Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why Be a Scholar?

Lately I've taken to calling myself an accidental scholar. Scholarship wasn't ever something I really planned on, but the more of it I read in library school, the more I started to have my own ideas. Library science is often characterized as not particularly intellectually rigorous, and there's quite a bit of truth to that statement. I go back and forth on whether we really need to be, to be honest. A body of scholarly work is a nice thing, but do we need it to be good librarians?

In academia, at any rate, there's at least one reason to do it beyond mere interest, or membership in a scholarly community, or the requirements of faculty status.

That reason is simply this: we get a much better picture of our constituents' research experiences with our library.

Case in point. I'm currently revising an article for a scholarly publication. As part of the process, I've been hunting down some additional sources to address a few key points, and making extensive use of my own library's interlibrary loan service, since we don't own most of the materials that I'm finding. Our collection primarily supports the curriculum and student research, which means that we don't offer a whole lot in the particular area I'm working in (a thin intersection of information science and science fiction), and I'm having to supplement my searches in library databases with free online indexes and a lot of citation crawling.

One good way to maintain and improve services is to get as good an idea as you can of what your patron base does, and what they need to do it. There are plenty of ways to find this out, including asking them, but another really good way is to try using your library the way your patrons are using it. If you have scholars among the users of your library, try being a scholar yourself. (You can try being a student, too; take a class, and see how well the library serves the need of that class.) You might be surprised at what you learn.

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