Stealthy zombie vampire librarians

And I mean zombie vampire in the best way, as a comment on how hard it seems to be to kill my Stealth Librarianship Manifesto. It's even been translated into French! (Merci, Marléne!)

For a post I mostly wrote in an hour of white hot typing from midnight to 1 a.m. some weeknight when I should have been sleeping it sure has some legs.

There have been three posts about the manifesto fairly recently, mostly more critical than complimentary but with a lot of input that I really value.

Let's take a look.

Identity crisis? No. Or why I think we need to move beyond "stealth librarianship." by Kendra Levine.

My frustration with this rebranding is just a part of the narrow vision many librarians have about the profession and its role in the information seeking world. This LSW thread from today sort of embodies it. What? There are other types of libraries besides public and academic? Now, as I did in that thread, allow me to put on my SLA hat. One of the greatest things about SLA, to me, is the diversity of its members and how very few are just traditional librarians in the narrow sense. There's a very wide world out there, but it seems like lots of people forget that, which is our loss. When Dupuis notes that librarians should stop joining traditional librarian professional associations, I wonder if he's actually been involved with SLA?

But back to the the concept of "stealth librarianship". Basically, Dupuis calls for librarians to be part of their user community, not just observers but participants. I agree. I also know that several librarians already are and have done for decades. It's not new. It's also not as common as it perhaps should be, but making it as a new concept is not necessary and might just muddle things. Really, how is it any different from being embedded? Or just being a really involved member of your community? I am not seeing why we need a manifesto, other than maybe to empower those who felt out of place?

Stealth librarianship or just good librarianship? by Krista Godfrey

My question is whether this really needs to be termed as stealth librarianship? Using this term, it seems more sneaky and underhanded than it needs to be. I don't think quietly infiltrating is the right answer - and I know this isn't exactly where the manifesto is going - but then why call it stealth librarianship? There is nothing wrong with proudly representing your profession among those who can value your expertise.

These thoughts may be coming on the heels of the HarperCollins affair - we're being loud and clear in our dislike with the present circumstances (though again, we seem to be in the reactionary position). Maybe it's our raised voices that's making me think negatively about the "stealth" aspect of the manifesto.

Regardless, being involved in our communities - both librarian and user - is the essential thing. And isn't that just plain good librarianship?


"User Services" ... or helping people in an academic library
by Stephanie Willen Brown

# I've been intrigued by conversations with John Dupuis, who blogs at Confessions of a Science Librarian. We've been cyber buddies for a few years and have met at two ScienceOnline conferences in RTP. Dupuis recently blogged about stealth librarianship, whereby we infiltrate (my word) ourselves into the work lives of our faculty colleages. Dupuis strongly believes we should step away from being so library-focused and "collaborate with faculty in presentations" and "...we must make our case to our patrons on their turf, not make our case to ourselves on our own turf." There are some interesting additional opinions at the In the Library with the Lead Pipe blog: Lead Pipe Debates the Stealth Librarianship Manifesto.

I'm not going to comment in any detail on the specific points raised in the posts because I'm not sure getting into any kind of defensive "this is what I really meant" or "this is the context I set" conversation is that useful. The criticisms are valid and I do take them to heart.

On the other hand, I will let Andrew Colgoni speak for me a bit in the comments to Godfrey's post:

I think John's gone and done exactly what he intended - stirred up the nest a bit. Do we need a manifesto? No, not really. Is it really about being stealthy, no it's not that either. Are we talking more about engaging our user groups on their turf - absolutely, and that's the important part.

I guess 'good' librarianship is really about discovering and meeting user needs and expectations, and there's many ways to do that. It's easy, though, to stay at home and guess. It's harder to venture forth and find out.

Yes, that's exactly what I meant to do 😉

That being said, I do have some things to share that have come out of this experience.

  • The whole "manifesto" thing worked for some people. Others, not so much. It's a bit polarizing and turned some people off and I accept that. On the other hand, it made people look.
  • I didn't intend to imply that no one is doing good work along these lines or that progress isn't being made in a lot of places. If people saw what I wrote that way it is my fault and I apologize.
  • It's hard to separate the different audiences in different library environments. I explicitly aimed my piece at academic libraries because that's the environment I know. Librarians who work in other environments obviously read it and some found useful resonance in the manifesto and others also found it lacking.
  • "Stealth" probably wasn't the best word to use. In fact, it was probably a mistake. I'm not sure what would have been better but I'm open to suggestions. I consciously didn't use "embedded" as that has a generally accepted context in librarianship and I wanted to suggest something a bit different. Maybe Integrated or Guerrilla or Undercover or something like that would have been better.
  • To quote myself,

    As with all manifestos, this one is subject to the failings of hyperbole and oversimplification. Think of it as a series of provocative statements not a realistic plan of action. For example, I don't really think we should all abandon our professional associations.

    I think this is the thing that people had the most trouble with and I suppose that's the problem with setting up a series of really strongly worded statements. People took me at my word and I guess I have to own those words.

    My intention was to undermine or subvert my manifesto. I wanted it to be provocative enough to be interesting yet at the same time I wanted to leave space for other people's ideas too -- to give it a sense of it's own absurdity, something I think the Taiga people were unable to do with their Provocative Statements. Sort of like what this post is doing.

    In the end, it's safe to say that I don't really expect people to give up librarian conferences, to abandon professional associations or stop reading and contributing to professional publications in our field. I'm not going to actually give up any of those things either.

  • I'm really serious about remixing and repurposing what I've done. Andrew and Marléne have done a great job already. I did my best but the failings of my manifesto are many and apparent.

    It's not hard to imagine:

    • A Loud & Proud Breaking Down the Doors Librarian Manifesto
    • An Embedded in Researchers Workflow Librarian Manifesto
    • An Institutional Librarian Part of the Team Manifesto
    • A Corporate Librarian Already Absorbed in the KM Department Manifesto

    And others, I'm sure.

I'll hearken back to what Dorothea Salo said about the chasm between scientists and librarians at Science Online 2010 but which I think is broadly applicable:

I can tell you this: we will not bridge this chasm from behind our desks in our libraries. We will not bridge it at library or publishing conferences. We might be able to throw some ropes across the chasm online, but we won't do it if all we do is hang out in our own little corners of the Web.

I'd love to see them and hear about peoples successes. In fact, there are quite a few stories in the comments of the original post that I find very inspirational. If you're doing exciting things: embedded in a lab or classroom, presenting with faculty at conferences, mingling at society meetings, teaching in their classrooms. If you're forging a path to the future, if you're building a bridge across that chasm, let us all know.

Write about it: in a blog, a journal, a trade magazine. Present at a conference -- library or patron, whatever.

I guess my message is: Don't be stealthy.

Here's an updated list of all the posts (including mine) that mention my manifesto:

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