Consultants in Academic Libraries: Challenging, Renewing, and Extending the Dialogue

Marni R. Harrington, Ania Dymarz


There is a trend in academic libraries to hire consultants for internal crises, change management projects, strategic planning processes, outcomes assessment, evidence-based decision making, information literacy instruction, and more. Although we hear informally about the use of consultants in academic libraries, the practice has gone unexamined. We employ a historical and linguistic analysis of consultants in academic libraries, using a critical framework for this research. A critical perspective provides a structure to discuss issues that librarians may not have been able to previously fit into library practice dialogue. A chronological history of consulting in libraries acts as our literature review. This review, along with a targeted examination of library and information science resources, is used to guide two lines of linguistic analysis. The first provides a critique of the core tenets used to define and characterize library consultants, namely, the claim that consultants are unbiased professionals who bring “expertise” and “fresh” ideas to libraries. The second analysis investigates the rhetorical strategies used in existing texts: polarizing language, straw man reasoning, and figurative and indirect language. The discussion section unpacks these linguistic strategies, reflects on what is missing from the texts, and considers how knowledge and power are exerted through language, making connections to the broader context of neoliberalism.


academic libraries; consultants; neoliberal practices

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