Advantages of the Soft Profession

It sometimes seems that since the beginning of library science, librarians have been striving to become full professionals and stand alongside doctors, lawyers, clergy, and others.  While it is important to distinguish a librarian as a professional, it is perhaps not so important to strive for the same standards as doctors or lawyers.  There are, in fact, distinct advantages to remaining a soft profession.

As a soft profession, one of the advantages of library science is the ability to borrow from other professions.  Librarians come from a variety of backgrounds and bring knowledge with them.  This type of diversity allows adaptation and growth.  Principles from other fields of study, such as sociology or computer science, can also be gleaned and applied institutionally or individually.  If the American Library Association had the same types of strict guidelines and practices as other professions, it would be much harder for librarians to incorporate this kind of knowledge into their work.  It would have to be molded to fit the strict guidelines of the profession instead of simply adapted to a new use.

Librarians also have the chance to connect directly with their communities.  Strict professions create a dividing line between the people and the professional.  People see doctors when they are sick and lawyers when they have legal issues.  People visit libraries for everything from serious research needs to curiosity about the local cultural festival.  Librarians are able to provide space and support for events beyond their professional realm through their professional environment.  This kind of involvement would be curtailed if the role of the librarian were strictly defined and enforced.  Worse yet, it may require the librarian to participate in community outreach in situations where those activities may not be to the benefit of the community.

In working towards the good of the community, librarians are able to experiment with new techniques, technologies, procedures, and programs.  In this area, librarians have a distinct advantage by remaining a soft profession.  If libraries were to have enforced guidelines, failed experiments could be met with fines or job loss.  Libraries as a soft profession encourage experimentation and growth.  In a strict profession, much of the growth and research comes from related fields or outside organizations.  In libraries, growth comes from the librarian.  This allows librarians to direct the ways in which libraries advance.

The types of enforcements and requirements a strict profession places on a professional would be crippling to a library.  Librarianship as a soft profession allows the use of knowledge from other professions, a strong connection with the community, and encourages librarians to try new ideas without fear of repercussions.

– J. Cox

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5 Responses to Advantages of the Soft Profession

  1. Allie B. says:

    I think this entry directly relates to some of the issues discussed in “Libraries and Innovation,” in terms of the breadth of knowledge expected of librarians. I worked with a Senior Librarian at Denver Public Library as a volunteer who has talked repeatedly about the connections between public librarianship and social services. She’s looked into getting another Master’s degree in social services or a PhD in Education to supplement the more technical knowledge she gained in her LIS program. This is an interesting reality for information professionals working in the public sector. While many professions encourage and/or require members in their field to pursue further education, it seems like librarians may have higher expectations than some other professions. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. It means that the standards for librarians are high, but it also means that we are entering a field filled with other professionals who value education and who are willing to take on difficult projects and situations. I have a feeling we will never be bored…

  2. I think you make a very good point here. After all, unlike lawyers and doctors, peoples lives do not hinge on our ability to do our job. We can, of course, help people exponentially, but we can’t keep them our of prison or remove a tumor. Also, I agree that our profession needs to be kept malleable, we need to be able to adapt quickly to social and technological changes in order to best support our communities.

    J. A. Lee

  3. I appreciate this idea of the “soft profession” very much. It has always bothered me that librarianship is striving to be a profession of professions, or at least, that it is an issue. I think that this problem comes up so often because librarians do not really know where they belong in the professional world. Librarians and archivists do need flexibility in their work. There are so many different kinds of institutions that it is ridiculous to think that every librarian can accurately follow the ALA code of ethics. If one goal of a librarian is to reach patrons, well, everyone is different, and flexibility is needed to different approaches and methods. This applies too to different material in collections.

    Lucie B.

  4. You raised some interesting points about the LIS profession. I think Lucie was correct in asserting that librarians and archivists don’t always know where they are in the professional world.

    As an archivist, I am glad that through Academy of Certified Archivists, I can become a Certified Archivist along with my MLIS degree. Every five years after passing the initial exam, I must recertify either by taking another exam or by petition. In all hopes, I will not have to get another graduate degree as so many librarians do. I don’t believe being a C.A. contradicts the soft professional attributes of the LIS field but rather it shows to the world that I am a qualified archivist who is keeping up with professional practice – especially the technical aspects. Do librarians have such certifications?

    K. Yockey

  5. Katie brings up an interesting point. I was never aware that archivists had to continually get recertified, and far as I know, I do not think there is such as thing for librarians. It seems like once you get your MLS degree, that is it. Aside from continual professional development workshops, trainings, and conferences, once a librarian, always a librarian.

    It’s funny though, so many people don’t even know that you have to have a masters degree in order to be a librarian. I have had many conversations with people when I tell them I’m in grad school to become a librarian, and the usual response is, “Really? You need a masters for that??” I guess it brings a little more credibility to our “soft profession”.

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