Dear Colleagues: We Need to Talk. [librarianship]

Have you seen this Ithaka S+R report on “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians?

If you haven’t you should really read this. Because on my initial skim? We history-centric subject specialist type librarians have become rather irrelevant to current historical research methods.

That frightens me. Go have a read, and let’s talk about this. I’m not keen on being declared obsolete yet again, but they may have a point, in which case we really need to reexamine our practices.


About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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2 Responses to Dear Colleagues: We Need to Talk. [librarianship]

  1. Kate Theimer says:

    The overall impression the report gives is that librarians are sometimes useful (and love that ILL!), but that in general cannot be helpful in assisting historians in conducting research because the librarians do not have expertise in the specific areas of the historians’ research. The skills of librarians in structuring more effective search strategies, etc., seem to be considered irrelevant.

    I do think, however, that the report probably lumps special collections librarians in with archivists. I’m not sure the distinction between the two is well understood by historians, and possibly not by the authors of the study. Here is my analysis of the report’s recommendations for archives:


  2. Jill says:

    I’ve been very concerned about this report, and have been wondering why there’s been so little discussion of it from history and other liaison librarians (because, really, some of these issues apply to liaison work in general).

    I find myself wanting this to open a discussion about what kinds of research service(s) it is reasonable to expect a subject librarian to provide, especially in the area of subject knowledge.

    To me, having a PhD means I have good research skills, lots of practice in using them (I still do my own historical research), and a good sense of how historical research gets done — I may not have in-depth knowledge of every subspecialty, but I know how to learn my way into an unfamiliar topic and I can help students find resources to help them do the same thing.

    The primary-source question is different: I’ve been starting to focus in my instruction sessions for students on how to search the internet intelligently for primary sources and include information now in my research guides on doing that. Primary-source needs are so individual to the scholar’s project that I can’t always anticipate what kinds of sources students (or faculty) are likely to need, and it’s made more sense to me to focus on how to search for sources once you have a sense of the kinds of things that you need. Faculty and grad students need to know how to adapt their searching (and also how to think about whether they’ve got “everything” or “enough” etc.), and I’m happy to assist with that, but to me that doesn’t necessarily require me to be an Expert in a range of subspecialties.

    tl;dr version: I’m concerned about a report that implies that librarians are irrelevant to historians if we don’t match/mirror their subspecialty subject expertise.


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