Tag Archives: Librarians

Librarians in the borderland between professionalism and amateurism

I know – the title may provoke, but by the end of this text, it will hopefully seem comprehensible and justified.

As senior lecturer at a Swedish university offering educational programs in Library and information science (LIS), I sometimes get questions and comments about the training of future librarians. Often it is about what aspiring librarians should know and how this is best taught. It is striking how engaging the issue of librarians’ competence is – the various opinions come from widely different quarters. Sometimes librarians’ work is even proposed as the answer to major societal challenges such as reawakening young people’s lust to read and strengthening citizens’ digital skills.

In addition to the outside world’s expectations of the profession, there is an internal tendency to problematize the professional role and competence. That debate has recurred over decades in trade press, mailing lists and social media. In parallel, research is conducted with the aim of understanding, challenging, equipping and ideally inspiring the profession, and the production of Bachelor and Master theses at our universities testifies to the interest in profession-related topics among students. Their small-scale research contributions are quick-footed and likely to delve into the field’s hottest questions.

Debate and recurring discussions are sometimes interpreted as the profession facing a crisis. For my own part, however, I am both optimistic and incurably curious (the researcher’s occupational injury?). I see vivid discussion as an expression of the importance of libraries for the country’s inhabitants, and internal debate as a sign of vitality. Few professions show such spark! The need for discussion can be linked to the history of the profession; the professionalization process of the past century, amalgamated professional organizations, academisation of training and the establishment of the LIS discipline. Today the profession is powerfully organized, but at the same time it spans disparate activities.

As a natural reaction to societal developments, and perhaps as a backlash for the unifying professional project, new competences are called for in libraries, and more specialized training.

Another important aspect of the position of librarianship today, is its quality as a welfare profession; one of the female-intensive occupations that have thrived within the Nordic welfare hub. Ambivalence towards the profession’s theoretical basis is typical, and compared to classic professions, the welfare professions are less hierarchical, more collaborative and highly focused on the clients. I know from experience, that responsiveness to users’ needs and interests is a shining beacon for aspiring and active librarians, regardless of library type.

Surely that sounds nice? But every medal has its flip side. The emphasis on responsiveness, commitment, and (often) idealism, can make librarians stretch far in their compliance. Always being prepared to tone down competitive thinking and professional pretensions out of consideration for the interests of others, is an attitude that risks backfiring. For an illustration of this dilemma of a welfare profession, we may turn to the children’s librarians – a group that was early associated with selfless work of the “vocational type”. We’d like to think that image faded decades ago, but my research into the competence of children’s librarians was an eye-opener.

The participants in my study said they appreciated the rich opportunities for competence development as well as their chance to influence its content. But several librarians also described dissatisfaction with the overly free choices and the perceived lack of managerial steering of the knowledge-developing activities. Rather than seeing the collective competence as a strategic resource for the workplace, competence development was often treated as an encouraging ‘salary benefit’. Several managers also hesitated in connection with my interview question concerning what incentives they saw for children’s librarians’ competence development. Their answers were that the librarians’ heartfelt meetings with the users – in this case children who love to read – were to be regarded as both a driving force and a reward.

Get me right – trusting relationships and personal appreciation are worth their weight in gold in everyday work, but should we really, in 2022, regard professional work as its own reward? Such an approach, with the logic of the old “vocation” just below the surface, undeniably brings to mind non-profit and amateur work.

There is no room here for the follow-up questions that need to be asked. I end by stating that those concerned with how the librarian profession can be strengthened for the future, should pay attention to where the boundaries are drawn between professional and personal commitment. As a representative of research and higher education, I want to promote a reflective professional practice, where sensitivity to the outside world is complemented by research-oriented and proactive working methods; an ambition that probably applies to most universities offering LIS education around the globe.

What do you think – is there reason to push the discussion about the prerequisites and the future of librarianship one step further? I think so.


Jenny Lindberg
Lecturer at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science, University of Borås, Sweden


Note: This article has previously been published in Swedish at http://www.noll27.se

The study on children’s librarians mentioned in the blog entry is accessible (in Swedish): https://regionbiblioteket.se/publicerat/barnbibliotekariers-kompetens/


WLIC 2013, Singapore – The CPDWL section sessions

“Taking charge of your carrier”, “New librarians global connection: best practices, models and recommendations” and “Libraries as learning organisations: how to nurture growth in our staff and our communities” are the themes for the three sessions which CPDWL are involved in at the WLIC 2013 in Singapore. One of these is a workshop, one is a session together with NPSIG and one is a session together with SET

The workshop session theme is “Taking charge of your carrier”. The format will be round table discussions each lead by a team leader with some experience on the topic and who will facilitate sharing and recording of information.

Together with NPSIG (New Professional Special Interest Group) CPDWL is planning the session “New librarians global connection: best practices, models and recommendations”. The call for papers is available at http://conference.ifla.org/ifla79/calls-for-papers/new-librarians-global-connection

In collaboration with SET (Education and training section) we are planning a session with the theme “Libraries as learning organisations: how to nurture growth in our staff and our communities”. The call for papers for this sesstion is available at http://conference.ifla.org/ifla79/calls-for-papers/libraries-as-learning-organisations-how-to-nurture-growth-in-our-staff-and-o

If you are interested in all the call for papers at the WLIC 2013 in Singapore, they are all available at:http://conference.ifla.org/ifla79/calls-for-papers

Building an information literate research community

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Conference Proceedings – The Road to information Literacy : Librarians as Facilitators of Learning


A new paper has been added to the IFLA website (www.ifla.org/publications/ifla-publications-series-157 ).  The paper ‘Building an information literate research community’ is by Jayshree Mamtora who is Research Services Coordinator, Charles Darwin University, Australia and was presented at the Satellite Conference held this summer in Finland.  It is a case-study of how Charles Darwin University successfully built up their research support and how library staff were developed along the way to offer this support.

Research support is very topical currently as research funding becomes harder to get and as Open Access develops across the globe.  Developing the skills librarians need to support researchers’ information literacy development was one theme running through the conference, the Proceedings also include a paper by Clare Walker on this topic.

The Road to Information Literacy: Librarians as Facilitators of Training

By Susan Schnuer

Talking, eating, and engagement were the main activities at the August Satellite meeting in Tampere.127 librarians from 21 countries attended the 2012 IFLA satellite meeting, a wonderful cross-section of ideas, cultures, and languages.  The satellite was co-sponsored by CPDWL and IL IFLA sections and it was successful cooperative effort.  This is the largest number of participants that CPDWL has ever had at a satellite meeting and in fact there was a waiting list.

Over 45 presentations were given during the meeting from librarians engaged in professional development and information literacy from all parts of the library sector: schools, public, academic, special, and LIS schools.  The variety of sessions and the amazing range of speakers made for a very engaging and yet intimate sessions.

The Road to Information Literacy : Librarians as facilitators of learning

by Roisin Gwyer, Ruth Stubbings, Ruth & Graham (Eds.)

Series: IFLA Publications Series 157  Publisher: Berlin/Munich: De Gruyter Saur, 2012

The Road to Information Literacy: Librarians as facilitators of learningInformation literacy has been identified as a necessary skill for life, work and citizenship – as well as for academic study – for all of us living in today’s information society. This international collection brings together practitioner and research papers from all sectors of information work. It includes case studies and good practice guides, including how librarians and information workers can facilitate information literacy from pre-school children to established researchers, digital literacy and information literacy for citizens.

The Road to Information Literacy : Librarians as facilitators of learning Edited by: Roisin Gwyer, Ruth Stubbings, Ruth & Graham Berlin/Munich: De Gruyter Saur, 2012 ISBN 978-3-11-028084-5 (IFLA Publications; Nr 157) Euro 99,95 / for USA, Canada, Mexico US$ 140.00 Special price for IFLA members Euro 79,95 / for USA, Canada, Mexico US$ 105.00

Publisher’s link: The Road to Information Literacy : Librarians as facilitators of learning