideas and create new knowledge. The model of the teacher-researcher would work well in library instruction. I wish more instruction librarians would follow such an approach. Instead, what we often get in the library journals are the articles detailing how X library did Y project and how cool it was. Or we get the article that starts, "we did a survey of 200 students, 50 filled it out, 35 filled it out correctly, and the results, which may not be generalized by the way (but we will generalize anyhow) are. . . ." We don't need any more of that. We need serious, reflective research and inquiry. Maybe that's why, in my case, I don't like the idea of librarians on a tenure line. I don't see myself having to churn out little pieces of "my library is so cool because. . ." in order to earn my living. I am librarian. My work is to provide service for my academic community. I am an educator, which means my work involves teaching and working with students. Yes, I seek to learn how to be a better teacher, but I prefer to do so at my own pace and in a reflective way that actually has meaning. So, I keep a blog. I write in a personal journal that is not online (hey, there is something to be said for writing the old fashioned way, and there are things that really should remain private). I read a lot, and I think about it, and in my own humble way, I try to apply what I learn.

I am not saying that all the library literature is bad. I would not be reading it and seeking it out if that were the case, but it is clear that some room for improvement is in order. These days, a lot of what I find relevant is available in blogs and other less formal venues. Very often, by the time I see something in a journal, I already saw it in a blog months ago. So, this is probably something that the profession should be discussing at some point. Just a thought.


waltc said...


As I think you know, I've already commented on this in On the Literature, part of the August 2007 Cites & Insights.

I think it probably is a discussion the field needs to continue. And I think most of that discussion will take place within the "gray literature" of blogs, non-refereed ejournals and other net media. Maybe that's as it should be.

I trust you'll continue to post your reading notes. I, for one, do read them and pay attention.

Mark said...

Hey Angel,

As you know, I read a lot of the literature, too. Somehow I have managed to move on from much of the crap to stuff that is profoundly more interesting (to me, anyway).

I agree with Walt, though, that this is a discussion that needs to continue. Even if he doesn't read my article posts. ;) Just teasing. Walt; can't say I blame you.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Walt: I think I read that C&I (I always read them, though not always in a timely fashion), but I may go back and take a second look. It does look like a lot of the dialogue will keep happening in the gray lit. What I wonder over time is, at least for my tenure-line brethren, if, over time, models will change so they can make use and take into account works in places like blogs. There are some blogs out there that can certainly compete (and win in my humble view) with any refereed journal. Oh, and yes, I will keep posting those notes.

Mark: Hey, nice to see you stop by again. I always do scan those reading posts of yours. You have to reveal your "secret" for moving past the "crap" stuff ( :) ).

Best, and keep on blogging.

waltc said...

Pshaw, Mark, you know better. Just because I don't respond to stuff doesn't mean I don't read it. Sometimes (usually) I have nothing useful to say and the sense not to say something useless. Frequently I decide caution is the better part of valor. Even more frequently I'm too busy.

Mark said...

Walt: Just responding to your comment in the latest C&I:

"(Yes, Mark, I basically skip over your “what I’ve read
this week” posts as well—but there’s only one a week
so it’s no big deal.)" (18).

;) I know better, though, because you do comment when you feel the need.

Angel: Not sure sure what the secret is actually. Plus, I shouldn't imply that I never read anything that might have been time better spent, but somehow I rarely read articles that are mostly crap.

Who knows? Maybe I just somehow managed to shift my attitude. I do know that I read in somewhat different areas now than when I felt like I was reading more crap. Perhaps I also track down more of my own articles now?

If I do figure it out I'll be sure to pass it along to you.



Angel, librarian and educator said...

Hmm, I think we may all at one point or another get caught reading something that can be, well, crappy. It's part of discovery. For me what does it is that a lot of the lit in our field falls in that category.

Best, and keep on blogging.