Are we a profession?

by | Aug 28, 2022 | AreWeAProfession | 0 comments

Dr Katherine Howard

I recently had the privilege of working on the ARC funded Library and Information Science Research in Australia (LISRA) project. When preparing a literature review for on aspect of the project, I came across a quote that I have not been able to get out of my head (emphasis added):

Library and information science (LIS) has emerged, not only as a profession and the educational programme that supports it, but also as a research discipline. Research is needed to create new knowledge and thereby contribute to the growth of LIS as a profession or discipline. If research is absent, non-existent or even scarce, there is no profession, but only an occupation grounded in techniques, routine and common sense (Juznic and Urbanija, 2003).

Further, if we consider that the Australian Council of Professions defines (in part) a
profession as:

a disciplined group of individuals who […] are accepted by the public as possessing special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level […] (2003, emphasis added) …

… do we really have a profession?

From my experience, and what I have observed, my answer would have to be ‘no.’ Now please don’t think I am ‘dissing’ my own sector – quite the opposite. If I didn’t love this sector and care about its future, I would just stay quiet. But I do care. I care that there seems to be very little research undertaken, published, shared, questioned, and debated.

Perhaps more worrying is that there seems to be very little interest in even finding out what it means to do research – proper, actual, rigorous research. I understand the constraints: there’s no time, there’s no support, there’s no recognition – all factors that have been written about in the literature and largely supported by findings from the LISRA project. But if we think we are already “doing research” and therefore we are “a profession” and nothing needs to change … I beg to differ.

“Research” – sometimes incorrectly referred to as “academic research” – is a
methodologically sound investigation into a ‘thing.’ Ironically, the people who understand what I am talking about in the previous sentence are those who have undertaken research themselves. On reflection, perhaps it is not so ironic – it the difference between sympathy and empathy. You can’t empathise with something you have never empirically experienced, no matter how much you know about the topic or situation. 

So – I’d love to know what other people think. Within the bounds of the two quotes above, are we a profession? Why/why not?

Send us your responses and we will share them on this blog and Twitter.

Australian Council of Professions (2003). What is a Profession?
Juznic, P., & Urbanija, J. (2003). Developing research skills in library and information science studies. Library Management, 24(6/7), pp. 324-331. 
Dr Katherine Howard, eResearch Analyst, Intersect


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