When “specialized” is not enough: The state of professional and scholarly publications for theology and religion librarians

Karen Dali, University of Western Ontario
Rebekah Bedard

Description

Drawing on the results of an empirical study, this paper investigates how well the diverse professional needs and activities of theology and religion librarians (TRLs) in academic libraries are served by specialized professional publications, both monographs and peer-reviewed journals. The study results allow for identifying professional areas effectively facilitated by these publications, as well as professional practices which are not adequately supported by available literature and scholarly research. Recommendations are made with regard to potential contributions by TRLs to the advancement of scholarly communication in the field and with regard to professional development of TRLs.

In the present, academic librarians with a subject specialty in theology and religion (theology and religion librarians – TRLs) are expected to engage in a variety of activities, from collection development to extensive research support, from information literacy instruction to electronic content creation, from liaison work to the digital and traditional preservation of older and unique materials, to name just a few. Under the circumstances, they have to maintain a good awareness of the discipline’s historical roots, to keep abreast with the latest changes in religion/theology scholarship and scholarly communication, and to remain on top of newly available resources and technological developments. Scholarly and professional publications should ideally support these diverse professional needs and activities of TRLs. Thus, this study focuses on the following overarching research problem: How well do professional and scholarly publications facilitate the diverse professional needs and activities of TRLs in academic libraries? This problem is further broken down into specific research questions. Spanning five full calendar years (2008-2012), the study relies on the following data: all peer-reviewed articles from two specialized theology and religion library journals -- The Journal of Religious & Theological Information and Theological Librarianship: An Online Journal of the American Theological Library Association; an extensive data set of articles on theology and religion published in other library journals and downloaded from the Library Literature & Information Science Full Text and Library & Information Science Abstracts (LISA) databases; and a data set generated by WorldCat. The method of bibliographic data analysis, a variation of citation analysis, is employed to process the data and generate results.

Preliminary results demonstrate that bibliographic and historical essays are a dominant type of peer-reviewed articles, followed by a combination of empirical research and conceptual papers and practice-oriented descriptive and informative papers. Despite a wide variety of specific subjects, the vast majority of peer-reviewed publications focus on resources and collections, including foundational religious texts, unique and rare collections, primary sources, and electronic resources. Most articles revolve around theological academic libraries, with only a small percentage of articles with other loci (e.g., parish or church libraries, publishers, and archives). As a result, these publications, vastly expanding the subject-specific knowledge of their audience, provide the best support for more traditional areas of TRLs’ practice, namely, collection development and specialized reference, with information literacy instruction also facilitated to some extent. Unfortunately, there seems to be a scarcity of literature related to the issues of management, scholarly communication, and emerging technologies affecting theology and religion libraries. Finally, the overwhelming majority of articles focus on resources and collections in Christianity, with collections and library practices related to other religions and theological schools receiving only minimal coverage. This study is still a work in progress. Two significant data sets are yet to be processed, including one with professional and scholarly monographs. We are open to the possibility that the overall picture of our findings may change. In the end, this study should present a current empirical snapshot of the state of scholarship in the area of theology and religion librarianship and outline its strengths and weaknesses. No other comparable recent studies on the topic have been located. The study results will allow us to make recommendations for potential contributions by TRLs to the advancement of scholarly and professional publications in the field. Similarly, we will be able to make recommendations regarding professional development and professional reading of TRLs.

Keren Dali, Ph.D., is a Library & Information Science (LIS) researcher with over 20 peer-reviewed authored and co-authored publications to her name, including a number of publications on library collections, resources, and services in various fields, from multilingual public library collections, self-published books, and non-mainstream literature to academic collections in tourism studies and medical humanities. Her work has appeared in Library & Information Science Research, College & Research Libraries, Reference Services Review, The Reference Librarian, and the Journal of Academic Librarianship, among others. Some of these articles employ and improve the methodology of bibliographic data analysis. She is also a co-author of Contemporary World Fiction: A Guide to Literature in Translation (2011). At the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Canada, Dr. Dali has taught a variety of LIS courses, including core LIS courses on reference resources and services and collection development.

 
Jun 5th, 9:00 AM Jun 5th, 10:30 AM

When “specialized” is not enough: The state of professional and scholarly publications for theology and religion librarians

Drawing on the results of an empirical study, this paper investigates how well the diverse professional needs and activities of theology and religion librarians (TRLs) in academic libraries are served by specialized professional publications, both monographs and peer-reviewed journals. The study results allow for identifying professional areas effectively facilitated by these publications, as well as professional practices which are not adequately supported by available literature and scholarly research. Recommendations are made with regard to potential contributions by TRLs to the advancement of scholarly communication in the field and with regard to professional development of TRLs.

In the present, academic librarians with a subject specialty in theology and religion (theology and religion librarians – TRLs) are expected to engage in a variety of activities, from collection development to extensive research support, from information literacy instruction to electronic content creation, from liaison work to the digital and traditional preservation of older and unique materials, to name just a few. Under the circumstances, they have to maintain a good awareness of the discipline’s historical roots, to keep abreast with the latest changes in religion/theology scholarship and scholarly communication, and to remain on top of newly available resources and technological developments. Scholarly and professional publications should ideally support these diverse professional needs and activities of TRLs. Thus, this study focuses on the following overarching research problem: How well do professional and scholarly publications facilitate the diverse professional needs and activities of TRLs in academic libraries? This problem is further broken down into specific research questions. Spanning five full calendar years (2008-2012), the study relies on the following data: all peer-reviewed articles from two specialized theology and religion library journals -- The Journal of Religious & Theological Information and Theological Librarianship: An Online Journal of the American Theological Library Association; an extensive data set of articles on theology and religion published in other library journals and downloaded from the Library Literature & Information Science Full Text and Library & Information Science Abstracts (LISA) databases; and a data set generated by WorldCat. The method of bibliographic data analysis, a variation of citation analysis, is employed to process the data and generate results.

Preliminary results demonstrate that bibliographic and historical essays are a dominant type of peer-reviewed articles, followed by a combination of empirical research and conceptual papers and practice-oriented descriptive and informative papers. Despite a wide variety of specific subjects, the vast majority of peer-reviewed publications focus on resources and collections, including foundational religious texts, unique and rare collections, primary sources, and electronic resources. Most articles revolve around theological academic libraries, with only a small percentage of articles with other loci (e.g., parish or church libraries, publishers, and archives). As a result, these publications, vastly expanding the subject-specific knowledge of their audience, provide the best support for more traditional areas of TRLs’ practice, namely, collection development and specialized reference, with information literacy instruction also facilitated to some extent. Unfortunately, there seems to be a scarcity of literature related to the issues of management, scholarly communication, and emerging technologies affecting theology and religion libraries. Finally, the overwhelming majority of articles focus on resources and collections in Christianity, with collections and library practices related to other religions and theological schools receiving only minimal coverage. This study is still a work in progress. Two significant data sets are yet to be processed, including one with professional and scholarly monographs. We are open to the possibility that the overall picture of our findings may change. In the end, this study should present a current empirical snapshot of the state of scholarship in the area of theology and religion librarianship and outline its strengths and weaknesses. No other comparable recent studies on the topic have been located. The study results will allow us to make recommendations for potential contributions by TRLs to the advancement of scholarly and professional publications in the field. Similarly, we will be able to make recommendations regarding professional development and professional reading of TRLs.

Keren Dali, Ph.D., is a Library & Information Science (LIS) researcher with over 20 peer-reviewed authored and co-authored publications to her name, including a number of publications on library collections, resources, and services in various fields, from multilingual public library collections, self-published books, and non-mainstream literature to academic collections in tourism studies and medical humanities. Her work has appeared in Library & Information Science Research, College & Research Libraries, Reference Services Review, The Reference Librarian, and the Journal of Academic Librarianship, among others. Some of these articles employ and improve the methodology of bibliographic data analysis. She is also a co-author of Contemporary World Fiction: A Guide to Literature in Translation (2011). At the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Canada, Dr. Dali has taught a variety of LIS courses, including core LIS courses on reference resources and services and collection development.