Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dietitians vs. Librarians: And Now a Word from Our Sponsor

Ah, another day of pleasure reading during these summer hours:

It sure beats some of the more work related material:

(In full disclosure I wrote a chapter in that book).

I admit it is the librarian in me that gets drawn to new research topics like a moth to a flame. In fact, I don't quite understand other librarians who are not eager to learn about unfamiliar topics. Isn't that kind of what we're all about? Bastions of the gateway to information and knowledge? Or even just somewhat annoying know-it-alls?

To me, learning about something new is the best part of the job. There's nothing more exciting to me than that burst of synapses when I come across something of which I was unaware. Art, Finance, Law, Philosophy, all gets me going. 

And I admit that sometimes being drawn into a new subject makes me wonder, "what if I took a different career path?" Although I think, fundamentally, even if it was a completely new type of job, it would somehow end up involving research. Because that's how I roll.

So I think a lot of my pondering other occupations might be just a "grass is greener" sort of thought process, but on the other hand, it's also an opportunity to stretch one's abilities. And then on yet another hand, that may not always be a better place.

As much as I delve into the dietietic world in my own librarian fashion, I realize that no matter where one looks, any profession may contain aspects of turmoil. I've written before about how librarians and dietitians seem to follow some similar foibles in their professions. One of those issues I touched upon was having issues with our professional organizations.

I've been following the postings and tweets from Dietitians for Professional Integrity, a group concerned with how the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics uses big food sponsors that "pose a serious conflict of interest for a nutrition organization, and harm our credential and reputation." 

And I get this frustration on their part. The Library world is very similar. The biggest sponsors of our organizations, conferences and continuing education events are our corporate sponsors who own and/or distribute the material we need to have a functioning library. It can be frustrating to sit through a conference session on discovery tools in social science research when one of the sponsors of the program makes one such product. Is it then unbiased?

But for all the feelings of altruism and independence, I also understand that you cannot effectively do your job while being completely removed from corporate influence, especially if you want to effectively play in the same field that they have basically enmeshed themselves. 

So let me add a new bullet point to my comparison of these professions:

  • Librarian and Dietitian Bloggers both tend to not represent their entire professions. 
 WARNING: Vast generalizations to follow!!

If you look at librarian blogs (if you're a good researcher, you can find them easily), the majority of these folks are librarians in either academic or public libraries, MLS students or freelance researchers/library spokespeople. You rarely if ever see librarians from the corporate, government or not-for-profit sectors writing blogs. And that's for a number of reasons:

  • Most business environments prefer that you don't talk about your job in public forums (I follow that rule even today).
  • The work done in these environments usually requires a more intense and frequent relationship with the vendors/sponsors.
  • The balance of power between parties is more equal.
As a corporate librarian I had a lot more direct interaction with vendors/potential sponsors. It was more important to negotiate and work with them then to publicly denounce them. And they were willing to do that. It was a B2B relationship. I was even able to convince some of them to become sponsors of our conferences.

I've noticed the power definitely shifts to vendors/sponsors when one goes to the academic or public side. It was an eye-opener, and to be honest, very frustrating. It makes me appreciate both the channeling of that frustration and the freedom to publicly discuss it.

Dietitian blogs that I've found skew towards community dietitians, private practice/consultants and dietetics/nutrition spokespeople. You don't find many blogs from clinical dietitians or those in food management. Or if you do, you'll find (like me) that they don't talk about their actual job at all. And I believe that is for the same reason we only see certain types of librarian blogs. Food management and hospital work means that vendor relations is a major focus of your job. Would you aggressively work with a food manufacturer to ensure you got the best deal and top results for your patients? Of course. Would you write about how frustrating that can be in a public forum? I hope not.

I'm not saying that either side is better, but I am saying that neither side gives the entire picture. It's just that one side of each profession is the one we see in public. 

But some dietitian blogs review and promote products from the big food companies. And some librarian blogs do that with library items. So this commentary can be positive or negative, but it's still from one segment.

In a Streamlined Ska Librarian twist, my past life as a agricultural/finance librarian meant I was working with the library/info peers from the exact companies that Dietitians for Professional Integrity are rallying against. I was also doing research on some of the very same issues we see being addressed by nutritionists. It wasn't the nascent seed that made me start blog-stalking dietitians, but I certainly was reading the same literature. 

But it also shows me once again that there is a disconnect between our professions where there should be a profound partnership. What better way to find more information on food business than by asking the information professionals associated with it? I'm not saying private secured information, but rather someone who knows how to access the research you might need. And more of a connection means a more equal power interaction.

And for us librarians....well, we should just be doing that with EVERY other organization.

As I've said before, we seem to be remarkably similar professions in many ways. Why aren't we leveraging each other for better results? We can handle both public and private issues.

I started this post with the theme that I'll always stay a librarian But I guess I'm going to just have to get that RD accreditation. Someone's got to be the solution! And double the sponsorships!

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