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The Construction of Librarians’ Professional Identities: A Discourse Analysis Open Access


Other title
Library and Information Science
Professional Identity
Discourse Analysis
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Hicks, Deborah R
Supervisor and department
Curry, Ann (Extension)
da Costa, Jose (Educational Policy Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Given, Lisa (Information Studies)
Oliphant, Tami (School of Library and Information Studies)
Stelmach, Bonnie (Educational Policy Studies)
Hussey, Lisa (Library and Information Science)
Department of Educational Policy Studies
Educational Administration and Leadership
Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Librarians, as information specialists, serve an important role in society. They provide low-cost access to information resources, organize the growing amount of information, and help students, job seekers, researchers, families, co-workers, organizations and communities meet their information needs by designing, implementing, and providing information services. In doing so, they not only articulate a specific understanding of information and their communities’ information needs, they communicate their professional identity. By focusing on how librarians describe their profession, attention can be drawn to how librarians themselves construct librarianship, and how this construction shapes their interactions with clients, their local communities, other professions, and society at large. This study used a social constructionist-inspired discourse analysis approach to examine the interpretive repertoires librarians used to describe themselves as professionals. Interpretive repertoires are the language resources a group, such as a profession, uses to describe itself and its members. They consist of words and phrases that provide professionals with a shared worldview and sense of self. The analysis focused on how librarians described librarianship, themselves as professionals, and their professional problems in three different types of data sources: journal articles, editorials, and letters to the editor aimed at professional librarians; messages posted to email discussion lists; and research interviews with librarians. The data sources were selected to ensure different professional contexts and perspectives were represented in the overall data set. Five interpretive repertoires were identified: insider-outsider, service, professionalism, change, and advocacy. Throughout these repertoires, librarians described themselves as dedicated service professionals with a unique knowledge base and jurisdictional expertise, and librarianship as a profession dedicated to meeting people’s information needs. Being a professional, to librarians, meant upholding the professional values of librarianship, a natural and inherent ability to provide clients with high-quality information services, a flexible attitude towards change and a desire to embrace technology, the skill to advocate for the profession, and an information expertise based in a combination of graduate level education and experience. Librarians’ sense of themselves as professionals was connected to their professional competences, skills, and attitudes, i.e., their professionalism. Clients and their information needs were at the centre of librarians’ descriptions of both themselves as professionals and librarianship as a profession. Although librarians made a clear distinction between how they understood themselves and their profession from popular images and stereotypes, they were also concerned that these images would create misperceptions of librarians and librarianship in the minds of clients. They focused instead on demonstrating to clients, through service and advocacy activities, their professional, and the profession’s, importance and value. In addition, librarians described a genuine desire to help meet their clients’ information needs. Librarians’ relationships with certain client groups were affected by this desire to help and the need to have their professionalism acknowledged by clients. These findings offer librarians opportunities to reflect on the relationships they have with their clients, the messages they communicate through their advocacy activities, how they use technology to meet clients’ information needs, their relationships with their paraprofessional colleagues, and how they conceive of the library as an institution. There are implications for Library and Information Science educators and professional associations.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Hicks, D. (2016). Advocating for librarianship: The discourses of advocacy and service in the professional identities of librarians. Library Trends, 64, 615-640.Hicks, D., & Schindel, T. J. (2016). Time changes things: Time as a linguistic resource for professionals in information-intensive fields. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 40(1), 1-26.Hicks, D. (2014). The construction of librarians’ professional identities: A discourse analysis. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 38(4), 251-270.

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