I listened to Dr. David Lankes’ “Killing Librarianship” keynote last week and I keep thinking about one particular aspect of the presentation. Namely, that slide early on saying that what is killing the profession is not Google, eBooks, or Amazon, but a lack of imagination. I agree with this statement but the thing that hitches in my mind is this question:
Is imagination an attribute that the profession values?
It’s a question that has stymied me because I’ve gone back and forth on an answer. The nearest thing to an answer I can come up with is “Yes, but so long as it doesn’t interfere with workflow”. We have many creative individuals in the profession, but recruitment (whether into the profession or a position) on the basis of that attribute is rare to the point of being virtually nonexistent. I don’t believe our graduate programs encourage or nurture such a quality nor is it something that is sought to be rewarded within our associations. As it related to the current prominent figures of our profession, I don’t see the terms “imagination” or “creativity” springing forth as an attribute related to their prominence. (Let me rebut arguments for specific people right here: they represent a minority of that overall group.) I would say that our professional literature isn’t completely bereft of imagination but that it is heavily niched into the arenas of design and technology. Even then, the overarching emphasis is placed on the ease of use, the time saved, and/or the plug-n-play nature of the device, website, tool, or service. Yes, librarians place a value on imagination but with some potentially fatal caveats.
In essence, creativity and its output is treated in a way akin to how a small child regards pet ownership; we just want the kitten, but not all the work that goes into feeding, caring for, and cleaning up after the animal. We aren’t interested in the process; we just want the final product and without the potential burden of the fuss and mess. I don’t know if that is a product of laziness, ignorance, or apathy, but I think it is an condition that is without question fatal to the profession if it continues to persist. It operates under the irrational notion of guaranteed success without margins or methods for coping with failure. This is not an environment that creates innovation, but squashes it in all but the most insulated and/or isolated cases.
While there are those who utilize imagination and creativity as its own reward (and I would consider myself in that camp), there is no other reward, bonus, or boon offered to encourage imagination as a desirable professional trait. I will be honest and say that I don’t have a remedy to this particular issue; frankly, it might just be a condition of the professional culture that will take generations of librarianships to alter. Even then, it will be a vastly different information landscape that the profession will be facing; this change is not simply over the next twenty years, but the next five. If librarianship does value imagination, it has a long ways to go to encourage, nurture, and otherwise support it.
What do you think? Is imagination a value of the profession?