Theory

Theory and Practice in the Library Workplace

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

Every so often I hear someone remark that they didn't learn anything in library school; that their real professional learning happened on the job, or worse, that they think that the need for a library qualification is just gate keeping and protectionism. This always causes me some concern because it ignores the important role that library and information science theory plays in the workplace.

It is true that when you start working in a library there is a wealth of on-the-job learning to do. There are process and practical skills to master, and local policies and procedures to absorb. The daily improvement as we gain hands-on experience brings an immediate sense of achievement and an obvious increase in knowledge. The relevance of this behavioral learning is clear because it is needed to do the job. In contrast, knowledge of theory and principles is about understanding why we are doing the procedure. This understanding is important when making decisions to change local policy or practices, or in deciding how to adjust local practices in response to the impact of external factors.

Practical processes and procedures are there to help the library achieve its goals. The theory of libraries (or cataloging, reference, etc) is what is taught (and hopefully learned) in the process of gaining a professional library qualification. And in turn, that theory informs the daily procedures and practices. Furthermore, this library school learning gives library professionals a shared theoretical basis and often a shared value system, on which to make decisions in the workplace; decisions about what the policies will be, and what practices are most appropriate for helping a library achieve its purpose.

Of course, such knowledge is not set in stone. Over time, the theories and principles will change as the professional body of knowledge changes to incorporate new understandings of the library and information world.

In for-profit organizations practical measure usually exist to judge performance. Did more widgets get sold? Are widgets being produced more cheaply? Did the company make more money as a result? The bottom line is more complex however, in not-for-profit organizations like libraries. How do we know that the library is achieving its purpose? More people through the door? More books issued? More information literacy classes taught? Such quantitative measures are useful but they seldom express the real value libraries contribute to their communities. And because there is not a clearly agreed, black and white measure of the bottom line for libraries, many staff make assumptions based on their own value system. That is, they may assume that the purpose of their work is defined in terms of their value systems.


Changes in processes, policy or practice can be particularly difficult for those who are comfortable with their daily routines and who are working hard in the belief that their actions are contributing to the greater good of the library. Principles, theories and values can be difficult to articulate because they are often deep-seated, intuitively known and taken for granted. As a consequence, some people may be protective of a given activity because it is representative of their values and beliefs about libraries. A threat to an activity becomes a threat to their values. Resistance or obstruction to change can easily result if those affected belief that a proposed change is going to have a negative impact on their library's core purpose.

Library managers, or those leading change (even at the process level) may find it helps to take time to explore the commonly held beliefs and assumptions of their staff. Consider whether they are disagreeing with how things should be done, or if the conflict is at a more fundamental level. Do participants have differing theoretical perspectives on what sort of action adds value to the library's community?

This is important because changing beliefs and value systems is a far more challenging proposition than changing daily routines. Yet all too often in libraries the focus is on the more tangible behavioral learning rather than on the intangible theory that underlies practice. Of course, it makes sense on a day-to-day basis to focus staff training on how things should be done, but when a significant change is needed, time needs to be given to talking about why the change is being made and how it fits into the theory and principles of libraries and librarianship.

It seems that this kind of talk is not that common in libraries. Perhaps there is a tendency to assume that we are all working from the same set of core principles and theories, because most of us are as a result of our library school learning. But problems arise when time or external changes make some of our theories obsolete or irrelevant.

In recent years libraries have faced a constant stream of change. Changes are occurring not just at the operational level (think of the impact of the Internet, the web or Google on our local practices); there has also been a paradigm shift in how libraries are perceived. For example, these days libraries are often seen as social spaces with a focus on customer needs, rather than the quiet, scholarly environments of the 20th Century. However, there is no doubt in my mind that this shift in thinking is not universally accepted. The rate and extent of change means that we should not assume that there is a shared understanding of the principles on which our practices and polices are based.

Talking about theory and principles may seem abstract, 'wishy-washy' and unnecessarily time-consuming to practically-oriented library staff who just want to get on with the task at hand. But without such discussions conflict and resentment over change can endure longer than necessary. Taking time to dwell in the theoretical area could serve to bring staff together with a better understanding of the value of library activities and services. It may also be that some people will discover that what they know is as important as what they do and this link between theory and practice means that their professional education was not a waste of time.

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Vye Perrone is Associate University Librarian, Collection Services at the University of Waikato Library in New Zealand. She was President of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) in 2007/2008 and has just finished her year as Immediate Past President. Vye completed her MLIS from Victoria University of Wellington in 1998.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. -- Read More

Explanations- The Scientists

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

I was invited to post my show copy as part of the summer essay series, please enjoy!

Explanations: Part Two
The Scientists
By Daniel Messer

When I was a kid, I watched a lot of public broadcasting, indeed PBS was my favourite station. There was no childlike devotion to knowledge in this preference. I was nothing like a child prodigy with an advanced curiosity of the world. My love for PBS was very easy to understand and just as kidlike in its nature. I knew that, if I watched the public broadcasting station long enough, sooner or later I'd get to see some Muppets. -- Read More

100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About

100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About
#41 Phone books and Yellow Pages
#86 Finding books in a card catalog at the library
#96 Libraries as a place to get books rather than a place to use the Internet
#99 A physical dictionary (either or spelling or definitions)

The Future of Public Libraries

The Future of Public Libraries
scenario planning project looking at the future of public libraries. There are about 45 people working on this project although the core scenario building team is much smaller. They have developed 2 framing questions, which are roughly as follows:

1. What professional skills and attitudes will public library staff be demonstrating in 2030 in order to be successful in the alternative futures in which they might operate?

2. Where will the leadership and funding that drives this success come from?

Bits of Destruction...Part Two

More on the current wave of digitization...by Bernard Lunn.

"Readers will be able to order any book in the universe and have it sent to them in print wherever they want or sent digitally to whatever device they have. Readers have grown accustomed to getting their online content for free, so they will expect to get at least a degraded experience via the regular browser (the "free" in freemium). This will take a while to play out. We live in a world today of bilateral negotiations, so different titles are available for different devices and in different bookstores. But play out it will.

Here is my free review of my free copy of "Free."

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, recently came out with the book "Free: The Future of a Radical Price." So the question of whether books will be free in the future is a natural one to ask. The short answer is, No. If books became free, authors would stop writing, printers would stop printing, and electronics factories would stop churning out e-book readers. In other words, there would be nothing to read... except...free excerpts and promotional stuff.

The kicker: How much does Chris Anderson's "Free" book cost on Amazon? List price: $26.99, discounted to $16.19. Not free.

But Free on Scribd.

How Book Publishing Is Changing...For the Better, or Not? {Bits of Destruction}

More on digitization etc.

"Bits of destruction" is a phrase Fred Wilson uses to describe the destructive part of "creative destruction" brought on by digitization. We hear a lot about the destruction wrought on the newspaper business. A more interesting and nuanced wave is now hitting the book publishing business. Actually, it is three waves: the digitization of back catalogs, e-books, and print on demand. However this plays out, a lot of people will be affected, but the way in which it will play out is not at all obvious.

His blog discusses 'the dragon' Amazon.com, POD, acceptance of e-books and how these and other technologies relate to the state of the industry.

Thanks to Peter Scott for the tip.

Ohio Budget Squabble Round-Up

There are many reports about the Ohio budget crisis. SaveOhioLibraries.com has a post up noting that the Ohio Library Council has a status report. There has been a commentary posted about the video slots issue that is reportedly holding up passage of Ohio's state budget.

These are a selection of recent articles in the matter:
Budget makers gambling with future (Commentary, Cincinnati Enquirer)
Q&A about Ohio's debate on slots at racetracks (Associated Press via Forbes.com)
Gambling interests swarm Ohio Statehouse (WTTE Fox 28)
Debate continues over slot machines (Mount Vernon News)
Gambling in Ohio: a primer (Cincinnati.com)
Gambling still key battle in budget work (Editorial by Senator John Carey, Ironton Tribune)
Slots still only 'solution' to Ohio budget crisis (WKYC)
Governor rejects call for November vote on slots (Toledo Blade)
Skip the slots and work on a budget (Editorial, Advertiser-Tribune, Tiffin)
State budget standoff hitting children and school districts in Northeast Ohio: Child-care funds and adoptions halted (The Plain Dealer)

Fight the Power 2.0

-- Read More

A Model for Alternative Scholarly Recognition Measures in Academic Librarianship?

Eric Schnell points to The New Media Department and The University of Maine where they amended their promotion and tenure guidelines (all the way) back in 2007 with redefined criteria in the form of alternative recognition measures. Their documents identify nine alternatives to the standard 'article in a peer-review journal' model. He thinks the measures can be applied to library science since many aspects of LS has similar accessibility and timeliness requirements for their research/scholarship.
1. Invited / edited publications
2. Live conferences
3. Citations
4. Download / visitor counts
5. Impact in online discussions
and 4 more...

On Futuristic Door Stops

Recently, I faced the hideous situation of dead hardware. I had gotten dependent upon my Palm T|X. That model of personal digital assistant ("PDA") was great as it had built in 802.11b WiFi as well as Bluetooth. As long as I was within range of a wireless access point that I had rights to use, I had the Internet in my pocket. Early on, it worked quite well with a wireless infrared keyboard. I had a precursor to a netbook in basic form as I could use the keyboard to compose Word-compatible documents on a small screen. The device was great for trying to read online content such as Mobile Twitter, The Dysfunctional Family Circus, Instapundit, and more.

Unfortunately the PDA got stuck in a soft reset loop. It was showing its age. Three years of dutiful service is beyond what would reasonably be considered "mean time between failure". Although I was able to eventually break it free of the soft reset loop, it is now stuck at the digitizer calibration phase of initial setup. After multiple efforts, the digitizer could not be re-calibrated. I had a very futuristic looking doorstop.

Replacing it was an interesting battle. Initially I was carrying a legal pad and pen with me. While my "analog PDA" worked well for me, it was not small. It also looked quite anachronistic in today's world. That did not work well in the end.

Getting a smartphone was out of the question. Nobody calls! As it is now, I don't really have a cell phone simply because the usage for inbound calls was so light. For outbound calls, I use Skype. While devices like the Palm Centro, the Android G1, and the iPhone exist they really do not meet my needs. If I get a phone, I want one that makes calls. I would much rather have a separate PDA let alone a separate camera.

Getting a replacement PDA is a complicated adventure. The market for stand-alone PDAs is virtually non-existent as of late. I visited retailers like Office Max, Office Depot, Best Buy, and even a pawn shop in search of something comparable. Nothing was available as the trend today is the marriage of the PDA and the cellular telephone.

In the end, I had to turn to eBay. In addition to securing a Terminal Node Controller for certain projects, I picked up a replacement. Instead of getting a Nokia N800 as was sought, I wound up with a Palm IIIx. The Palm IIIx, while serviceable, is a very old device. This PDA is actually old enough that it has a battery door to replace the AAA batteries it runs on. I did get a keyboard to go with it but I need to get a suitable cradle to hook it up to a host computer. The device not only does not have Bluetooth, it does not have 802.11b WiFi either. IrDA-compliant infrared is the most the device has for signalling.

With these recent travails in replacing a PDA, I had given quite a bit of thought to eBooks. How truly valuable are eBooks? How do they compare with an old-fashioned RadioShack book light? As neither my paper books nor the Kindle have any backlight in them, such cannot be curled up with in bed without a booklight. Having to shine a booklight on the screen of the Kindle would be no different from shining one on the Palm IIIx. In that situation, you have a better chance of seeing your own reflection than seeing what you want to read. I am twenty seven years old and should not need "The Clapper" to be able to use an eBook device effectively in bed.

While the eBook may seem to be the way of the future, it does seem to be excessively involved and expensive compared to picking up something from the shelf. For those that feel the need to have everything available to them in one place, I suppose eBooks have a place. Right now I am finding print material to be easier and more enjoyable than the eBooks promoted today.

What is important to you: cute or practical?

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On Futuristic Door Stops by Stephen Michael Kellat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

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