Friday, July 9, 2010

Reflection on Rubin’s Foundation: Not the Ammunition I Need

In the first chapter of The Portable MLIS, Richard E. Rubin suggests that a study of the history of libraries and librarian values will enable supporters “familiar with our roots” to advocate for libraries to counteract those who feel that libraries are “expensive, inconvenient, unresponsive, and, with the ubiquity of the World Wide Web, unnecessary”. (Rubin, 2008, pp. 3, 4,). After reading the chapter, I am not convinced that Rubin achieved his mission.

Despite carefully reading the historical sections, I am not equipped with the ammunition needed to advocate for scarce funding. His description of the modern library is too general to accurately convey its societal significance (“many broad-based services have emerged”). (Rubin, 2008, pp. 8, 9). His discussion of early public librarians focuses on their low wage due to limited funding; this does little to fortify advocates’ arguments for more funding. (Rubin, 2008, p. 9).

Although enlightening, the values section also falls short. While “Intellectual Freedom”, “Service and the Public Good”, “Education” and “Preservation” are worthy tenets, how is the American Library Association (ALA) ensuring that they are upheld by all librarians? (Rubin, 2008, pp. 11-13). Does the ALA maintain a profession driven by these values with a comprehensive program of certification, continuing education and ongoing assessment?

I require more detail stripped of any temporal trappings. Card catalog, e-books and ubiquitous internet access aside, what value does the library and librarian provide our society? What are the core competencies of the library institution? What are the core competencies of the librarian? What value does our society place on these competencies? Admittedly societal value will be challenging to assess, but we need to make a worthy attempt to preserve libraries for future generations.


Rubin, R. (2008). Stepping back and looking forward: Reflections on the foundations of libraries and librarianship. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 3-14). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.


  1. These seem like some very valuable questions in light of what we have been learning in 511! Has your ideas changed since taking the class?

  2. Thank you for the question. If I was writing this reflection post-511 as opposed to pre-511, I probably wouldn't have used the term "core competencies" since we learned in class that ALA does have them. I do still feel strongly, though, that librarians need to do something to quantify their value. I have more appreciation for why this is challenging after participating in the class, but I still think it is necessary. I also continue to believe that there should be more ongoing development in the profession through mandatory continuing education and recertification to ensure librarians are trained in the latest technologies, practices and research impacting their field. Medical doctors, lawyers and even project managers must do this. I don't understand why it is optional for librarians. I think this weakens the profession.