Editorial, Resources

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.



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