The term profession carries a lot of weight and connotations; whenever the word is mentioned, there are always assumptions and associations, often related to prestige and skill (Watson, 2002). Yet the actual definition of what a profession is can be quite enigmatic; furthermore, according to Cogan (1955) different ideas and definitions are espoused by different people, and choosing one definition is bound to invite heavy debate and disagreement. However, despite these facts, defining the term profession is an essential action if one is to understand certain jobs and activities, for the label “profession” (or lack thereof) serves to change the perception of society towards the activity and serves as a guide to further develop it. Building on this premise, this paper aims to first give definition and criteria on what a profession is, to apply that to the activity of Librarianship in order to prove its status as a profession, and to examine other nuances that formalizes Librarianship’s recognition as a profession in the Philippine context.
Profession is a term that has had many definitions and presentations from many different angles; some select definitions include the ones given by Saks (2012), who, in his paper, defines two main classifications in defining professions: the taxonomic approach, which places value on defining common criteria (higher education, specialized skills, etc.) shared between activities deemed as professional, and the neo-Weberian approach, which gives definition to professions by virtue of the standards and laws that society assigns, including accredited institutions and a code of ethics. Other definitions include the definition given by the American Foreign Service Association (n.d.), which explicitly states that “Profession is the name given to a particular area of human endeavor where the people involved have specific education, experience, skills, language, and capabilities. Typically, “professionals” perform functions and services that affect others’ lives; think of doctors, lawyers, clergy, social workers, career military officers, or accountants”, and the definition given by Lewis (2001) which gives weight to the concept of dangerous modalities possessed by professions, a concept that he defines as “the characteristic of professions to influence and change society for better or for worse depending on the use of the skillsets that they contain.” In these select definitions and criteria, one can see the differences in the discourse and debate on what should be considered important in a profession; and, because of these differences, an absolute definition may never be reached; however, by identifying the common elements within all these definitions, one can arrive at an agreeable overview of how a profession is viewed and defined.
Examining all the definitions given above, one can see that different perspectives tend to consider different elements such as functions in society, specialized knowledge and influence among other things. While this may imply that there is no common ground for all of these definitions, the fact that the terms “professional” and “profession” are examined by different parties thru the provision of criteria means that there is a common ground: people agree that a profession must be assessed and examined thru a set of specified criteria. Furthermore, if one examines all these definitions, one can see that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive; the neo-Weberian approach and taxonomic approach defined by Saks (2012), American Foreign Service Association definition (n.d.) and dangerous modalities of Lewis (2001) can all be applied in defining what a profession is without contradicting each other; a profession can be considered as such based on the criteria of specialized knowledge, societal recognition and influence on the lives of others. In conclusion, the existence of the common ground of the need for criteria, and the non-mutual exclusivity of the select definitions given above, can offer an acceptable definition for the term “profession.”
Now, Librarianship is an activity that has long been considered by its practitioners as a profession. However, in order to arrive at this conclusion, one must first give a definition of librarianship, and to provide supporting data in terms of specialized knowledge, codes of ethics and recognized organizations, in order to compare it with the criteria of a profession set above.
Librarianship is defined by Lankes (2011) as a mission; he states that “the mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.” Furthermore, Fourie and Dowell (2002) state that while the information age has brought about change thru new mediums and sources of information, somewhat changing the traditional role fulfilled by libraries of information creation and dissemination thru books and other physical mediums, the main function of the library and librarian, and therefore, librarianship, remains the same: the facilitation of the growth of a community by being the center of information. Indeed, both definitions (among many others) state a truth that is taught in library and information schools and agreed upon by librarians; the truth that librarianship is rooted in serving a community thru the facilitation of knowledge creation and dissemination.
To guide Librarians to the mission stated above, librarians, thru the creation of organizations such as IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), ALA (American Library Association) and PLAI (Philippine Librarian’s Association Inc.), have developed codes of ethics for librarians. A good resource to examine is the compilation of the code of ethics per country by IFLA ((International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions [IFLA], n.d.).
With the goal and ethics of librarianship provided for, one must also examine how exactly a librarian reaches these goals. Lankes (2011) summarizes and defines the processes involved in achieving the goals of librarianship; examples include reference services, cataloguing, collection development and the creation of information systems; all of these specialized skills formulated thru years of theory and practice by countless individuals and groups such as Sears (who developed the Sears List of Subject Headings used in cataloguing) Ranganthan (who developed the 5 laws of librarianship) and the American Library Association (who united librarians within and outside of the United States in order to pursue the common goals of a library), requiring proper training and education in order to be used by an individual wishing to become a librarian.
Given these definitions of librarianship in terms of mission, capability, technical knowledge and processes, one can now compare it to the definition and criteria of the term “Profession” set above, in order to see if Librarianship can be classified as such.
Restating the select definitions of a profession stated above, a profession is an activity or job that possesses the following traits: It is governed by the criteria of specialized knowledge and education, it is duly recognized by society as serving a function necessary for its growth, and it can influence how society develops through its practice. It can be said that Librarianship possesses all of these traits, because firstly, its specialized activities and knowledge developed by the various individuals mentioned above and summarized by Lankes (2011) in his Atlas of New Librarianship require proper training and scholarship in order to be learned, making it an exclusive activity with its own skillset and education. Secondly, the fact that libraries and the practice of librarianship are always centered on a community within a society means that in order for it to exist, it must be acknowledged by the society in which it functions, fulfilling the criteria of the neo-Weberian approach stated by Saks (2012) which places primacy on the acknowledgment of society in order to make a profession; in addition, libraries have formally recognized organizations and a defined professional code of ethics, further reinforcing its validity in terms of this criteria. Finally, Libraries are defined to have the mission of the facilitation knowledge creation within the communities that it belongs to; with this function, should a library decide to censor certain information, or make available a larger selection of information resources, it can influence the way on how the community around it thinks and makes conclusions, and therefore, it can influence the future beliefs, actions and decisions of the said community, fulfilling the criteria of a profession having a dangerous modality as stated by Lewis (2001).
In the Philippine context, the above statements also hold true; in the book of Buenrostro and Orendain (1992) entitled Batayang Aklat sa Librarianship, they analyze the profession of Librarianship within the Philippines, defining librarianship and profession in the same way above, and citing justifications of why it fulfills such criteria within the Philippine context. Their first effort is to prove that libraries or information institutions in general, as we define it, exist in the Philippines historically, in order to provide to define the existence of a Filipino Librarian. After establishing historical justification for the existence of a Filipino Librarian, they cite the code of ethics provided by Philippine Law (Code of Ethics for Librarians, 2006), the formal recognition of librarianship as a profession thru legislation and an official professional organization, the Philippine Librarian’s Association Inc. within the country as proof of being a profession (Republic Act No. 9246, 2003). Finally, they note the fact that the Philippines is the only country that requires a professional Licensure exam governed by a duly recognized professional board, citing these circumstances as the ones that cements the status of Librarianship within the country as a profession. All in all, it can be concluded that librarianship is a profession, and, within the Philippine context, it is duly recognized thru measures such as legislation and the existence of professional organizations.
American Foreign Service Association. (n.d.). Defining “Profession” Retrieved October 08, 2016, from http://www.afsa.org/sites/default/files/Portals/0/defining_profession.pdf
Board of Librarians. (2006, November 27). Code of Ethics of Librarians.
Buenrostro, J. C., & Orendain, M. A. (1992). Batayang Aklat sa Librarianship. Quezon City: University of the Philippines.
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Fourie, D. K., & Dowell, D. R. (2002). Libraries in the information age: An introduction and career exploration. Greenwood Village, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
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