I want to inaugurate these pings on the void by reflecting on something that has preoccupied me for a while. In spite of the documented change in hiring practices, the profession remains discursively attached to an identity policed by traditional credentialing bodies, and associated, at least in principle, with the possession of an ALA-accredited degree. (I say “possession of a degree” because I do not think the identity of the profession, much less the character of the labor of those who call themselves librarians, hangs much upon the curriculum of library schools — but that’s for another post.) At the same time, the profession seems caught in a perpetual crisis — a crisis of relevance, a crisis that reveals the limits of what credentials are supposed to guarantee: the librarian’s expertise. How many are the webinars, conference programs, institutes, books and articles, special reports, and so on, promising to tell us how to become (better) online educators, data stewards, agents of scholarly communication, collaborators in the research process, and so forth? These trends repeat, as it seems to me, patterns of discourse I found ten years ago when I entered, already jaded about the degree but optimistic about the job, library school. Indeed, mine was a program then recently rechristened a “school of information,” presumably on the premise that library science, traditionally conceived, no longer met the needs of the library’s publics in the soi disant Information Age.
Yes, Virginia, but of course: the stampede into our daily lives of electronic communication, digital text, and computing power has changed the dynamic, as they say, between librarians and their patrons. (I stick to the case of academic librarianship, being fairly ignorant — in the non-polemical sense — about the contours of the profession in public and corporate libraries.) Whether these changes, and those even greater changes chomping at the bit of progress, which it is said we must saddle up and ride, or else fall behind, choking on the dust — whether those changes, admittedly profound, are driven primarily by technological advances, or whether they do not bespeak equally the spur of administrative developments, and in particular the readiness of the boss-class to change what counts as a “professional” service, is matter for another time. Right now, with a broader brush, I want to pursue the crisis to its logical conclusion: Why do we need to be experts at all?