Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL): Additional Thoughts

CAPAL (the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians) held an Open Forum and its first membership meeting Thursday afternoon in Toronto. I’ve written previously about my reservations about CAPAL but I did join and I did participate in these meetings.

Unfortunately the turnout was sparse. However, the meeting was recorded; it is my understanding that the audio file will be posted on the CAPAL website.

Bottom line: the meeting did not assuage my concerns about this new organization. I do not question the sincerity of those leading this initiative; my concern is with the rationale for CAPAL.

I’m sensitive to language and metaphor (something the truly amazing Peter Paul Evans taught me this years ago). When I start hearing rhetoric with words like “fighting”, “battles”, “defending”, and “resisting” I get worried. This siege mentality (how wonderfully Canadian) tells us that academic librarianship is up against some form of oppression. I just don’t get it.

Yes, there are places where academic librarians are not full participants with their faculty colleagues. And yes there have been egregious violations of academic freedom. This is an issue for CAUT and local faculty associations; most of us have been there, done that. If there is an issue, it is in Quebec where academic status for librarians is not common.

At any rate, I see all this as something CAUT needs to take up. There were fairly direct criticisms of the Librarians Committee of CAUT (which I do not know much about). If this group is not responding to the needs of the librarian members of CAUT surely the answer is to reform the committee not form a new organization.

Most of the proposed directions for CAPAL don’t interest me, I see lots of other avenues and means to accomplish them (for example, CLA offered its “network” model as an option for CAPAL). However, one did seem valuable. Much of the scholarship of academic librarians is applied. Too much “how we did it good at University of XYX” and too little  that is based on research methodologies and rigorous examination.

The lead on this has been taken by CARL (with their Librarians’ Research Institutes) and the wonderful folks who run the journal Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. Also helping in this space are Partnership: the Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research and The Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science. Starting something else does not detract from the value of these initiatives. More power to them.

CAPAL wants to enable and advance scholarship about academic librarianship and by academic librarians; all good. I could get behind this. Especially if it bridges disciplines, informs the public as well as the profession, and seeks a global perspective (not just a Canadian one).

Academic librarians are active participants in helping to redefine scholarly communication; CAPAL has a wonderful opportunity to do that for our own scholarship. Gold OA journals, crowdsourced reviews and appraisals, e-monographs, systematic reviews, a review journal to summarize the research work in other journals (EBLIP does a bit of this), etc. etc. Something very exciting is possible here.

It did seem ironic that one of the goals of CAPAL was professional development; I was forgoing some excellent opportunities for PD at the OLA SuperConference in order to attend the CAPAL meetings. SuperConference is the single best forum for academic librarianship in Canada; that may upset some folks but it is my experience over many years. It draws a national audience and hosts a plethora of sessions directly focused on academic librarians. Competing with it is short sighted.

Most of the proposed directions for CAPAL just don’t interest me. Too negative, too defensive. IMHO the time is ripe not to defend turf that we should have ceded years ago but to provide leadership and partner with colleagues in exploring new territory where our skills and expertise are desperately needed and wanted. This is going to mean taking risks and trying very new and different things. Yes, change. Bring it on.


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5 Responses to Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL): Additional Thoughts

  1. Thanks for this Mike, I have been wondering how that meeting went. I think advancing scholarship by and about academic librarians is a great thing – and if CAPAL can do this is a rigorous and meaningful way I’ll be impressed. But I wonder at the same time if the Canadian Association of Information Science isn’t the place to promote academic work by and for academic librarians? I realize that it is an association for archivists, educators, information scientists and others – but librarians could play a much stronger role there and our research would benefit from association and interplay with these other folks working in related fields. So basically, I agree that CAUT is the pre-existing place to address labour issues and tend to think CAIS, and/or other scholarly interdisciplinary associations friendly to our work might be the better pre-existing place for our academic work. I fear that an association only for academic librarians will just further the insularity of our profession. But I hope I am wrong!

    • Mike Ridley says:

      Fully agree re CAIS (bias alert; I’m a former CAIS president). CAIS meets as part of the Congress so there is also a wonderful opportunity to cross pollinate with other related disciplines.

  2. Murray Shepherd says:

    Well said Mike. I don’t believe that the profession needs yet another association. It needs to make the ones that we already belong to work for us. Start close to home with your faculty association and and with Deans and Directors. Work out from there. The case must always be positive and clear – this is who we are and what we do. There are already vehicles to do this. And, I am always skeptical about the use of the word ‘Professional’. It sounds defensive. What other kinds of academic librarians are there?

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