User Tools

Site Tools


This is an old revision of the document!

title: “LQ Vol 1 Issue 1 Article 1: Autoethnographric Study”
date: 2013-07-19 15:19
categories: [LQ Autoethno Field Notes, research, Author-Williamson, Affil-Columbia University]

This entry is about:

Williamson, C. C. (1931). The place of research in library science. The Library Quarterly, 1(1), 1-17. url:

Note: The first article published in The Library Quarterly is titled “The Place of Research in Library Service.”

It was written by C. C. Williamson, who was affiliated with:

Affiliation: School of Library Service, Columbia University

Note: The author's name is listed at the end of the article and not at the beginning.

Note: The article is written in first person. This may be due to the conventions at the time, but according to the first footnote, the article is based on a speech that was delivered in 1930. Use of the first person could be due to that.

Note: A number of literary references are made at the beginning of the article.

Note: The article itself is about showing the value, or convincing young library students the value, of doing research.

Note: He begins with the questions, still asked today, but often asked of him at the time:

“What is the future of library service?” “Will it offer me a
satisfactory career?” (p. 2).

Note: A point about the profession:

Development it seems to me has been too largely of a
quantitative rather than a qualitative character (p. 2).

Note: Another point about the profession, which is relevant today, and about the increase in assistants (or perhaps, paraprofessionals, although that term may be anachronistic):

It is difficult to detect improvement in the professional status
of the librarian. The demand for so-called trained assistants
has increased notably in volume“ (p. 3).

Note: He lists a number of improvements in the next few sentences, but he ends his list with this comment about the not so great improvements for the librarian:

Salaries, and at the same time the prestige, of the more
important administrative positions have increased in a
significant way, but for the rank and file little progress seems
to be made in remuneration and in other evidences of
satisfactory professional status (p. 3).

Note: This is in agreement with what Arthur T. Hamlin (1981) wrote about the professional status of academic librarians. Specifically, it took 13 years after Williamson's essay for academic librarians to gain faculty status. Hamlin wrote:

In 1944 the University of Illinois achieved full faculty status
and rank for all of its professional staff. It was the first
major university to take the step. Others followed with partial
or complete recognition in the 1950s and sixties. By the early
seventies the majority of universities has swung over to
recognition of most, if not all, of the professional staff as
members of the faculty, often with faculty ranks and titles
(Hamlin, 1981, p. 120).

Note: Williamson believes that the professional status of librarians, their prestige, is not being advanced because they are not doing research. It doesn't seem to matter, to him, whether that research is of a natural science kind, a social science kind, or a humanistic kind, but simply that it is not being done.

Williamson's comment is, in a sense, in agreement with what Hamlin, Shiflett, Carpenter, and Wiegand write. Specifically about the culture of the primacy of knowledge creation over knowledge dissemination. See:

Carpenter, K. E. (1996). A library historian looks at librarianship. Daedalus, 125(4), 77-102. url:

Hamlin, A. T. (1981). The University Library in the United States: Its Origins and Development. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. url:

Shiflett, O. L. (1981). Origins of American Academic Librarianship. Libraries and Librarianship. Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation. url:

Wiegand, W. A. (1990). Research libraries, the ideology of reading, and scholarly communication, 1876-1900. In P. Dain & J. Y. Cole (Eds.) Libraries and Scholarly Communication in the United States: The Historical Dimension (pp. 71-87). New York: Greenwod Press. url:

Williamson goes on to cite a number of statistics and examples of how and why research is important, and how quickly it is growing in other fields. Then he notes its total absence in the library field:

What about research in the library field? A little sporadic work
here and there by individuals that may possibly be classified as
research. No organized or co-operative plans, or only the
beginnings of such in two or three university library schools.
No money appropriated anywhere, so far as I know, specifically
for research in library service. Not a single person employed
anywhere by a library or a library system to study problems of
library service. No research fellowships. No research
professorships (p. 5).

Then this comment that pertains to The Library Quarterly. Recall that this article is essentially a reprint or a first printing of an earlier address, which is why it mentions the future of this publication even though it's printed in this publication:

One of the most hopeful indications that this condition may soon
be remedied is the fact that the Carnegie Corporation has
recently appropriated $25,000 to assist in starting a new
library journal to be edited and published at the Graduate
Library School of the University of Chicago (p. 5).

Note: It's interesting to think that the term library science precedes the actual science of library related research:

Not infrequently I have been pessimistic enough about this
situation [that there is no research in the field] to wonder
whether there is any justification for using the term “library
science.” When the new library school was started at Columbia
four years ago we evaded the question by calling it a “school of
library service.” That there is such a thing as library service
no one can doubt, and personally I do not doubt that it ought to
be based on a library science, but I wish the scientific
character of our professional activities and of our professional
literature were more obvious” (pp. 5-6).

Note: Williamson notes that to do library science depends on how science is defined. First, he refers to Frederick Barry's Scientific Habit of Thought. In essence, what is important is a scientific attitude based on rational investigation. Second, He refers to John Dewey and his work The Sources of a Science of Education, which argues that science is about the methods involved and not the subject matter.

Reflection: Some of this discussion is based on the (now obsolete) notion of William James' types of *men*: the tough-minded (the scientific mind) and the tender-minded (the artistic mind). I'm not disregarding Dewey's overall thoughts on scientific knowledge, empirical knowledge, and so forth, just this classification as a truthful psychological classification. Of course, although that classification may be obsolete, it's relevant in the sense that many may often still think of people that way, if only as an unquestioned world-view used to judge and classify the various roles that exist. While I am enjoying this article and think there's a lot of good points here, Williamson adds that librarians may be composed of people of the tender-minded sort. So his acceptance of William James' classification is problematic. If we reject that premise, but pursue the same end game (that of a library science as a research science), then what new premise do we accept?

Note: Interesting discussion of empirical versus scientific on pages 7 and 8.

library science is purely empirical. The average librarians is
an empiricist, not a scientist. Most administrative practices
and technical procedures are followed because they have been
tried somewhere and have been found to work. What psychological
or other principles are involved is unknown (p. 8).

How has library science (or library and information science) schools changed this? This has been examined. See, for example:

VanScoy, A. (2010). Reference librarians' personal theories of practice: A new approach to studying reference service. In M.L. Radford, & R.D. Lankes (Eds.), *Creating the Reference Renaissance: Current & Future Trends* (pp. 115-128). New York: Neal-Schuman. url:

Note: here Williamson quotes John Dewey in How We Think:

Empirical inference follows the grooves and ruts that custom
wears, and has no track to follow when the groove
disappears…..“Skill enables a man to deal with the same
circumstances that he has met before, scientific thought enables
him to deal with different circumstances that he has never met
before.”…. (pp. 8 - 9).

Note: Williamson makes an interesting turn on page 9. Let me quote a series of statements:

You may infer from what I have just been saying that librarians
lack the scientific attitude, are tender-minded rather than
tough-minded, think empirically rather than scientifically. No,
that is not my conclusion (p. 9).


Can it be that there are no problems in library service that
call for scientific research? …. No …. (p. 9).


A second possible reason that there is so little research in the
field of library service is that if it is a science at all and
not an art, it is only an applied science and that the necessary
research is therefore carried on in the underlying
sciences—psychology, social science, political science, etc.
(pp. 9-10).

He dismisses that idea. And writes that:

To my mind the real reason that there is so little study of the
problems of library science is that practically no librarians
have been trained in scientific methods (p. 10).

He adds other issues that have prevented a library science: organizations are too small and a

deep-rooted prejudice among library workers against subjecting
their activities to scientific scrutiny (p. 10).

Note: that first point, that the organizations may be too small, suggests that automation was one, although I should add not the only, causation of library science. This is in the sense that library automation and computerization connected libraries together – such that no library would henceforth exist as an island. Think, for example, of Ralph Parker's piece:

Parker, R. H. (June 1967). The small library faces the future. *ALA Bulletin*, 669-671. url:

Note: This sentiment has been mentioned before, particularly, I believe, in Hamlin and Shiflett's work (mentioned above):

We hear it said now and then by librarians of long experience
and high position that there is not sufficient content in the
field of library science to justify programs of study leading to
the degree of Doctor of Philosophy or even a Master's degree (p.

Note: Important to his argument – method is primary:

Nothing short of a lifetime is sufficient to learn all that a
librarian needs to know! The important thing is training in
scientific methods of attacking and solving problems, the
cultivation of the scientific spirit and attitude. As soon as
this is recognized and acted upon, library science will become a
reality. Until that time librarians, no matter how many facts
they carry in their heads, will be looked upon as clerks and
routinists (p. 11).

Here I think of Abbott:

Abbott, A. (2004). Methods of discovery: Heuristics for the social sciences. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. url:

Note: This counters those, especially among certain higher education administrations in the 20th century (and librarians too), thought of libraries as simply warehouses:

Those who see no field for research in library service or need
of advanced training for librarianship simply fail to recognize
the fundamental complexity of library science. To most
librarians, as to almost all others, it presents an entirely
false appearance of simplicity (p. 12).

Note: Williamson then makes a number of great points about how other professions, i.e., psychology, sociology, statistics, etc., cannot do the work of library science. Although library science may draw from these fields, its issues are its own. Those other fields, if they were to study libraries, would, Williamson argues, examine the issues from their perspectives, thus contributing to the problem of Déformation professionnelle (, or the “tendency to look at things from the point of view of one's own profession,” although he doesn't use that term.

Reflection: I've been thinking a lot lately about the problem of déformation professionnelle with respect to the differences or approaches between library science and information science. Specifically, if a purely information scientist, that is, someone without a background or an invested interest in library science, recommends something for libraries, under what conceptual framework should that be considered and how should that be evaluated? Here I'm thinking of a recent example: when the *altmetrics* researchers suggest something in their domain is beneficial to librarians and their work, does the point of view of their recommendation include what library science has deemed to be beneficial, or is the point of view solely an information science one, where that view has been divorced from its sibling? Furthermore, how do librarians accept or respond to such recommendations. See:

Lapinski, S., Piwowar, H., & Priem, J. (2013 June). Riding the crest of the almetrics wave. *College and Research Libraries News, 74*(6), 292-300. url:

So, Williamson adds:

The psychologist cannot do the librarian's job; the sociologist
cannot do it (p. 13).

Has information science and library science diverged so much, in some cases at least, where we might substitute psychologist or sociologist in Williamson's statement with information scientist? The end point being library science can incorporate information science theory and knowledge, but it is not itself information science?

Note: Williamson then proceeds to discuss several other really interesting issues, all of which, it seems to me, are still quite relevant, discussed, and pursued today. I'll just mention these things generally: the nature and problems with data collection, what type of library science research could be undertaken, the education of librarians where the end goal is not to make researchers but librarians who can research, and the improvement to library teaching as a result of a increased research.

Reflection: This was a fascinating article and surely a great introduction for The Library Quarterly in its inaugural issue. I'm going to hold back, for now, on some autoethnographic responses, but I'll get to it later, as I read more of this and later issues. I especially want to get a sense of the character of this first issue in order to see if there is something coherent about it as a whole. This is important to one of the purposes of this research project — to understand the nature of the journal as a collective thing (a one).

Reflection: The discussion about whether *library science* is a science is interesting, in the sense that it's similar to a discussion that still sometimes happens today, about whether *information science* is a science. Will we still be having this discussion in another 80 years, in 2090?

lq/volume-1.1485719324.txt.gz · Last modified: 2017/01/29 14:48 by seanburns