Career Impact and Library Technology Research

This blog post is not concerned with the specific application of a technology, rather it advocates the rather post-modern idea of research and writing in library technology for career impact. I take as my departure point the fact that not all research articles are useful contributions to the field. While intellectual rigor has its place in research, if the connection to service improvements or broader big picture questions are not addressed by scholarly research outputs the profession, as a whole, will not advance.

In a sense, it is after tenure when academic librarians begin to think of notions of careers of impact. We may ask ourselves what library needs or open problems were met by our work. We ask: did our research outputs matter?  Did our research stand up over time? Has the field moved forward at all?

A major problem in library and information science literature from an editorial perspective is the local-ness of any given paper. To generalize, many papers now coming into journal submission portals report how a specific local problem was addressed. The paper does its intellectual work only as far as its local institution is concerned. Broadly, what is needed in library writing — writing that is primarily driven from tenure line librarians is a need to consider practice of librarianship beyond the boundaries of a discreet study.

This underscores another significant problem which could be addressed by the right kind of mentorship in library settings: addressing the why of publishing, this would be a good corollary to the how, which veterans can teach – veteran tenured librarians will be able to speak to the methods for getting into print, getting even into the top tier journals like the Journal of Academic Librarianship. However, what is missing, and what this post is fundamentally concerned with, is the why of publishing for tenure.

When I started writing, the impulse was to sound smart. This is something I regretted deeply when I watched new library school students take notes on that paper. Now, I’m writing to communicate, since a wise person once said: “the smartest people are those who can communicate with others,” and what it is we are attempting to communicate when we publish are ways to improve practice – to move the field forward. That is why we publish. That is why we research. That is why we choose and stay on the tenure track, to have a career of impact in the field.

Can such a thing be taught? It’s like asking if morality can be taught, because it is a rather moral (and, possibly post-modern anti-ego thinking) choice to think of your profession as advancing and not yourself. While most tenure track activities can have the effect of growing ones ego, the path worth going down, the very interesting and profound path librarians must follow, if they are to remain honest, is to empty the ego, to empty any concern for the individual career and to think instead of the profession.

Our careers are not our own, anymore than the libraries we worked in and lived in were ours. The IT career of impact for librarians is that career which was made in the service to the profession.