Theory to the Trenches

By Gregory, Gwen M. | Information Today, May 2006 | Go to article overview
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Theory to the Trenches

Gregory, Gwen M., Information Today

Theory to the Trenches Spanning the Theory-Practice Divide in Library and Information Science by Bill Crowley Latham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2005 ISBN: 0-8108-5165-2 240 pages $45 softcover

If you went to library school (or another professional school), you may remember discussing the theories of information science. You may have even written a thesis or dissertation using some of these theoretical underpinnings.

But once you entered the "real world" and became a practitioner, did you ever think about these theories or use any of them? Maybe not. And why? Are they too obscure? Does it just take too much time and effort to keep up with them? Are they too complex for a non-Ph.D. to understand?

Bill Crowley, now a library school professional and a librarian for many years, has thought about this issue long and hard. In Spanning the Theory-Practice Divide in Library and Information Science, he shares his experiences and ideas about the separation between library practitioners and academics.

After working for 23 years in public libraries, Crowley earned a Ph.D. in library science at Ohio University. Now a professor at the graduate school of library and information science at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., Crowley is well-qualified to discuss the division between practitioner and scholar.

In his recent role as library school faculty member, he is aware of the practices of run-of-the-mill librarians. He has continued to provide assistance and useful information to them. In his book, he bases many of his arguments on the philosophy of cultural pragmatism, which holds "that 'truth' is subject to construction in ongoing processes within cultural and other human communities ... the true test of any theory resides in analyzed experience."

The Gap Between Research and Work

This may sound pretty academic already. It's certainly not the usual how-we-did-it-good-at-our-library story or even a collection of such best practices. Cultural pragmatism has been an important philosophical underpinning of academic research in the second half of the 20th century. Crowley argues that postmodernism as the pre-eminent intellectual paradigm should become its replacement. He sees the gap between library faculty research and practitioners' work as part of a broader trend for many professions, including law and business. Others have written about the trend and its consequences in those areas. In librarianship, the trend may not be as obvious or as controversial, but it does exist.

In several chapters, Crowley explains how and why the research university works. As part of such an institution, library school faculty members must perform challenging research.

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