In Praise of Library Literature

By Stevens, Norman D. | American Libraries, April 1984 | Go to article overview
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In Praise of Library Literature

Stevens, Norman D., American Libraries

LET US FORGET THE PAST EXCEPT as it may echo in our memory. Let us think, instead, about the present state of library literature. If this is indeed a time of change, let us also look to the future; surely our literature must be undergoing change as well.

Still to be found in our books and journals are much trivia, considerable duplication, poor literary style and execution, superfluity and repetition, a belaboring of the obvious, an absence of a scholarly approach, a lack of evidence of research, a paucity of significant new ideas, and a lack of attention to the philosophical and intellectual bases of the profession. It may still be true, or almost true, that anything--no matter how unimaginative or poorly written--may get published. Our writings may still, is some respects, be timid, rotten, and unimaginative; they may even be as arid as they are voluminous.

At the same time it is also evident that these contributions have been lengthened and enriched to a degree undreamed of in the past. We have reached the stage where the profession has matured and where prescriptive statements can be made with some authority.

Those are the echoes of the past. Richard D. Johnson's masterful summary of "The Journal Literature of Librarianship" (advances in Librarianship 12:127-50, 1982) is for those who wish to dwell further on the past. In contemplating the current and future state of our literature, I have built on that summary, on my own reading of what everyone else has said on the subject, and--for better or for worse--more than 25 years of actively contributing to the profession through the written word.

My serious writing career began as the result of a suggestion to the editor of a distinguished professional journal that virtually every article in a particular issue was seriously flawed. She soon set me to reviewing. As a reviewer of new books, I I was in the past, generally critical of what I read and reviewed. My present review column ("Our Profession" in Wilson Library bulletin) seeks to identify and promote material of quality that deserves our attention.

There is much now being published that truly deserves our attention. The literature somehow has grown and matured with me. As a sometime library hitorian, and an avid reader, I have read, and continue to read on a regular basis, much of the library literature of the past. The difference in quality over the past hundred years or more is remarkable. These observations on the present state of that body of knowledge are based then on a broad view of the current and recent literature, my own participation in the professional writing and publishing process, and a historical perspective of the literature of "Our Proffesion."

In further echoes of the past, these thoughts are testimony about where we now are and glad tidings of the future.

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