A professional philosophy sums up what I value in my profession: what role do information professionals play in society? Why is what information professionals do important? What principles do I subscribe to as a Master’s of Management in Library and Information Science (MMLIS) graduate? This statement aims to break down my personal philosophy into its constituent parts by answering these questions.
The Role and Importance of the Information Professional
The role of information professionals is constantly evolving, not only regarding what information professionals do but how they describe their role to others. Miller (2017) found that information professionals might serve as embedded librarians outside of a traditional library environment, or they might act as teachers, knowledge managers, technology specialists, subject librarians, or information specialists. Whatever my eventual job title, I know that my personal beliefs and principles, refined through the course of my MMLIS education, will guide my place in the greater information profession.
Personal Beliefs and Principles
Information wants to be free. In 1984, writer Stewart Brand attended The Hackers’ Conference, wherein he had a discussion with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak about the freedom of information. He uttered the now-famous phrase “information wants to be free” (Brand & Herron, 1985, p. 44) as part of a greater discussion over the monetary value of information. An information professional can hardly ascribe to the core values of librarianship without agreeing with Brand. The core value of access is that “all information resources that are provided directly or indirectly by the library, regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery, should be readily, equally, and equitably accessible to all library users” (American Library Association (ALA), 2004, para. 4). I not only agree with Brand in that information can and should be freely available, but also with the less frequently quoted part of his statement, that information is “valuable,” and can, therefore, be expensive to some, even though “the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time” (Brand & Herron, 1985, p. 44).
You can’t share what isn’t there. Preservation of information plays a significant role in access: if information is not preserved, it is not accessible. “The preservation of information resources is central to libraries and librarianship” (ALA, 2004, para. 11). It is not the information professional’s place to presuppose the educational value of an object for someone, either now or in the future. Information goes beyond what is written “by the letter.” It is possible to better understand a society, culture, an environment, or an individual by reading between the lines and looking at the context underlying the creation of an object. For that reason, I as an information professional hope to preserve information to enable future access to it, even if I am not around to interact with the person accessing it.
Primum non nocere: do no harm. I believe that information professionals aim to “do no harm,” like many other professions that “serve” others. In providing access to all information, it is not the information professional’s place to judge why someone wants access to that information, what they will use it for, or how it will impact their thinking. It is not possible to provide “a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve” (ALA, 2004, para. 7) by limiting what information is available on a given topic. Doing so would represent a failure to “resist all efforts to censor library resources” (ALA, 2004, para. 9). If providing access to the information is not obviously and apparently harmful, there is no reason why an information professional cannot or should not provide access.
Privacy, confidentiality, and access. Harm starts to come into play when an information professional considers patron privacy and confidentiality. It’s possible that building a database of the most popular books in a library will help determine the percentage of a budget that must be set aside for purchasing additional copies, but that doesn’t mean we need to associate a patron name with a given book. Yes, “information wants to be free” (Brand & Herron, 1985, p. 44), but that information doesn’t include personally-identifying information. It should be up to the user to say what information they want shared with others, in what manner, and for what purpose. This belief does not cancel out my desire to help others access information. “Opting-out…create[s] gaps,” as Givler said (referring to publishers not wanting to participate in Google Books’ digitization project), but information professionals must consider not just their idea of “the greater good,” but user rights, which includes the right to privacy.
Inclusivity, kindness, and respect. Regardless of an information professional’s job title, or how closely they work with members of the public, they should behave with kindness and respect. The University of Southern California (USC)’s MMLIS program strongly encouraged teamwork and leadership behaviors by creating numerous presentations, projects, and papers for students to work on together, with no “say” in who was on the team or who served as the team leader. Often professors explained this as being like the “real world,” whereas information professionals, we will probably not choose who we work with, but we can choose how we behave and work with others. Though there are many career paths out there, it feels as though librarianship places special emphasis on inclusivity: excluding a person or a group from having access to information or contributing to something ends up harming everyone by the loss of perspective and potentially valuable information.
Openness + honesty = transparency. In the information profession, being open presupposes that an information professional has access to information and is willing and able to share it with others. That information may not necessarily be truthful or accurate, but it is available for someone else to make that determination. An honest information professional may not have access to all the information that exists on a topic, but will freely say what they do have access to; ideally, if the information itself is also honest, it is trustworthy and reliable. Together, a sense of openness and honesty in the information profession creates a hospitable, transparent industry that is valued not just for providing access to information, but for doing so in a manner reflective of users’ needs. People don’t want to spend time gathering information only for it to turn out to be inaccurate and unreliable. People want access to useful, trustworthy information that they can use to benefit themselves in some way. In the end, transparency is what enables an information professional to add or demonstrate their value to others.
Centers for lifelong growth and change. No information center can be strictly defined by the type of information it contains. Whether an information center is called a “library” or not, whether it is public, academic, special, or in a school, these places are community hubs and learning centers. Though these centers act as places where others can come to expand their knowledge, the information professionals working within them must also be willing to objectively assess their resources and acknowledge and pursue opportunities for growth and change.
No such thing as a born leader or manager. By USC offering their MMLIS program through the Marshall School of Business, the university encouraged the belief that there is a difference between leadership and management; between a “boss” or a “manager” and a “leader.” It is possible for someone to take on leadership responsibilities regardless of their job title. In the information profession particularly, everyone is responsible for the management of information and is, therefore, a “manager” at least in that respect. Additionally, by offering the Research and Professional Applications course in five parts, one each semester, I could develop and refine both my leadership and management values, principles, and beliefs. The final, practicum course is an internship that encouraged me to put my education to the test in the “real world,” and show my leadership and management capabilities to others in the profession. It is through opportunities like this that information professionals can understand the role that community plays in shaping how a library impacts others.
USC’s MMLIS program includes 12 goals for students to demonstrate mastery of upon completion. The program goals include developing an understanding of the ecology of libraries and information networks; the ability to articulate and employ professional values and ethics, as well as assess management strategies, practices and decisions; the capacity to develop and manage content, and organize, retrieve and manage information for stakeholder benefit; proficiency in locating, synthesizing, and translating information into intelligence; expertise in developing, implementing, and assessing programs and services; an understanding of the role of current and emerging technologies and infrastructure in organizational effectiveness and service delivery; the ability to design, apply and interpret different research and evaluation methods; the capacity to manage and lead diverse projects and teams; proficiency in applying persuasion and influence through networking, collaboration, and relationship-building, and finally, being able to demonstrate a commitment to continued professional education and lifelong learning. Various course assignments serve as “artifacts” that demonstrate my mastery of each of the program goals and helped refine my principles, values, and beliefs as an information professional.
To understand the ecology of libraries and information networks, I worked with several teammates to present the results of an interview conducted with a library leader. Conducting an interview and working in a team require respect, kindness, and inclusivity if anyone hopes to achieve their mutual goals. Furthermore, sharing the results of our interview with a library leader gave my classmates access to information they would not have had otherwise.
Fundamental to shaping my sense of values and ethics in the information profession and how I might eventually end up applying them were two case studies I analyzed with teammates early in my MMLIS education. As with the first program goal, working with a team inherently involved being respectful, kind, and inclusive of others. Further, it was through case studies like these two that I could examine my beliefs about the information profession, especially regarding information access, confidentiality, and privacy.
Being able to assess management strategies, practices and decisions means acquiring information and putting it into actionable form for others. For the artifact I associated with this program goal, I developed a focus group moderator guide on my own, though I had to keep others in mind: how would others use this focus group guide in the real world? How would participants respond to the questions outlined in this guide? Throughout the creation of the focus group handbook, I needed to assess whether what I wrote would make sense to others, whether the practices would be easy to implement, and whether the resultant data could lead to actionable decisions. I ultimately ended up putting the focus group moderator guide to the test by acting as the moderator, while my teammates served as the focus group participants.
As with the previous program goal, developing and managing content means thinking of others first: of being inclusive, and providing access to information in many ways. The “Be the Librarian” assessment plan involved designing an instructional unit not just to get an idea about citation rules and tools out of my head, but how the information I had could be received and utilized by others. In this case, I selected instructors at a public research university hoping to integrate citation rules and tools into their curriculum, rather than relying on one-time instructional sessions taught at the library.
Organizing, retrieving and managing information for stakeholder benefit entails not only keeping the end user in mind but how they will access that information. The process of organizing and retrieving information isn’t done solely by information professionals in mind, but patrons as well. In creating both an abstract series and a MARC record as examples of mastery of this goal, I had to take a concept I was familiar with as a library user (the ability to quickly search a library catalog and locate an item that I wanted) and think about it from the perspective of the library –not just an organization, but a whole made up of many parts, including individual librarians and other information professionals. Not everyone may read the subject headings attached to an object’s digital record, but those that do depend on it to tell them where something belongs in context, and whether it might be useful for their purposes. Researchers may depend on resources like abstract series to quickly find supporting evidence, while librarians may need to create machine-readable records for new items if one doesn’t exist with the right fields for a given institution.
Furthermore, users might want information from a variety of sources, some of which an information professional may not personally agree with, but it is the duty of that professional to provide access without judgment. People can only benefit from information if they can approach it with an open mind; otherwise, they will be resistant to new ideas or the possibility of personal growth and change.
The idea of openness, honesty, and transparency plays a large part in organizing, retrieving, and managing information. Sometimes the information a professional manages isn’t in the form of a book or a journal, but what the annual budget is like and why. Library leaders make decisions that must be grounded in sound evidence, especially since they can and often will be held accountable for those decisions.
Like the previous program goal, locating, synthesizing, and translating information into intelligence involves providing access to information, being transparent about what information you have or need, and not casting judgment on information seekers. Once again, I cited the creation of an abstract series to demonstrate my mastery of this program goal, as such an artifact necessitated that I locate relevant information on a topic, synthesize different findings and opinions into a single coherent form, and translate that into a finalized document. An abstract series exists to provide a brief overview of a topic and acknowledges gaps in the literature, the methodology used to locate information, and conclusions about the items included.
The process of developing, implementing, and assessing programs and services, as with so many other program goals, involves thinking of others: how will this program benefit others? Is it inclusive? Does it treat everyone involved with kindness and respect? Furthermore, the process of developing, implementing, and assessing programs and services entails an openness to growth and change: with each program or service offered, I as an information professional learn something new, and can use that new information to serve users better, whether it’s in the form of changes to an existing program or service, or getting rid of what isn’t working and replacing it with something different.
In creating the artifacts for this program goal, which include the previously-mentioned focus group moderator guide, a part of the “Be the Librarian” series of assignments on citation rules and tools, a presentation on the use of social media in the Clinton Library, and a blog post about a one-day special program from my internship site, I had to think about how people connect to information. Some of them get it through data sets, statistics, and infographics: the kind of results you might expect after conducting a focus group. Others might get information from instructors, as with my instructional unit presentation geared toward professors at a public research university. Still others might rely on social media, as with my team’s presentation on the Clinton Library’s use of social media, or my blog post relating the #DataRescueDavis event at UC Davis’ Peter J. Shields Library and how it taught me about library programming. Regardless of the form a program or service takes, it is ultimately about finding the best way to connect people to the information they want to access.
Demonstrating my understanding of the role of current and emerging technologies and infrastructure in organizational effectiveness and service delivery took many forms. For this program goal, I included a discussion-based presentation on emerging technology, a paper on the use of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in academic libraries, a paper discussing the use of mobile applications in public libraries, and a short pairs paper on a library’s website acting as the gateway to a community.
One concern information professionals regularly bring up in the face of current and emerging technology is that of confidentiality and privacy. New technologies like mobile apps and frequently-updated websites may seem like a no-brainer for libraries to adopt, but are they providing patrons with any better service than they would have gotten without the apps, or sacrificing some measure of their personal privacy? What is the acceptable balance between meeting patron expectation for technology adoption and serving as a trustworthy source of information?
MOOCs, mobile apps, and dynamic library websites meet patrons where they are, connecting them to actionable information, providing a level of accessibility that may not have existed before, and demonstrating a library’s desire to stay on top of emerging technology and therefore better serve its patrons. However, the constantly evolving nature of technology dictates that information professionals regularly examine their principles and values considering changes to how that technology affects users’ information needs.
Because research and evaluation methods inherently involve other people, designing, applying and interpreting different methods requires kindness, respect, inclusivity, and transparency. The artifact I selected to associate with this program goal, a streaming video survey I put together with a team, is like the focus group moderator guide used for Program Goals C and G in that my teammates and I needed to be clear about why we were gathering information, what benefit it would have to participants, and how we would respect their individual privacy.
Over the course of the MMLIS program, I may have completed assignments or created artifacts with the help of teammates, but they don’t necessarily demonstrate my mastery of how to manage and lead diverse projects and teams. Rather, the artifact I selected to illustrate my ability is one I created this semester, during my internship: a blog post about the one-day #DataRescueDavis event at the UC Davis Peter J. Shields Library. The blog post goes beyond what happened at the event and covers lessons I learned about library programming in general. It’s important to be kind to program participants and library service users, to include them regardless of their apparent understanding or expertise on a topic, and to be transparent with why a library would offer a given program or service. Any time an information professional works on a project, or with a team, they need to include everyone in the tasks involved and treat everyone with kindness and respect.
Demonstrating proficiency in applying persuasion and influence through networking, collaboration, and relationship-building is no small task. I believe that a presentation I worked on with my teammates on the role of academic library leaders and their role in workplace culture serves that purpose in a two-fold manner. Not only did it cover how persuasion, influence, networking, collaboration, and relationship-building contribute to a workplace’s culture, but I also utilized those techniques with my teammates to produce the final artifact.
A willingness to grow, change and adapt as an information professional is a big part of being able to persuade, influence, network, collaborate, and build relationships with others. Information professionals must understand that things change with how people communicate with one another, how people learn effectively, and how people build personal networks.
Any time an information professional works with others, they must keep in mind the principles and values of being kind, respectful, inclusive, and transparent to foster the strongest relationships possible and encourage the same behavior in return.
For the final program goal, I need to demonstrate a commitment to continued professional education and lifelong learning. I believe that my membership in three major library associations (the American Library Association (ALA), the California Library Association (CLA), and the Special Libraries Association (SLA)) exemplifies that commitment, and furthermore applies each of the principles that I have created for myself in relation to my behavior, thinking, and knowledge regarding the information profession. Principles themselves can grow and change, based on both experience and the people with whom I interact. I don’t just learn whenever I’m in a classroom or given an assignment; I learn every time I interact with people, as at a conference like ALA Annual in 2015, or CLA Annual in 2016. I also learn whenever I encounter new information, whether it’s in the form of a free webinar sponsored by a chapter of one of the library associations or a workshop offered by a roundtable or committee.
American Library Association (ALA). (2004). Core values of librarianship. Ala.org. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/statementspols/corevalues
Brand, S., & Herron, M. (1985). ‘Keep designing’; how the information economy is being created and shaped by the hacker ethic. Whole Earth Review, (May 1985), 44. Retrieved from Gale Academic OneFile.
Givler, P. (2013). Issues in vendor/library relations — so what’s wrong with opt-out? Against the Grain, 17(4) doi:10.7771/2380-176X.4530
Miller, R. E. (2017). Literature suggests information professionals have adopted new roles. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 12(1), 137-139.