John Dupuis, author of the Confessions of a Science Librarian blog, recently wrote a fascinating post entitled A Stealth Librarian’s Manifesto (please do go and read it) talking about the need for academic librarians to insinuate their way into the communities they serve. There’s also comments on the blog about how this manifesto applies to other sectors. I was halfway through commenting on his post, when I realised that I had one of my own brewing.
The stealth librarian’s manifesto had me nodding most of the way through. We should become part of our users’ landscape. We should be integrated into research and teaching and we should be collaborative. With all these I agree. However, I baulked slightly at the separation from the information profession the manifesto encouraged in parts: “We must stop going to librarian conferences” and “We must stop joining librarian associations”? Yikes!
On reflection I think this reaction is partly about my background. As an ex-academic (at the PhD student level) and relatively new librarian (I graduated from my librarianship course just over a year ago) I’m very conscious of what I’ve learnt from the knowledge and expertise of other librarians. I’m wary of the danger of ‘going native’ – a concept from anthropological ethnographic research, where those studying a culture can come to identify with it so strongly that they become estranged from their own culture. I still think that there’s a lot I have to learn from other information professionals, and I don’t want to lose sight of the new ways of seeing the world I’ve learnt as a librarian.
However, this reservation isn’t meant to be a cutting critique of the manifesto. I can see how those who are more established librarians already feel confident within the profession, and see progress as pushing the other way and focusing more on the community they don’t yet know. There’s a perfect balance where librarians are embedded in both communities, participating in the lives of the groups that they support, yet secure of their own identity as professionals, secure of their own expertise.
I think maybe I’m getting to the stage where I’m secure enough as a librarian to start pushing the stealth angle a little harder. I’ve taken some steps towards becoming involved in the communities I serve, particularly in terms of conferences and social networks, which is where I’m comfortable. One of my next big aims in the role is to increase how embedded I am in the on-campus scientific community, where my liaison so far has been a little too reactive (as opposed to proactive) for either the manifesto or for my own preference. There’s other constraints here – I have found it more challenging to become a part of both library and departmental communities in my current part-time role – but that’s all the more reason to invest my effort in this area, and develop some stealth librarian skills.