Take a look at Lorcan Dempsey’s post on professional communication, and the Librarian in Black’s response.
There are two issues here for me: firstly, the issue of rigour; and secondly, the disconnect between the literature and practice, or the applicability of the truly rigorous literature.
The Librarian in Black makes this comment:
The funny thing is that when I started library school (coming from an Literature Master’s degree), I criticized library professional literature up and down. Much of the writing was sloppy, there was very little research done to back up points in many of the articles we were given to read, citations were only done sometimes, and flaws in logic (usually over-generalizations) were found in just about everything I read.
Ah, ditto! I raged about the state of the literature throughout my Grad Dip. In fact, I continue to rage. So I found myself furiously nodding as I read this paragraph. The LiB, however, goes on to say:
Now, I find that all of that literature was coming from more casual publications, not the refereed journals that we’re talking about here.
So here’s the crux of the first issue: when it comes to formal professional publications and conference papers, I don’t know that I agree with LiB. The degree of rigour in the library literature still disappoints me, at times. Go to any library conference, and you’ll see a whole lot of “we did this and it was cool cause it worked”, and not so much of “we identified this issue, took this approach to gathering data to inform our decision, implemented and evaluated this project, and these are our findings”. And I’m talking about conferences where peer review is involved.
So…what need do our professional publications fill? Are they filling supply or demand? Do we keep these going because the content really is useful for our real live librarians? Generally, I would say no–at least nobody I know in public libraries.
Here, I agree with the LiB wholeheartedly. In my opinion, our professional literature is disconnected from practice, and often lacks applicability in a practical context – particularly in a public library context. This frustrates me no end. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to the literature, looking to find some data to support a decision I need to make. And it’s often just not there, even though I know there are other libraries out there grappling with the same issue I am.
But why is it not there? Partly, as the LiB says, because the literature that comes out of the US (which makes up a big chunk of the ‘scholarly’ publishing we have available to us) is driven by the tenure requirements of academic librarianship and grounded in theory.
But it’s also because, as a profession (and I’m referring here to practitioners) that values information and the sharing of knowledge and ideas, and that ostensibly values scholarly information above all else (a whole issue in itself), we are woeful when it comes to conducting our own research and documenting it in the literature. Our journals should be brimming over with content. Editors should be fighting authors off with sticks. But that’s not the case, is it?
I’m a big believer in evidence based practice. I want to make informed decisions, and I know the value that documented evidence has when you’re trying to persuade someone to go with an idea. Part of being committed to evidence based practice is being committed to writing and publishing. We need a good base of professional literature to inform our practice. And we’re the only ones that can build it.
Practitioners need to spend time taking an evidence based approach to their practice, and publishing somewhere (anywhere – more on that below) about the outcomes. Because that’s the only way the literature is ever going to be relevant and useful to practitioners.
[Aside: Actually, it's not the only way. Another way we can shape our literature to give it meaning for practitioners is for us to rethink the divide between academia and practice, or at least, to encourage partnerships across the divide.]
Which leads me to issue three (I said two issues, didn’t I? And you thought I was done ranting!)…
3. Blogs vs scholarly communication: what’s the difference?
Right now, we’re still negotiating whether blogs are a legitimate part of professional literature. My personal opinion is that yes, they certainly are. If Jo at Library X posts about his experience with Y issue, she’s contributing to the professional literature.
Blog reading has a huge influence on my professional practice. Blog posts get me thinking about issues that probably wouldn’t cross my radar otherwise. There are, however, differences between the way I use blog posts and the way I use ‘traditionally published’ professional literature. Blog posts get me thinking and challenge me to do new things. But what blogs don’t provide me with is the documented evidence I need to inform my decision making. Not in themselves, anyway. People don’t typically publish the findings of their projects on blogs. But what people do use blogs for is to point to findings published elsewhere.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness the speed and accessibility offered by blogs to publish our rigorous, scholarly, evidence-based professional communications, rather than just to point to them? Then blogs really would form part of the “most compelling and worthwhile literature in the library field today“. So why don’t we do it? Now there’s a thought…
[A final aside: Lorcan Dempsey notes that with regard to blogs, he has a "continuing sense that that this is still a fugitive medium. This means that an entry can be dispatched relatively quickly." I wish! It seems to take me a disproportionately long time to blog, compared to writing for other forums. I think for me, that's due in large part to the fact that blogging is almost entirely about thinking out issues, so I'm not coming to a post with my thoughts formulated, the way I would for other pieces of writing. Interesting.]