Friday, August 07, 2009

"The bad news - you're bleeding to death. The good news - the bleeding is slowing down..."

"Today's NYTimes: 247,000 Jobs Lost in July; Rate Falls Slightly"

A rambling rejoinder to the post at StanleyK, and a revisit to a comment I made here, earlier. The call is out: We need to step up, more than ever, support our communities... but our budgets are being slashed (again).

A friend of mine working at a library system headquarters in Illinois is now performing the duties of 1.5 people, officially, and has been for the past 6 months. A hospital library at a top-rated med center has seen their budget bleed away in response to dwindling patron visits; 5 years and more of no-growth budgets or budget cuts. They've lost a whole floor's worth of space, and staff. Even before this hard time, we librarians have learned to do with less, do without, to swim with whatever the current fiscal realities may be (as if we ever had a choice, right?) We can justly take pride in our endless creativity, and so can educators, particularly those in public schools.

However, such effortful redefining of our services comes at a price, or it must - I cannot imagine it does not. I have written here before about the need to consider our own practices, to focus on yet another underserved population: librarians. Our discussions rightly focus on those we serve, but they seldom take an inward view, to consider how we might support our own continued development (oh, us? - we'll get through). Oh, yes, we will. Diminished, if we are forced again to scale back services; teaching those (fewer) who hope to join the profession about the hard realities. For the practitioner, such realities may include the reinforcement of an often referenced gap between research and practice.

Give me a minute with this.

Editors and educators have deplored the lack of use of research in practice. The imbalance between academic and practitioner authors in our top journals has been measured, with some calling for practitioners to contribute their 'fair share' (1), while more recently, there has been an attempt to fit the model for evidence-based practice (EBP) to librarianship (EBL).

In articles calling for EBL, barriers to the use and practice of research in practice settings have been recognized again and again: lack of support. lack of education. lack of resources. lack of time. and so forth.

Right. So, back to the original topic of this post, and an attempt to tie it all up in a messy and undocumented bow: these things will not seep from the wellsprings of some unseen good place, and they cannot be wrested from shrinking budgets. My fear is not only that we will continue to fail to recognize our own needs, but that if they continue to be unrecognized, our own profession will diminish before our eyes. Perhaps you think I am making the assumption that EBL is the savior of librarianship, but I'd like to assure you this is not the case. There is a recognition that change is occurring - the aging of the profession, the derelict budgets, and so forth. We wonder about what it all means... and still, we do not regard our own selves and practices very closely. If we are to reconsider practice, we need to reconsider practitioner education; if we are to do that, we need (I argue) to understand more about ourselves.

And this is what we, as enablers of information access for all the world, have not done. If you doubt me - do a search for this topic: the information behavior of librarians. The discussion among us should not be limited to how we can continue to provide service in the face of shrinking budgets, but should also involve how we can change and grow, and more than ever - how we can encourage those who may wish to join us to add their voices to the discussion.

(1) Landwirth, T. K. (1990). Your fair share. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 78(1), 69-70.

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