On Being a Librarian

Trends, Achievements, and Perspectives

Deprofessionalizing Our Profession

Deprofessionalization has been a research and discussion topic for several decades. Articles published in JAMA discuss the components of deprofessionalization in the medical profession and the undesirable effects of that deprofessionalization on society.  Ballentine and Spade devote a chapter to the phenomena of deprofessionalization in teaching for their 2008 book, “Schools and Society: A Sociological Approach to Education” as do Hargreaves and Goodson in their 1996 book, “Teachers’ Professional Lives“. Richard Hugman contributed a chapter “Social Work and De-professionalization” to Abbot and Meearbeau’s 1998 textbook ” The Sociology of the Caring Professions”.

Professional librarians and many library associations are increasingly concerned about the deprofessionalization of librarianship.  Rory Litwin produced a paper in 2010 outlining the consequences of deprofessionalizing the profession in the context of social reforms initiated in the 1960’s.  Litwin states that “a loss of autonomy for librarians is a net loss of autonomy for front-line library workers”, and an erosion of graduate requirements to maintain professional identity.  Library administrators transfer librarian job functions to support workers aiming to “take a greater share of control over library practice and to advance a business framework” (Litwin 2). The result is a management style based on efficiency metrics in favor of ethical frameworks to which professional librarians adhere and serve.  Litwin is not the first nor the only author bringing the issues to the fore.

In 2007, Casey Schacher outlined key consequences of deprofessionalization in her article for ALA, “The Threat of Deprofessionalization“. Economic drivers and competition for funding cause library administration to shift from social service models to business models, attempting to attach a dollar value to libraries and librarians. Many libraries take a proactive position  by commissioning studies to support their status when city council looks to cut public library budgets. The Toronto Public Library commissioned the Martin Prosperity Institute to conduct a study to measure the library’s economic value for Toronto.  The study found that for ever dollar invested in the library, Torontonians receive $5.63 of value.  The Milton Public Library conducted a similar economic impact analysis. London Public Library published a recent economic impact study. Halifax public library published an economic impact assessment in 2009 and raised $57.6 million dollars to open a new library in 2014.  Evaluating public library impact is an international endeavour. John Pateman posted an article on The Open Shelf which supports the trend to iterate the economic value of public libraries in the United Kingdom.

The Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians report to the Royal Society of Canada demarcates significant challenges facing academic librarians.

“The following are some of the most pressing challenges that academic librarians are currently confronting in the workplace devaluation and the deprofessionalization of librarians’ roles:

  • a general lack of understanding pertaining to the professional roles and responsibilities of academic librarians in academic communities
  • institutional prioritizing of monetary goals over the core values and principles which have traditionally guided, built and curated academic libraries
  • institutional adoption of the latest trends without sufficient analysis, review and critique which results in the dismantling of core, valued services and collections which cannot be rebuilt
  • the employment of technology as a rationale for not considering the traditional, core values and principles upon which the profession has been built
  • administrators who do not put the interests of the institutions at the forefront of their decision making
  • the suppression or elimination of workplace forums where professional opinions critique, assess and review the best standards, options, midst rapid changes in the field”

deprofessionalizedMany of my colleagues, past-instructors, mentors, and peers have researched and written reports, articles, and books on the topic.

Suggested  Readings

Professional Decline and Resistance:  The Case of Library and Archives Canada 
By Tami Oliphant and Michael B. McNall

Librarian Confront Threat to Profession
By Tami Samek

The Profession is Worth Fighting For
By Nick Reust

Deprofessionalization, updated figures!
By Concerned Librarians of British Columbia

CAPAL: The Formation of a Professional Organization for Canadian Librarians
By Norene James, Lisa Shamchuk, and Katherine Koch

Librarian as Professional
By Heather Seminelli


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