Cossette’s unified philosophy of librarianship

July 30th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Yesterday, Matthew Ciszek posted on Cossette’s essay, Humanism and Libraries: An Essay on the Philosophy of Librarianship, translated by Rory Litwin. It’s been a few years since I read Cossette’s text and admittedly my knowledge of it is a bit rusty, but I remember thinking that he fell into the same trap as Ranganathan, the same trap that many thinkers in our field continue to fall into: trying to define a “unified philosophy of librarianship.” Cossette argues that by creating a unified philosophy of librarianship, we could bring “faith and certitude” to our actions as librarians, inspire professional unity, and give us a raison d’etre for what we do.

The longer I work as a librarian, the more I begin to believe that a unified philosophy simply isn’t possible given the diverse communities different libraries serve (public university, private college, city public, state repository, middle school, corporate archives, etc.) and, in fact, the pursuit of such may do more damage to our causes (esp. in raising public awareness, connecting our services to institutional goals, and telling our story to stakeholders) than good. What Ciszek argues is more sensible: an empirical approach that looks at what we are doing and explains why it is important to society. But I would add that this only works externally when the emphasis is placed on *our* society.

My hope is that through an empirical look at generalizations like the Five Laws we can begin the work of creating new theory, grounded in the social study of the phenomenon of libraries and librarianship, and philosophy that seeks to answer why what we are doing is important to society. Let’s start of renaissance of thought in librarianship and move past Ranganathan. He’s served us for almost 60 years, but it’s time we move the profession forward. Let’s resurrect the library theorist.

Of course, I’m reading my own views into Ciszek. His goal in the above paragraph is to argue for a reemergence of the library theorist (hear hear!), not a specific methodological approach. With that said, there is a groundswell of discussion happening now, mostly surrounding the New Librarianship class and mostly happening on Twitter and in blog comments. So if the future of library theory interests you, join the discussion!

On breaking up with libraries, by Nina McHale

June 3rd, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

Last week, Nina McHale told us why she’s breaking up with libraries. Nina is currently the Assistant Systems Administrator for the Arapahoe Library District but will soon be moving into non-library work with Aten Design Group. While my interactions with Nina have been predominantly through online professional groups, I’ve come to know her as a highly talented, creative web designer. The loss to our community is significant and one we shouldn’t be too quick to write off.

Nina notes two major reasons for her decision to leave LibraryLand: finances and a general frustration with technology.

Like Nina, I live in a two-income family. We just had our first child. While we could probably live on my wife’s income alone (though not without sacrifice), we certainly could not live off what I make as a paraprofessional at a private university. Well, perhaps if we sold the house and moved into a 2-bedroom apartment in the Valley. Maybe.

As Nina points out, salaries for librarians often go for much less than the median pay for positions in other fields that require similar skills.

I knew going into my MSLS that I wasn’t going to get rich working in libraries, but accepting less than I’m worth puts undue strain on our family finances. I’m not willing to be a martyr for my profession if it means compromising what I want out of life for myself, my husband, and our kids.

If we want to keep talented, creative people on staff, we don’t have to pay them exorbitantly, but we have to pay them enough so that they don’t have to worry about it.

Nina also points out the lack of technological innovation. We spend millions of dollars on products that fail to provide decent user experiences and rather than demanding changes or working together to collectively build a better product, we acquiesce and continue to pay for substandard ones. As one commenter on Nina’s post put it, why didn’t librarians invent Yahoo in the 90s? We could have. We should have.

We sacrifice instead of create. We compromise instead of improvise. We undersell our worth and consequently are underpaid for it.

It’s been a year since I finished my MLIS degree. I am still working in the same position for the same pay (adjusted for inflation). As I see it, until I’m able to move into a position that makes full use of my degree, every day worked is a loss of potential earnings.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love the work I do, but as Nina points out, “we are so eager to please that we kill ourselves helping people for compensation that’s all too often below the country’s median salary.” Eventually, the need to provide for our own will catch up with us and at that time if there is a shiny job in a different market, can you blame us for leaving?

Interdisciplinarity and Academic Libraries by D.C. Mack and C. Gibson, eds. (Review)

January 9th, 2013 § Comments Off § permalink

It is not often that one encounters a collection of essays so thoroughly aligned in their approach and perspective as to merit reading the collection from cover to cover; yet such is the nature of this recently published collection in ACRL’s Publications in Librarianship series (no. 66). Edited by Daniel C. Mack, Head of the George and Sherry Middlemas Arts Humanities Library at Penn State, and Craig Gibson, Associate Director for Research and Education at the Ohio State University, this work brings together 14 authors from across the landscape of academic librarianship, including administrators, department heads, catalogers, technologists, reference and instruction librarians, subject specialists, and professors of library science…

You can read my full review in this month’s College & Research Libraries.

The best library blog/journal on the internets just got better

October 3rd, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

My friends know I’m a shameless fanboy for In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Today, the authors announced they are taking the journal in a new direction.

[...] we have begun the process of registering In the Library with the Lead Pipe as a nonprofit corporation. Our intention is to leverage our credibility and what name recognition we’ve acquired to raise money and channel it towards initiatives that will positively impact the world of librarianship. We want to do so thoughtfully and constructively, in the same way that we have built Lead Pipe over the last four years. Our organization will be deliberate and passionate, it will be built through collaboration and consensus, and it will make careful, considered decisions. Yet despite all this, it will not hesitate to attack those obstacles and assumptions that keep libraries from moving ahead. That is, and will always be, the mission and heart of Lead Pipe.

Knowing the people behind Lead Pipe, you can expect this move to shift the library landscape tectonicly. Take 5 minutes of your morning to jump over to their site and offer your thoughts on how they can change the world. As I enjoy my morning coffee, I will do the same.

Want to know more about Blended Librarians?

September 14th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

Almost all of the academic library job openings that have caught my attention of late fall under that category of “blended librarian.” If you are the type of person who’s interested in instructional design, technology, online learning, new approaches to reference, and cross-departmental collaborations, then blended librarianship may be the job for you as well. Want to know more?

Steven J. Bell, Associate UL at Temple University and John Shank, Associate Instructional Design Librarian and Director of the Center for Learning & Teaching at Penn State Berks recently interviewed three blended librarians:

    • Adonis Amparo, Blended Librarian/Instructional Technologist at the University of South Florida
    • Ameet Doshi, User Experience Librarian at Georgia Tech
    • Brian Leaf, Instructional Design Librarian Resident at Ohio State

UPDATE: Here is a link to the archived webcast.

All three discussed their career paths, common experiences and challenges, and offered advice to those interested in blended librarianship.

Common experiences included:

    • instructional design, especially digital materials
    • exploring creative approaches to learning
    • longitudinal assessment
    • working with faculty to develop first-year experience programs
    • the transition of libraries into learning commons and integrating digital services
    • utilizing the flipped classroom method

Advice from the speakers included:

    • be willing to explore new technologies
    • be able to articulate ideas in concise language
    • know how to integrating assessment into lifecycle of projects
    • get involved with informal student groups
    • exhibit empathy and compassion
    • find something about tech that you really love

The webcast runs about an hour. Enjoy!

Meaningful integration: personal and transformative change in academic libraries

August 8th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Mesh Web Weaver

The popularity of embedded librarian programs in academic libraries is no doubt one result of the profession’s need to redefine its service model in a time of dramatic changes in information architecture, production, and access. As Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg’s 2009 report, “Lessons Learned: How College Students Seek Information in the Digital Age” [pdf], shows, students bypass librarians in order to access academic resources the vast majority of the time. We gave up our roles as information gatekeepers in the last century and, not soon after, began to see our roles as information guides slip away as well. Our response: redefine the role of the academic librarian in the research process.

The professional literature provides a number of successful examples of embedded librarianship: Tumbleson & Burke (2010) focused on the relationship between faculty and librarians in Blackboard for distance education students, going beyond simple course integration. Librarians at the Welch Medical Library at Johns Hopkins University and Purdue University Libraries embedded librarians outside the library to become partners in faculty research (Brandt, 2007; Kolowich, 2010). Kesselman & Watstein (2009) provide a number of other successful examples, including one program at Rutgers which brought together librarians, faculty, and students from the Food Science, Nutritional Sciences, the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, and the School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies to solve real-world problems in the food industry (the librarians also helped faculty co-write the grant for the program).

All of these projects are examples of meaningful integration. I’ve been ruminating on this phrase for a few weeks now, trying to think of ways in which our services can be meaningful to students and faculty. It isn’t enough to simply be useful, though that is certainly one aspect of it. I started writing down a list of characteristics that, to me, help define “meaningful integration”:

Library services must be transformative.

If we want to make a difference, we have to change the way students perceive information resources, research, and, in turn, our role in the process. We need to elicit change that shakes the foundation and produces visible (preferably measurable, but I’ll take visible) results. Notably, we have to inspire change in individuals and so:

Library services must be personal.

While we make broad sweeps to change what we do, we also need to focus on the relationships we have with individual faculty and students. If social media has taught us anything over the past decade, it’s that the individual has a tremendous impact on local communities and social groups. Dramatically changing one person’s perception of the library (or research, or information, etc.) has the potential to ripple outward to others. To make these personal connections happen, we need to be “close to the metal” of academic life, whether that be faculty research or student coursework, and so:

Library services must be where the action is.

Every connection starts with a shake of the hand, be it face-to-face or virtual, but we need to be there, standing next to our user, to make it happen.

Each of these characteristics work together to bolster the effects of the other. It seems to me (and I haven’t quite worked out the “how” yet) that the three are inseparable and indispensable if our aim is to become meaningfully integrated into the shifting information landscape. I would even go so far to say that they provide a recipe for success regardless of any and all future changes in libraries, the academy, and information architecture.

And there you have it: your strategic plan for the day. =)




Brandt, D.S. (2007). Librarians as partners in e-research: Purdue University Libraries promote collaboration. C&RL News 68(6), 365-367, 396.

Kolowich, S. (2010, June 9). Embedded librarians. Inside Higher Ed. Available at

Kesselman, M. A. & Watstein, S. B. (2009). Creating opportunities: Embedded librarians. Journal of Library Administration, 49(4), 383-400.

Tumbleson, B.E. &  Burke, J.J. (2010). When life hands you lemons: Overcoming obstacles to expand services in an embedded librarian program. Journal of Library Administration, 50(7-8), 978-988.

Photo credit: sankax

What I do

July 25th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

My introductory video for the Library Day in the Life Project 2011:

Library Day in the Life Project begins next week

July 19th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink

The semi-annual Library Day in the Life Project begins next week. Coordinated by Bobbi Newman, the LDLP is a chance for librarians (read: anyone who works in library-related industries) to talk about what they do over the course of a single day (or week). We utilize the social web (blogs, photos, video, Twitter) to share our experience and link everything together using hashtags: #libday7 for Twitter and librarydayinthelife for everything else.

For the first time since it began in 2008, I caught the announcement before it started! So I’m excited to be participating this year.  If you’d like to join the fun, hop on over to the wiki page and add your name to the list.

Final takeaways from ALA 2010

June 28th, 2010 § Comments Off § permalink

As a first time attendee to ALA this year, I endeavored to keep my eyes, ears, mind, and heart open to new professional experiences. Like entering any unfamiliar and information rich environment, I quickly succumbed to the tremors of information overload (or maybe it was caffeine and malnutrition). But I stuck it through to the and and since the flight back to LA has free wifi, I thought I would try to distill some of the wisdom from my experience. Here are four takeaways:

1. Be enthusiastic and people will notice. There are thousands of brilliant, innovative, forward-thinking librarians at ALA, but it’s the enthusiastic ones that stand out from the crowd. Whether you are a subject specialist, a gaming librarian, a cataloger, or an administrator, if you love what you do and love to tell other people about it, people will pay attention to you. So wear your passion on your sleeve!

2. You can’t know/do everything, so find a niche. At a certain point, I realized that I need to get over the guilty feeling that comes from not being able to participate in every group or know about every aspect of librarianship. Try to find something you are passionate about (or at least very good at) and stick with it. No matter how specialized the work or small the niche, there will always be others with similar interests or working alongside you on committees. Strengthen those relationships and keep them strong and enduring.

3. Give away your time for free, it pays off. I could not stress this enough (and it was stressed to me multiple times). If you want to be successful in ALA (in librarianship generally), you need to be willing to give away your time. If you are the type of person who says, “No, I won’t do that. It’s not my job”, then maybe you should consider another profession. I think I can safely say that most librarians did not enter the field motivated by dreams of financial success or power. We are service-oriented people: the patron is the end to our means. Always keep that end in mind and make “above and beyond” your modus operandi.

4. Try something new, the more unfamiliar the better. I attended a couple sessions that were over my head and out of my league. I also talked to many representatives from the various ALA committees, round tables, and discussion groups that I knew little about. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to competently discussion Spanish-language cataloging practices for children’s literature, but at least I know where to look and who to go to for advice. Reaching beyond your comfort zone helps to recontextualize your own work and look at familiar things (practices, ideas, approaches) with fresh eyes.

Did you attend the ALA conference for the first time this year? What did you learn?

Humanism and libraries by A. Cossette

April 8th, 2010 § Comments Off § permalink

A few weeks ago, Wayne Bivens-Tatum posted his thoughts on André Cossette’s Humanism and Libraries; an essay on the philosophy of librarianship, published by Library Juice Press and translated by Rory Litwin. His remarks prompted me to immediately order the book and read it through. I found Cossette’s discussion of librarianship thought-provoking and, given the work’s historical context, a bit quaint. While I also disagreed with certain claims made in the book, the issues raised are important questions that librarians should occasionally ask themselves as individuals and as institutions: namely, what do I do and why do I do it?

Cossette begins by delineating the difference between librarianship as philosophy and librarianship as science. He makes positive arguments for both perspectives but strongly favors the philosophical approach. He argues that creating a unified philosophy of librarianship will bring “faith and certitude” to our actions, inspire professional unity, and give librarians a raison d’etre, a meta-purpose for what they do.

He argues that up until that point (at the time, he is writing at the University of Montreal in 1976), librarianship, especially in the United States, had been to focused on the pragmatic aspects of the profession and lacked a strong desire for or practice of reflection. As a result, there is no one who could clearly say what a philosophy of librarianship should be. Of course, Cossette provides a response, saying that a unified philosophy should include a definition of librarianship, a statement of its goals, and a study of its relationship to other disciplines.

He defines librarianship as “the art and science of the acquisition, preservation, organization, and retrieval of written and audiovisual records with the aim of assuring a maximum of information access for the human community” (p.33). He argues that it is both a science, in that it has both an object of study and a method, and a humanistic endeavor, in that it is artistic at the level of individual execution/expertize. It chooses as its subject human beings, information, and the interaction between them.

Cossette calls for a move from subordination to autonomy, especially in the realm of academic and school libraries. On the one hand, he states that the perception of libraries as “services” has hindered their ability to define what they do and why. On the other hand, he acknowledges that libraries are part of the community which they support, though not epistemologically determined by them. This part was particularly salient:

“The educational sphere does not determine the aims of academic libraries, but does exercise a certain influence on many of its processes. The academic or school library pursues the common goals of all libraries: the maximal diffusion of bibliographic resources; in the educational sphere, these resources are selected and dealt with according to the needs of a specific scholarly clientele, which has their own specific information needs”(p.53).

And here is where Cossette tells us what he really feels. He argues that the primary aims of libraries is not preservation and is certainly not education. He even goes so far as to say that the main reason why academic librarians think of themselves as educators is due to a sense of inferiority in relation to faculty (or, in the least, a realization of who gets paid more). I cannot speak for what the situation was in the late 1970s, but in our post-internet era, I would argue that Cossette would have a very different view in 2010.

For one, technology has created a void where there was once a select few who could effectively navigate the information pathways of indexes, bibliographies, and publication lists. Simply put, it is much easier to find some information on a subject these days. Fact-finding in particular is a much easier, more accessible task. But with this ease and influx of information comes the difficulty of wading through the flood and of determining what information is valid. The void created by the introduction of the internet and automation needs to be filled with educators who specialize in information literacy and critical skills. While the role of educator may have been debatable at one time, it is no longer. It is essential.

Essential to what? In the definition of librarianship presented above, I believe Cossette neglects one important aspect: our moral obligation to help information seekers find the best ways to use the information they need. This requires knowing how to discuss and illustrate information literacy and critical thinking skills. It does not require that we be “elitists” of information; we can acknowledge that all information is useful in some way, regardless of its source. But we should be able to show users how certain types or sources of information may be better suited to their specific tasks. This is our moral obligation, the human side to our science and art.

Perhaps one of the main reasons there isn’t a unified philosophy of librarianship is the need for uniformity itself. Is it really possible to define all libraries according to a single idea? Is there something essential about libraries that cuts across all types of libraries from public to academic, from school to special? Personally, I much prefer the idea of having a shared set of values, like those defined by ALA, which vary in importance from one institution to another but are nonetheless an essential part of their reason for being. Preservation may very well be one library’s primary purpose, that doesn’t mean they possess less “library-ness” than a public library who’s primary purpose is to provide access.

I recommend reading Cossette’s work. It is brief and thought provoking and despite some shortcomings (see Wayne’s post for more information), reflecting upon the ideas expressed therein would be worth the time of any librarian (or, like me, librarian-to-be).