A stealth librarianship manifesto

Stealth librarianship is a way of being.

This particular edition of the manifesto applies to academic libraries. The principles of stealth librarianship apply to all branches of the profession, each in particular ways. Other manifestos could exist for, say, public or corporate librarians.

However the core is the same: to thrive and survive in a challenging environment, we must subtly and not-so-subtly insinuate ourselves into the lives of our patrons. We must concentrate on becoming part of their world, part of their landscape.

Our two core patron communities as academic librarians are faculty and students. This manifesto concerns faculty. A later manifesto may address infiltrating student communities with stealth librarians. Or, you can write that one yourself. Go for it.

The jobs of faculty comprise research, teaching and service. We must stealthfully insinuate ourselves in those areas. We must make our laser-like core focus our patrons.

  • We must stop going to librarian conferences and instead attend conferences where our patrons will be present.
  • We must stop presenting only to our fellow librarians. That's what Twitter is for. We must make our case to our patrons on their turf, not make our case to ourselves on our own turf.
  • Where possible, we must collaborate with faculty in presentations.
  • We must stop reading the formal library literature. That's what librar* blogs are for. We must familiarize ourselves with the literature and scholarly communications ecosystems of our patron communities.
  • We must stop writing the formal library literature. That's what librar* blogs are for. We must make our case for the usefulness of what we do in the literature of our patron communities.
  • We must stop joining librarian associations. That's what Friendfeed and Facebook are for. (Go LSW!) We must instead join associations that revolve around our patron communities.
  • We must not segregate ourselves within "library divisions" in those organizations but must partake fully in those associations. As above, this includes conferences and society publications.
  • In terms of engaging faculty at conferences and in the literature, we must engage both their teaching and research roles.
  • We must stop serving on so damn many library committees and make time to sit on committees at all levels of our institutions' governance structure. It may take time and considerable effort to stealthily insinuate ourselves into all the places we belong.
  • We must invite ourselves to and actively participate in departmental meetings, faculty councils, senates and whatever other bodies make sense.
  • We must integrate ourselves as fully into the teaching mission and classroom environment of our faculty as staffing levels allow. We have much of value to teach their students and can help faculty fulfill their curricular goals.
  • We must fully engage our faculty in the social networking spaces where they live. As well as all the library people we engage, we must also follow and interact with our patrons on Twitter, Facebooks and other sites, where appropriate.
  • Add your manifesto element here.

A couple of final points.

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.

This is based on hope and promise, not despair.

Similarly, it is incomplete and flawed. Please feel free to add to it in the comments as well as suggesting modifications and deletions. Certainly the education part could be expanded.

And the student one. Let's start building that one together in the comments.

And yes, I did really start thinking about this at Science Online 2011, with some ideas here and here. I also started germinating some of these thoughts after seeing how the library sessions at Science Online 2010 worked out, see here and here, noting how the session on Reference Managers was better attended and didn't have "library" in the title. And looking further back, it's a fairly common theme for my blogging, for example here and here.

What does this all mean? I'm not sure. But it's worth thinking about.

Finally, this document is released under the CC0 license. Have at it.

Update 2011.02.23: Some futher links and reaction to this manifesto:

More like this

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…
My Stealth Librarianship Manifesto post from last month continues to gather comments and page views, albeit at a slower rate than before. Of course, that's very gratifiying to see. If you haven't checked in on the post in a while, there are probably a couple of new comments with librarians'…
The authors over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe have posted about my recent manifesto on Stealth Librarianship. There's some pretty healthy debate, agreement, disagreement, qualification, additions and subtractions going on there, so please do check it out: Lead Pipe Debates the Stealth…
McMaster University colleague Andrew Colgoni (Twitter) has taken my Stealth Librarian Manifesto and tamed it a little bit and come up with his own version, which is here. I like what Andrew has to say in a post titled, I prefer Ninja Librarianship, myself: [T]here's much that can be learned from…

Of course, while I agree with almost all of your comments, I would make the argument that this is the opposite of stealth!

Our goal is to be where our patrons are (virtually and physically), using the language that they use, speaking to them on their terms, making our selves as visible and noticed as possible.

I might argue that many traditional librarian activities (publishing in the library literature, presentations at library conferences, etc.) are actually stealthy to our patrons because they will never hear our ideas when they are presented that way.

Thanks, Bonnie. Point taken. After all, I seem to have gotten a rep as a "feisty librarian" at scio11.

I guess I use stealth in the sense that we're sneaking into their spaces whether they want us there or not.

I'm coming to this from just about the opposite side of the spectrum - public librarian, readers advisory/services emphasis - & I am nodding my head off. From the public end, this means to stop flogging our own lame platforms so much, and start being a part of other peoples' - the mass media, the social Q&A and expert sites. My own mentor Nancy Pearl is a great example of this, having become one of the most famous librarians in America by thinking beyond the library media, the library box. Which is where we all should be.

Hi David,

Thank you very much for your comment. I'm really glad to hear that my post resonated with you. I very specifically tried not to generalize my comments beyond the world of academic libraries, not because I don't think the core concept is more broadly applicable, but because I really don't know that much about the specifics and was afraid I just get it all wrong.

Thanks for the great post! I think that in some ways this is similar advice to what I heard repeatedly in my MLIS classes: "Go where your patrons are." Librarians can offer better service if they know as much as possible about their patron communities; the most effective communication channels to interact with patrons, the issues that patrons find most pressing, etc. That has to be grounded in real knowledge, however, and that you get by spending time with the patrons.

For the record, I'm a recent MLIS (May 2010) who is currently in the throes of changing careers and hunting for her new library/archives job.

Hear hear! I hope to co-author an article (about faculty-librarian teaching & collaboration) with a faculty colleague. So I'd add this to the manifesto:

*We must look for opportunities to collaborate with our faculty colleagues in publications in the literature of their discipline.

After all, many disciplines have journals called _Discipline and Education_; these would be a natural outlet for our collaborative efforts.

By Stephanie Will… (not verified) on 11 Feb 2011 #permalink

Hm, people who sneak into places where they are not expected and change the environment for a cause? Guerrilla fighters. Guerrilla librarianship. I like it. =)

Very nice idea for renaming the "movement." We'd get to wear cooler clothes too. Sadly, I can see faculty mounting a surge to keep us under control ;-)

Thanks, Emily. I appreciate it. That's certainly what I was aiming for.

This can work really well. We had a library liaison once who found out what we needed and set up a special session to show us how to create automated medline searches.

I think this sort of outreach is much more effective when librarians come down to the department and do it than when faculty come up to the library and are given an update. As member of the library committee, I never know which parts of the update my division really needs me to report on.

Thanks, Pat, I appreciate your input.

Katie, thanks as well. For those that are interested, I responded to some of Katie's points at her blog post.

I think librarians forget that faculty are people first, patrons second. By taking an active interest in their professional and campus lives, the relationships become more natural and many of the later manifesto points come about without prodding or force.

By Michelle Price (not verified) on 22 Feb 2011 #permalink

Thanks, Michelle. I guess I'm just trying to emphasize the need to be proactive. After all, faculty sometimes forget that librarians even exist at all.

Many important ideas and practices generated by librarians are wasted on libraries and their administrators who have too much red tape/bureaucracies to implement them. I agree that we should unleash our ideas in our subject areas or in the greater, more general world. Thanks for sharing your manifesto.

I've been considered a feisty librarian within the pollution prevention technical assistance community for nearly fifteen years. :-) I work at a non-regulatory environmental agency that became a part of the University of Illinois three years ago. Before that, we were a state government agency.

I'm now almost completely embedded in our organization's technical assistance program. As a result, I've had an amazing opportunity to influence the direction of a national pollution prevention information network. I've also been able to stretch professionally by developing and teaching practical workshops on going green to non-profit organizations (including libraries) and businesses.

I'm a librarian by training and title, but my current job extends way beyond working at a reference desk. For the people I work with, I've also changed what they think of when they hear the word "Librarian".

Thanks, Laura, for your story. I'd love to hear more about the challenges of infiltrating your user networks.

Hi. One of the best outreach librarians I know is a teacher-librarian in a secondary school. She puts out a newsletter twice a year that is completely teacher directed - what the library can do for the faculty and includes contests to engage them (win chocolates). She has an open coffee pot in the back room and while they're there for a coffee, may discuss how she can help the teachers with teaching research and literacy skills or with learning new computer program skills . She partners with faculty to check and mark bibliographies. She meets with the various departments to discuss changes in the curriculum when appropriate and what the library can provide in terms of teaching or materials to purchase to stay current. The library puts out emails to faculty with new books lists directed at that department. When weeding, the applicable department is often called in to vet the weeded materials making them more familiar with what is actually in the collection.
Her faculty patrons know her and what she does for them. Over an 8 month period (this includes school holidays), this library books in over 700 classes - all optional and all booked by the faculty.
Outreach needs to be done by all [academic] librarians. This librarian has judged her market and found what works with her patrons. Mostly, it is the regular contact. How can they (the faculty) know what you can do for them aside from the traditional research questions if they don't see you or hear from you about what is available for them. And from what I've seen - it needs to be regular, personal contact; not just another piece of paper for them to read, or more likely - recycle.

Radical "librarians" or even ordinary "librarians" should also start looking at the non-librarian staff they work with as teaching partners and partners in service provision. As long as "librarians" think they are special, they really aren't.

Hi pshan,

My manifesto certainly doesn't preclude collaborating with non-librarian staff. In that spirit, I guess there should exist a Stealth Non-Librarian Staff Manifesto. And I guess you could be the one to write it.

I'm late to this game, but I'm PSYCHED to see this, and its various iterations! Thank you! I'm a recent MLIS grad who works at a university doing research and research support outside of the library. I haven't gone totally native (yet), but I do consider myself to be a deep undercover librarian. I continue to call myself a librarian, even though I love my official "Research Specialist" title, because my special skills derive from being a librarian. I bring a certain librarian touch to the workings of our department (a research center) and, when I get more settled, hope to build a bridge between our center and the library. I've also been lucky enough to build a professional support network of friends in similar librarian-in-a-non-library-setting position and can't recommend that enough (whereas I consider my ALA membership to be a waste of my money--sorry ALA-lovers, I'm sure it works for some people, just not me).

I'm a big advocate for MLIS holders to look for jobs outside of the library--our skills are not just needed, they're deeply appreciated in research settings! My theory is that the more librarians that are embedded in the research/faculty workflows, the easier it will be to bridge the gap between faculty and the library, not to mention giving librarians a good name.

Thanks, Jessica. I really appreciate your comment. You should write more about your situation so we can all benefit from your experience.

Apologies if this is a sort of repeat, but I commented and I think my browser killed it, so I'm re-writing:

I'm also late to this, but excellent read, and thanks - I know you said academics, but I think this is applicable to the profession as a whole. I'm about to grab my MLIS in May, and have been working as an ontologist/content strategist (whatever that encompasses) in large enterprise-esque settings. One of the biggest issues I've faced is how people view and handle digital information - just because it's digital doesn't mean it's not still good old-fashioned information. I'm part of that network that previous commenter Jessica (hi hi!) mentioned, and it's been a fantastic support system. I think we've all discovered similar hurdles in our workplaces, but I don't think it's a bad thing. We're all rethinking, remixing, and discovering some pretty cool stuff.

I've been very very lucky to have some autonomy at work, and I've been able to reach out to my colleagues - designers, program specialists, developers - and we've done some great work together. I want to high-five everyone when someone really gets what I do....but there's also the rub - they're usually surprised when they learn it's my lib toolkit supplies that supplied the skillz. I think it's our challenge (a good one!) to push this movement forward. So yeah, I'm a stealthy librarian. And now I have a manifesto.

The 'informationist' model of biomedical librarianship, which builds on the clinical librarianship model, goes back a decade (and from there, back to 1970). Some of us have been doing this, studying it, and describing our results in the professional literature.
Would you advise an immunologist to concentrate on blogs?
Next month I participate in a highly specialized meeting, that of vision librarians (www.avsl.org). Then I attend the American Academy of Ophthalmology, where I will teach a CME course on genetic resources.

By Pam Sieving (not verified) on 03 Oct 2011 #permalink