A library school professor posted a comment late last week to my "Theory and Practice" post, and I wanted to respond to it. The full comment is definitely worth reading, but I'm going to quote only part of it. After noting that s/he (I hate that construction, but I don't know the gender of the commenter) is a library school professor but has been a librarian, s/he says:
"Many of us getting PhDs do so after living with the real-life frustrations of librarianship: we got tired of encountering the same problems year after year (the "practice" part of the equation) without having a chance to figure out why the problems were happening (which is the "theory" part of the equation)."
I'm not sure I understand.
I can certainly understand preferring to be a professor than a librarian, if nothing else to get your summers off. I wouldn't want to be a professor of library science, but I still understand the urge for some people.
And I can certainly understand being a frustrated librarian. I got frustrated once in my job, and it was a darned unpleasant experience.
But there is one thing I don't understand--what problems are we talking about? I understand the frustration of encountering the same problems year after year, but the problems I encounter aren't the sort that can be solved by library school professors. I've never encountered any problems in practice that I couldn't reflect on and solve if they were solvable. A good liberal education seems to me superior to any library "science" as preparation for librarianship. Can someone give me some examples of practical problems that the theorizing of "library scientists" has solved? As far as I can tell, library science just isn't that hard. Perhaps I've led a sheltered librarian's life, but I've yet to encounter any library science theory that was at all difficult. That's why it's library science and not rocket science. What does the special caste of "library scientists" have to offer practicing librarians that they can't just theorize for themselves?
I'm especially interested in any LIS theory that is specific to librarianship, which would leave out computer science and management theories. (In general, leaving out management theories would be an especial boon to the profession.)
A friend of mine--another excellent librarian-- and I were discussing my "Theory and Practice" post, particularly the comment asking what library school professors could do. Her advice was to stop being so pompous.
I was struck by that comment because of an experience I had at a meeting a couple of years ago. I was with a mixed group of librarians and "library educators" as they called themselves. (I wanted to point out to them that real professors don't call themselves "educators." That's what primary and secondary school teachers sometimes call themselves when they get pretentious and can't just stick with the perfectly respectable "teacher.") What struck me most was that the librarians were for the most part very smart and highly educated with years of experience in good research libraries. They knew their trade and could speak intelligently about it. The "library educators" were for the most part rather dim and from some really crappy library schools (one of which I'm almost positive couldn't even manage ALA-accreditation). Yet these so-called "educators" seemed to consider themselves a special caste superior to us mere librarians, ironic considering that almost nothing they said was worth saying. The only thing that kept me from laughing out loud and mocking them to their face was focusing on the irony between the regard they had for themselves and the contempt the rest of us had for them. People who aren't very bright or educated should just keep their mouths shut around bright and educated people.
My commenter notes that "readers of this blog should be aware that there has been a critical shortage of LIS PhDs (lessening in the past few years); in 2001 I was told at one major conference that there were 4 faculty positions available for every PhD in the room. This clearly will affect who is hired and by whom."
Long time readers will certainly be aware, as I have addressed the issue before. Four positions for every PhD? That certainly says something about the profession. Meaning no disrespect to those very intelligent and educated LIS professors out there (and I know several), but what it says to me is that the field isn't very attractive, and that the standards must necessarily be low if the jobs are to be filled. It means that anybody who can stumble through the PhD work can land a job as a professor.
This certainly explains my meeting with the pompous and dull-witted "library educators" who laughably thought the rest of us would take them seriously, and it explains some of my experiences in library school with a couple of intellectually insecure dullards who had managed to become "professors," but seemed somehow to sense that I wasn't impressed by their LIS PhDs.
I don't consider this professor shortage to be a problem, except insofar as it lets dullards slip through and become professors. Rather, I'm sure it's a problem for the profession of library professoring, because it means more teaching for them. I don't consider it a problem for the profession of librarianship because I still don't think that LIS professors have very much to offer to librarians.
No, now I'm starting to get rude. I don't want to be rude, I want some answers. I'm willing to be proved wrong. Which part of this library science theory is so hard to grasp? What specifically have library school professors contributed that couldn't have been contributed by librarians? I suspect that I'm smarter than the average librarian, but I know a lot of really smart librarians who have no trouble solving their own problems and theorizing from their own practice, and they don't even have their summers off to sit around and think all these hard library theory thoughts.
I'm fully prepared to admit that library scientists contribute to some academic endeavor and to the scholarly record in their field, but their field isn't my field. What I want to know is, what do you do for librarianship that I couldn't do myself?