Thursday, December 2, 2010

PL 76/10: Potato practice

Filed under: 1bib — plinius @ 11:24 am

Librarians sometimes describe themselves as potatoes.

They are jack-of-all-trades: useful for many different purposes. They take pride in the variety of tasks they can handle.

In the past, this self-image fitted positions in most public libraries rather well. In large parts of Norway it may still work rather well. But as a strategy for professional survival it points one way: down and out.

The knowledge economy rewards people who are specialists and experts in their fields. Knowing a bit of this and a bit of that is useful in many situations. But I do not recommend dispersion as as a career move for individuals or as a long-term strategy for the library profession.

The real world

The knowledge economy is characterised by equal access to knowledge as such. The web basically makes facts, information, data sets, news and publications available to everybody with a computer or smart phone at hand. Sources of status, rank and distinction now lie elsewhere:

  • in the practitioner’s ability to integrate and apply relevant knowledge in complex real-world situations (deep training, long practice)
  • in the manager’s or leader’s power to define what the real-world situation is considered to be (my map or yours?)

When the two types of ranking conflict, we get the classical tension between professional experts and bureaucratic hierarchies (Mintzberg).

New pressures

I am not Cassandra, but the news are worrying (to say the least) – from Norway and abroad. Managers are starting to push libraries aside: amputating whole departments (ABM-utvikling in Norway, MLA in UK), downgrading their organizational status (Texas), cutting budgets (20 percent or more in the UK), reclaiming space released by disappearing books and paper journals.

Both libraries and librarians must redesign their roles. In other words: start fighting for relevant positions in a web-focused world.

Experts wanted

Static defenses are not enough. The field needs to develop professionals who can demonstrate their value outside librarianship. Potatoes are not the answer – they simply withdraw from conflict.

Experts are practitioners who master coherent domains of skill and knowledge. That takes time, will and persistense.

In addition, experts must be recognized as such by others. Your own effort is not enough. To count as an expert in your field, you must be recognized as outstanding by your peers.

Your peers are not enough, either. To count as an expert in the world, the field itself must be recognized as valuable by the world. The ability to run backwards (like Modesty Blaise) or to hold your breath under water for eleven minutes does not count.

Read all about experts in the excellent article The making of an expert – and follow up with Wikipedia (Expert).


1 Comment »

  1. […] dagens bloggpost på den engelske utgaven av […]

    Pingback by P 164/10: Rektors hjørne « Plinius — Thursday, December 2, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

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