Social Work and the Limited Scope of iSchool Research

…until LIS educators teach library reading and library as place in their professional programs at the core level, and until LIS researchers ask questions about what users learn from their interaction with libraries and determine how that learning fits into their everyday lives, both are addressing only a fraction of what libraries actually do for their patrons.

It wasn’t easy to pick an opening quote from Prof. Wayne Wiegland’s “Falling Short of Their Profession’s Needs,” a piece about the limited and self-limiting research performed by iSchools. I recommend going back to read his whole article before reading this reply; he questions the iSchool phenomenon in ways I’ve so far braved only in my own mind and not out loud on the page.

I would add to Wiegland’s call for inquiry into the longitudinal impact of library reading and library place on diverse populations and say: the future of librarianship will be defined by our commitment to fostering social justice. The research that Wiegland cries out for is the very kind of research that would support a future in which we make life more equitable for our patrons. Where does research on the outcomes of summer reading programs lead but to a rationale for supporting it for our most at-risk young patrons? Where does research on the community impact of teaching and learning and conversation among patrons from all walks of life lead but to justification for offering safe space for all? As Weigland says, we who are practitioners have shouldered much of the burden of documenting as responding to the results of the work we do on our communities. But as long as we labor under the burden of an academic leadership that prioritizes human-computer interaction over bibliotherapy – just to give one example – we will always be fighting for recognition. We need leaders inside library science who stand up for and celebrate research on the social impact of our work.

I respect Prof. Wiegland for being an academic within the profession who calls for this. I respect my mentor, Prof. Sarah Park Dahlen, for supporting this kind of work through her research exposing the shameful discrepancies in representing diversity in children’s literature. And I know there are other professors fighting for the place of social justice in librarianship as well, and they are righteous and growing in number.

One of the areas in which I have seen the greatest potential for library-social work collaboration is in research. Our social work colleagues have spent the last century exploring and naming the role of social justice in the context of a helping profession. Our colleagues in education and social work have refined techniques for qualitative evaluation that could easily be applied to public service librarianship. The academic framework exists for us to do the kind of work we need to do; it’s up to us to step forward and embrace it. We know we are far more than information. Let’s own that and figure out how we’re going to make it part of our institution and professional narrative.



Social Work MOOC Update

One thing I realized when I wrote up my reflections on the first module of this edX/University of Michigan Social Work MOOC is that one blog post per module might not be the way to go. In theory, I like the idea of some of us taking the MOOC together and then commenting on it. In practice, I didn’t find that to be the most effective way to share what I really hope to get out of this, which is application to library practice. I need to approach this in a less linear way. So, I’m going to keep taking the class and let some of the ideas and approaches percolate through my mind as I work. When I come across something valuable, I’ll post about it here and link back to any relevant part of the MOOC.

I am particularly interested in continuing to publish ideas here on applying social work theory and practice to librarianship and would welcome contributions from anyone who wants to be part of that conversation, MOOC or no MOOC.

Finally, I learned that the MOOC I started is now the first in what edX calls a “MicroMasters.” I refuse to pay $200 for each course, so I’ll be auditing it, but I’m stoked at the array of topics the courses will explore. Check it out. I think that for someone with the time to devote to it, this can be a great opportunity for librarians to learn the basics of social work.

Invite us to guest lecture

There’s a new tab on the WPL menu: Guest Lecture

Mary Nienow and I have already given guest lectures in person and online to graduate courses in librarianship and in social work. We’ve talked about Whole Person Librarianship and about library-social work collaboration more broadly. We’re always happy to talk to classes and wanted to make it a little bit easier to invite us to do so. Please feel free to reach out.

We’re also keeping the Ask WPL page for my general inquiries.

Buschman, libraries, and the public sphere

Little known fact: before Paul Lai and I started this blog, we very briefly had another one. Though the blog itself had a very narrow focus (reorganization of our MLIS program), this particular post still resonates today.

St. Kate's MLIS Reorganization Discussion

If any of you have read some useful analyses of the relationship between the values of librarianship and the values of the corporate world, please share them in the comments of this post or email me if you’d like to contribute a guest post. I’d love to see more of this discussion foregrounded on the blog.

I’m about half way through John E. Buschman’sDismantling the Public Sphere: Situating and Sustaining Librarianship in the Age of the New Public Philosophy (Libraries Unlimited, 2003), which Elaine Harger at Progressive Librarians Guild recommended as background reading on the dangers of mixing business and librarianship. The book is revelatory for me, and Buschman put into words (almost 10 years ago!) many of the vague concerns and frustrations I have felt this past year while immersed in coursework and trying to keep up with some of the current conversations in librarianship through online…

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