A Profession without Professional Literature?
Pemberton, J. Michael, ARMA Records Management Quarterly
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. Members of the discipline side of the discipline/profession relationship are often educators, scholars, researchers who work closely with the larger profession to maintain a minimum level of competency among the profession's novices through the mandated educational programs.(3)
In order to be credible and effective, a discipline must:
* Be a recognized field of study accepted by academe (i.e., four-year colleges and universities).
* Have departmental status (not merely a sub-unit, or "program," in another department) and formal recognition within academe.
* Develop and support a substantial body of knowledge and theory.
* Have support from a national or international learned society.
* Be able to point to a number of people--some well-known in and beyond the discipline--who are revered as contributors to practice, knowledge, research, and publications.
* Work under the assumption that continued development of the discipline (and the profession) depends on the generation of basic and applied research of value to the field.(4)
For purposes of advancing knowledge in the field, for use in teaching, and to help practitioners become more effective in the workplace, the discipline is largely responsible for development of the professional literature.
To this point, however, records management has only begun to address these characteristics through its interests in developing professional-level educational programs in universities. It is important to understand, however, that occupations and trade or professional associations do not "tell" universities to create degree or certificate programs, especially where the occupation itself has done so little to build and strengthen its academic discipline and, consequently, has done little to develop a high-quality professional literature. It must be in the field itself, not external educational programs, that the discipline and its professional literature must first be developed and made credible.
What kinds of publications make up a "professional literature"? How do those categories of publications serve the field? How do they emerge as the profession and discipline mature? What follows is a non-exhaustive generalizable list of categories of professional literature, shown in the approximate order, over time, in which the genre emerge, along with the purpose of each category:
* Directory: Needed, especially as the profession emerges, to identify--nationally and internationally--those interested in the field, mostly for communication purposes.
* Conference Abstracts/Proceedings: Much of the field's early intellectual work centers around conferences and their publication by-products.
* Monographs: Books--usually hard-cover and lengthy--treating in depth a single topic of interest to the profession.
* Festschrift: A festschrift (from German for "celebration writing") is a single volume of essays about topics in the field; these are published from time to time to honor a pioneer in the discipline.
* Yearbook/Annual: These annual publications keep the field current on the major international events and trends in the field.
* Subject Encyclopedia: Arranged alphabetically or in a classified format, and often in several volumes, this is a representation of the field's knowledge in miniature through short articles on topics important to the field.
* Dictionary: The vocabulary and jargon of the field becomes codified in a dictionary, which is used in teaching and writing. A shorter "glossary of terms' may appear during the profession's earlier stages.
* Textbooks: Knowledge of the field is represented at an introductory level through textbooks, which may be used by students at different educational levels.
* Who's Who?: Required over time to identify major participants in the field so that their expertise can be both sought and acknowledged.
* Bibliographic Guides: As the literature produced by and about the field grows appreciably, a "guide to the literature" is needed to steer those new to the field through the minefield of formats, sources, and systems available to provide access to the field's literature.
* Publications Series: Often sponsored by a professional association, these are usually publications of findings from research sponsored either by the association or a government funding agency.
* Indexing/Abstracting Services: If and when the field's total bibliographic output warrants it, the discipline itself may provide an indexing and abstracting service updated several times a year to help members of the field keep current with the growing literature and to facilitate access to it for teaching and research.
* Book Review Media: When a field's production of monographs and relevant reference materials reaches a peak, it is often necessary to publish a review journal to track and evaluate the many books being produced annually in the field.
* Guides to Theses and Dissertations: As the discipline grows in size and academic respectability, regular lists of academic theses and dissertations produced for graduate degrees are noted for use by future researchers.(5)
To help understand the present status of development of a professional literature in records management, the matrix that follows compares the availability of different categories of professional literature among three professional fields: records management, medicine, and librarianship.
The intent here is less to embarrass records management than to stress the problem of a weak professional literature. What is needed is a focused self-conscious assessment of professional priorities, a process involving ongoing interaction between what is now a small number of people in the discipline and the larger membership of the profession. Such a continuing forum could candidly address, for the first time, issues in the further professionalization of the field.
Frankly, it will be difficult for records management (profession and discipline) to achieve full professional status on its own as it lacks so many features of a discipline and, thus, has far to go to achieve full professional status. A convergence of records management with archives work, librarianship, information systems, and information science--to name but a few relevant fields--may be a far better direction for both the short and longer terms.(6)
Even if such a direction were rejected, it will be only through a conscious effort--not by waiting around--that further professionalization of records management will occur, that the ability and credibility of the discipline side of the field will be strengthened, and, as a consequence, the professional literature so clearly needed by the field's practitioners will be developed. There is much to be done and much worth doing.
1. Joseph J. Schwab, "Problems, Topics, and Issues," in The Nature of a Discipline, Monograph IX of Quest (December 1967), pp. 2-27.
2. For a more detailed assessment of the professional model, see Ronald M. Pavalko, Sociology of Occupations and Professions (Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock, 1971), pp. 16-27, whose model elements are used here; see also J. Michael Pemberton, "Records Management, Professionalism, and Social Values," Records Management Quarterly, 21, iv (October, 1987), 50-52; and Anne Craig Humphreys, "Records Managers as Professionals: A Sociological Perspective," Records Management Quarterly, 18, iii (July 1984), 16-20.
3. Cf. J. Michael Pemberton, "Education for Records Management: Rigor Mortis or New Directions?" Records Management Quarterly, 25, iii (1991), 50-54; "If Being a CRM is the Answer, What Is the Question?" Records Management Quarterly, 25, ii (1991), 50-53, 57.
4. Peter Hernon, "Government Information: A Field in Need of Research and Analytical Studies," in Charles R. McClure, Peter Hernon, and Harold C. Relyea, eds., United States Government Information Policies: View and Perspectives (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1989), p. 13.
5. Adapted from: Michael Keresztesi, "The Science of Bibliography: Theoretical Implications for Bibliographic Instruction," in Theories of Bibliographic Education: Designs for Teaching, ed. Cerise Oberman and Katina Strauch (New York: R. 11. Bowker, 1982), pp. 1-26.
6. See, for example, William Benedon, "Management in Information--An Interdisciplinary Approach," Records Management Quarterly, 12, iv (October 1978), 5-10; Jake Knoppers, "Integrating Technologies=Integrating Disciplines?" Records Management Quarterly, 17, i (January 1983), 5-7; Fritz Machlup, and Una Mansfield, eds., The Study of Information: Interdisciplinary Messages (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1983); J. Michael Pemberton, "Library and Information Science: The Educational Base for Professional Records Management," Records Management Quarterly, 15, ii (1981), 48-52.…
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Publication information: Article title: A Profession without Professional Literature?. Contributors: Pemberton, J. Michael - Author. Magazine title: ARMA Records Management Quarterly. Volume: 27. Issue: 3 Publication date: July 1993. Page number: 52+. © 2009 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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