Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The invisibility of library consultants in the academic literature

It has been a rough 3rd year as I continue to work on my research proposal. As I put almost all of my focus and energies into solving the problems with my research proposal, I've neglected the medium of blogging. However, I break this spell of silence to discuss the issue of the invisibility of library consultants in the academic literature.

Currently, I'm considering or reconsidering the viability of studying library consultants/consulting as a topic. It has been difficult to find gaps in the literature to investigate as there are so many gaps in what is known about the topic. All I have to work with  is the tension between who can be defined as a library consultant and several forecasts about what library consulting will look like, all of these from two dissertations, two encyclopedia articles, and 7 monographs about the topic.

The result is that I've concluded that the library consultant is for the most part absent from academic discourse. This is interesting considering that some LIS academics are also library and information consultants. For example,Tague-Sutcliffe, a former dean of University of Western Ontario's Faculty of Information Media Studies, is named in the directory of Canadian library and information consultants (Rogers, 1994). Not only are academics a part of library and information consulting, but heads of library schools and other library educators are also acknowledging consulting as a legitimate path in which LIS graduates may venture.In the English-speaking Caribbean for instance, in 2006, the head of the University of the West Indies Department of Library and Information Studies forecasted growing opportunities for library school graduates to work as consultants for public/private sector organizations (Durrant, 2006). Yet, despite this interest, the academic literature studying library consultants and their work is sparse.

Mark you, there are definitely books on the topic of library consultants. But many of these sources are dated prior to 2000. In general, there is a lack of in-depth monograph sources studying library consultants and the work of library consulting. I personally examined seven monograph length publications on library and information consultancy. Of these seven, three are directories: one focusing on US library and information consultants (Berry, 1969), another on UK based library and information consultants (Smith, 1987) and the third based on Canadian ones (Rogers, 1994). From these directories, you can usually find a dedicated introductory page defining library consultants. In Berry (1969), Blasingame’ informative overview provides a profile of library consultants. Rogers (1994) introduction on the other hand combines both library consultants and information consultants. The remaining four monograph length publications that are not directories, are written for practitioners. In other words, these sources reflect little in the way of systematic research design and data gathering. Rather than attempting to provide an academic understanding of library consultants and their work, these works discuss how practitioners can work with or as library consultants. Two works address library administrators: Rawles and Wessells (1984) discuss working with library consultants, while Garten (1992) discusses using consultants in libraries. These books are seemingly written to provide guidance to librarians for engaging with library consultants. The final two books are aimed at library consultants themselves, with a book on case studies in international library consultancy by Parker (1988) and a book on consulting for information professionals by De Stricker (2008). Yet, these works on library consulting seem primarily based on anecdotal data gathered from experience.

Despite the few outdated books on the subject, those who practice library consulting are both seemingly  increasing and sharing their knowledge on the subject. I recently read that the ASCLA Library Consultants Interest Group (LCIG) saw their membership increase as they added 31 members growing from 32 to 63 members (Smithee, 2013). In addition, the group also announced the hosting of an event with Nancy Bolt and Liz Bishoff offering a preconference entitled “Assembling a Consulting Toolkit: What You Need to Know to be a Successful Library Consultant” (Smithee, 2013). It therefore seems to me that the topic of library consultants is a viable area for future academic inquiry.Yet formulating the research problem around this gap has been extremely challenging, as the scope of the work seem more extensive than what I want to study.


De Stricker, U. (2008). Is consulting for you?: A primer for information professionals. Chicago: American Library Association.

Durrant, F. (2006). The future of libraries and implications for the Caribbean. Address to the Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) Ordinary General Meeting. Held at National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS), November 1, 2006. Retrieved from

Garten, E. (1992). Using consultants in libraries and information centers: A management handbook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Parker, J. S. (1988). Asking the right questions: Case studies in library development consultancy. London ;; New York: Mansell Pub.

Rawles, B. A., & Wessells, M. B. (1984). Working with library consultants. Hamden, CT: Library Professional Publications.

Rogers, H., & Canadian Library Association. (1994). Directory of Canadian library & information science consultants. Ottawa: Canadian Library Association.

Smithee, J. (2013). Report from the Library Consultants Interest Group. Interface (02706717), 35(3), 1. Retrieved from

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