As I’ve talked about quite a bit on the blog, I think it’s our professional responsibility as academic librarians to be actively engaged in research, both in the sense that we’re publishing and presenting it ourselves, and also keeping up with what other people are doing (at least within our own particular areas of expertise). There are, of course, the usual reasons stated for this, viz, that it’s hard to improve our practice – and, more importantly, hard do know we’re doing right by our students – unless we’re assessing what we’re doing in the right kinds of ways. So, one thing that tends to surprise me about people who do not hold this attitude -and there are many – is that there’s something even more fundamental that they seem not to be getting ab0out what it means to be a librarian, namely, that, in my view, librarians, especially academic ones, are good empiricists: we think you should believe the stuff based on the best evidence. Think about it: this is the whole idea behind the entire scholarly enterprise: “You, student, want to use x sources, because you want to have good arguments & evidence for what you’re saying.” Why? Because that’s simply what college educated people do: they understand how to back up what they’re doing with evidence, and, importantly, they go where the evidence leads. More than anything, they approach their practice with a certain mentality. They are reflective.
This, to me, is as much behind the call for us to be reflective practitioners as anything else: we put ourselves forward as having some degree of expertise in research, and what this means, in part, is that we’re supposed to be people who believe things and do stuff in accordance with the best available evidence. This is what information literacy librarians are supposed to be teaching their students, and the right way for us to conduct our own professional practice is to be reflective about what we do. For the reflective practitioner, “professional growth really begins when you start to view things with a critical lens, by doubting your actions.” This is no different from the critical thinker about information who must exercise a fundamental skepticism about the information she comes across. Reflective practice, then, simply takes the critical thinking skills about information we teach our students, and turns the lens back on ourselves.
This does not mean that we are afraid to try new things; quite the opposite. In her famed piece on “Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems,” Etienne Wenger notes that it is essential for a healthy organization – and, by implication, any healthy library – for the members of that organization to exercise what she calls enterprise, i.e., a fundamental commitment to learning and growth: “A community must show leadership in pushing its development along and maintaining a spirit of inquiry. It must recognize and address gaps in its knowledge as well as remain open to emergent directions and opportunities.” Thus, this kind of reflective ethos is not only central to effective librarianship, but to good libraries as well.