A Profession without Professional Literature?

Article excerpt

What is the difference between a "profession" and a "discipline" and why, of course, should you care? The answer is alarmingly simple: where there is no professional literature, there is no profession! This is the case since a fundamental characteristic of any profession is that it has a distinct body of theoretical and concrete knowledge. That knowledge cannot just hover in the air. So, for a field to be a profession it must, by definition, have a professional literature containing the field's knowledge. It is developed, gathered, disseminated, and acquired through the professional literature, a literature which has a structure, clearly defined purposes, and which is developed, expanded, and kept up to date by a discipline.

Unfortunately, the field of records management--as a profession and as a discipline--has virtually ignored this critical relationship. The oversight will continue to be a pivotal one for records management, however, since a weak discipline and sparse professional literature will continue to haunt the field's claim to professional status.

Some things are virtually inseparable; such is the case with professions and their disciplines. A profession is an occupation which, over time, society has elevated to the higher standing of "profession." "Discipline" is from Latin disciplina, meaning a field of study, or learning, and scholarship (as opposed to the day-to-day practice of the profession).(1) Essentially, a "discipline" is the intellectual structure firmly attached to the larger profession, or field.

A field's professional association often serves as a point of interface between the intellectual discipline and the fraternity of practitioners in the field. In many ways, the professional association coordinates the discipline's work on behalf of the field as a whole, particularly in areas such as educational programs, research, knowledge development, and publications.

The individual characteristics of professions and disciplines are relatively well established. Some of their more important relationships can be sketched here:

* A profession is undergirded by an organized body of knowledge, including theoretical principles as well as specific, practical skills. The discipline works to establish and enhance the field's knowledge base through research. It imparts the knowledge to novice practitioners ("disciples") through educational programs and publications relevant to the profession's needs and interests.

* A profession demands a period of education and training whose dimensions are clearly defined, or prescribed, by the profession itself. In established professions (e.g., medicine, law) this educational experience is provided by members of the discipline in a university environment. The quality of the educational experience relies heavily on the field's knowledge as expounded in publications of various types.

* Within each profession there develops a professional subculture consisting of values, customs, and taboos shared by the profession's practitioners. This sense of community is characterized, among other things, by a common vocabulary, a collective ideology, and a sense of common occupational identity. The discipline keeps current in the literature in these areas because it is initially responsible for fostering the shared values, concerns, and terminology in novices through an aspect of the education process called "socialization to the profession."

* Community endorsement of a profession becomes strong enough over time such that the profession achieves the autonomy to set its own educational standards, curriculum accreditation, and a sanctioned licensing or certification system: These features, along with the profession's published code of ethics, or professional responsibility, are presented to student practitioners by members of the field's discipline.(2)

As suggested above, some of the discipline's roles focus on developing and using the literature necessary to support the education, knowledge development, and research needs of the entire profession. …