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Librarians: confusing process for product on a regular basis

I was complaining to some friends about a propensity for articles in the scholarly literature of librarianship to include a “literature review” which mostly consists of “A search of x database on the query [insert query here] revealed y results.” As I said to my friends, THIS IS NOT A LITERATURE REVIEW. And one friend responded that this is what you do but should not be what you report. At which point something clicked for me.

A lot of what I find frustrating about some of the expectations that float across our professional lives has to do with confusing process for product. The stereotype of boring library instruction, all about exactly where to click in order to be a good researcher, is one of these. The assumption that good organization equals good customer service is another. And let’s not forget collaboration and curricular integration equalling library success.

And this thing with the literature review is incredibly tied in with issues I’ve been working through in my teaching, where “teach students about literature reviews” is partially about locating and accessing sources but a lot more about understanding why you’re even doing that in the first place and then constructing a claim that’s grounded in those sources but reaches beyond them. Quantifying results is only one of many many evaluative actions, and it’s only good for certain kinds of arguments, and even then it’s usually the least interesting and least informative option.

Published inLibraries and Librarians


  1. I couldn’t agree more about the problems with those lit reviews, and I think you have nailed it. We do reify process, don’t we? Another lit review pet peeve of mine is the “I want to show you that I know how to find every article at all related to this topic” instead of the “let me set the relevant context for the ideas I will be exploring” lit review. And I think that is probably also a process issue, better disguised as a product though still problematic.

    In other news, autocorrect wanted to change “reify” to both “iffy” and “reich” which seems…appropriate somehow.

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