Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Article Note: On Information Literacy As Professional Legitimation

Citation for the article:

O'Connor, Lisa. "Information Literacy as Professional Legitimation: The Quest for Professional Jurisdiction." Library Review 58.4 (2009): 272-289.

Read via Emerald.

This article is mostly a historical overview of our profession leading to the point where information literacy became the way to legitimize our professional craft. It is part one of a series, so I have to remember to look up the next part when it comes out. There are still some good ideas here I want to remember or that made me think. O'Connor, the author, provides this overview in the context of Abbott's theory of professions.

Some points:

  • "The essential task an occupation must complete is to create a jurisdiction of expertise. That is, it must identify a set of tasks that comprise its work and make a compelling case that its professionals, alone, are qualified to carry out those tasks" (273). Some of this was accomplished when librarians created a jurisdiction over access in libraries, and it is what is being created, or has been created, with information literacy. Now, where do the challenges come from? The public, and much of this you can likely see in the excessive reliance on Google, for instance, and other professions trying to take some work away. This could be seen in the faculty professors who see academic librarians as invaders of their classroom space.
  • Take this for what it's worth: "at its roots, academic librarianship was not conceived as an intellectual profession, but a technical occupation" (275). Think about the idea of taking jurisdiction over access (a technical endeavor) and moving to information literacy and education (more intellectual). At least, that is the argument that the author is making.
  • Something I agree with: "Representing the most prestigious libraries in America, ARL directors composed much of the leadership in the profession as a whole and controlled a significant portion of the country's library funding, resources, and staffing (McGowan)" (qtd. in 276). For me, what I find myself nodding is basically that organizations like ARL are pretty much geared to the large libraries and their collections. The next quote catches what I have in mind a bit better.
  • "On the other hand, colleges, which generally specialize in undergraduate education, tend to emphasize teaching and service over scholarly knowledge or advanced educational attainment (Farber, 1974)" (qtd. in 277). I think this is still applicable today, but it can be problematic when a college with a teaching mission suddenly decides they want to compete with "the big boys," with the end result they ruin what is likely a good teaching mission and end up doing a lot of things in a mediocre way instead of doing one or two things very well. While I like the pursuit of scholarly knowledge, to an extent, at the end of the day I personally identify with the mission of undergraduate education. It is not glamourous, but it is important work. So this means that big library organizations tend to bother me. From the article, for instance, "within the ARL, these institutions were represented solely by their head librarians, thus the ARL reflected the concerns of those administrators, rather than the librarians working on the 'front line' with students" (277). This is not a new idea either, but aside from a few rants here and there in the librarian blogs, it mostly goes unsaid by the profession at large. And while accreditation has moved a bit more into looking at assessment and teaching rather than just the collections (as it has been historically), there is still ways to go. If anything, technology makes those of us who work in the front lines more vulnerable as we strive to adapt and still serve our students.
  • My kind of people: "Conversely, the concerns of students, though less glamourous and less likely to be lavishly funded by grant-makers [and state legislatures, and donors, and I could go on], were more central in the college environment. College librarians, who were typically less specialized and more of whom worked directly with students, consistently recognized students' need for instruction (Farber, 1974)" (qtd. in 278). And we still recognize that need and work to meet it in spite of the odds against us.
  • The article also looks at the idea of faculty status for academic librarians as a step to get prestige. I probably have mentioned at one point or another that I do not favor the idea of faculty status for academic librarians, mostly because I think it interferes with doing my actual job. Those who enjoy tenure can likely give all sorts of arguments in favor, and if it works for them, so be it. I am a front line instruction librarian first and foremost. Besides, last thing I want to do is be forced to write articles for the library literature to meet some arbitrary tenure quota. It's not that I can't do it. I just don't want to do it. And I better move on while I am ahead. However, the article looks at history and notes that originally faculty status was a default title for academic librarians, since they were actually professors who ended up taking over a library. Once the PhD became a requirement to be a professor, the separation from the rest of the faculty for librarians, who have the MLS as the terminal degree, emerged (279). Personally, I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing, but that's me.
There is more on school librarians as well, but I will admit I did not find that part of the article as interesting. Now, we have to wait for the second part to see where the argument leads.

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