Identity crisis? No. Or why I think we need to move beyond “stealth librarianship.”

a&p DINOSAURS!, originally uploaded by kendrak.

This is one of my favourite pictures of my guinea pigs. They’re dressed as dinosaurs, but it’s clear they’re not really reptilian or prehistoric. (Also, I love how you can tell that they’re plotting to kill me in this.) I’m using this picture to illustrate the whole concept of impostors, and how we as librarians, particularly subject librarians, need to get over it.

I’m talking about John Dupuis’ Stealth Librarianship Manifesto. It’s like he’s reinventing embedded librarianship, only with an academic flavour. The usually verbose In the Library with the Leadpipe also weighs in. You should go read them if you’re interested, but it’s hard to pull out concise excerpts here. Suffice to say, manifesto (which might be the new word for 2011) urges subject librarians to integrate themselves in their subject and be a peer of their community. Apparently this is novel?

My frustration with this rebranding is just a part of the narrow vision many librarians have about the profession and its role in the information seeking world. This LSW thread from today sort of embodies it. What? There are other types of libraries besides public and academic? Now, as I did in that thread, allow me to put on my SLA hat. One of the greatest things about SLA, to me, is the diversity of its members and how very few are just traditional librarians in the narrow sense. There’s a very wide world out there, but it seems like lots of people forget that, which is our loss. When Dupuis notes that librarians should stop joining traditional librarian professional associations, I wonder if he’s actually been involved with SLA?

But back to the the concept of “stealth librarianship”. Basically, Dupuis calls for librarians to be part of their user community, not just observers but participants. I agree. I also know that several librarians already are and have done for decades. It’s not new. It’s also not as common as it perhaps should be, but making it as a new concept is not necessary and might just muddle things. Really, how is it any different from being embedded? Or just being a really involved member of your community? I am not seeing why we need a manifesto, other than maybe to empower those who felt out of place?

I touched upon this last month when I got back from the biggest transportation conference of the year, the TRB Annual Meeting. It’s one of the most productive and exhausting events on my calendar each year. I spend basically 5 days spending some time with my transportation librarian cohort (I know, shame on me!), but most of it is running from one committee to another being seen and hearing what is going on within the transportation research community. I make it a point to not go to the normal meetings and to try and make new partners not only for myself but the rest of the librarian community. I all my infiltrating and networking, never do I hide the fact that I’m a librarian. I’m proud of it and I also recognize I, and all the other librarians, are an important part of the transportation research community. Yes, we need to market ourselves better within that group, but I don’t think it means a whole new rebranding.

I wonder if really the Stealth Librarianship Manifesto should be less about extricating ourselves from the insular library community and more about changing how we engage our user community. How we fit into the larger information consumption/research landscape, and how we can reassert ourselves as the invaluable experts we are. I don’t pretend to be a transportation planner or engineer, but I sure know how to find research and data better than most, but that’s what I do. It’s my area of expertise! Maybe if we stopped designing systems and guides to do the work for us and did it ourselves, people would really recognize our value?

I guess it doesn’t apply to me? (Or most of the colleagues I can think of.) I am often reminded how special we really are in the transportation library world. I keep considering writing an open love letter to my colleagues, because they make it so interesting and make me proud to be a transportation librarian.

4 thoughts on “Identity crisis? No. Or why I think we need to move beyond “stealth librarianship.”

  1. Great post! In my last job and in my current job, I’ve been lucky to be able to go to the same events that my library patrons go to.

    When I was a librarian at an academic research center, I went to the big academic conference in the field. Faculty were often surprised to see me at their presentations – but also really pleased. They were happy to see me taking an interest in their work, and I think their image of librarians changed just a little. Even if you don’t have funding to attend a national conference, there are usually opportunities to attend department seminars and brown bag talks.

    I also have infiltrated tech conferences, which I’ve written about on my blog.

  2. John Dupuis had attended SLA Conferences up until the 2005 Conference in Toronto. He told me he got tired of the corporate leanings of the association. Looks like he stopped being an SLA member through the 07-08 season.

  3. Tara, I think there’s a lot to be said to just be present and show your face around places. It is difficult to make to national conferences, but there’s usually some sort of local event. Many academic departments hold colloquies or lectures or something, and just going there and making yourself known can go a long way. Sometimes I feel like a chimera, being a subject librarian. It can be tough.

    Joe, I had no idea he was in SLA. That is probably going to make me write a whole other blog post…

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