The Theory of Human Caring and Service Friendly Librarians
This reflective essay analyzes Jean Watson’s Theory of Human Caring1 in the
context of service friendly librarians. Aspects of Carl Roger’s Actualization
Tendencies2 and Kay Vandergrift’s’ Ethic of Care3 are also discussed. How the
cultivation of sensitivity to oneself and others can create a service friendly
environment for the information user is a topic worthy of examination.
Management theories which encourage team building as a way to better the
organization (with the highest regard for the user) emphasize a culture of listening
to the voice of the customer, the voice of staff, the voice of the process, and the
voice of the organization.4 Librarians need to remain supported and informed of
appropriate ways to deal with the user. They need to know how to manage
themselves, inculcate the mission of their institutions, and develop qualities of
human caring. The central task of library and information science education must
be to help students; faculty and practitioners learn how to form caring
relationships with their users and their communities because the profession is
about educating mankind. The knowledge, skills, and values of librarianship are
humanistic in orientation, even though expertise in technological tools is essential.
Human caring is a normative standard of library service. Technical standards can
change over time, but access to information must remain inviolate. Librarians
adjust to local needs and aspirations even if their users are diverse within local
needs and aspirations. Because users tend to be exceedingly diverse, they resist a
common definition. In 1999, Dr. Marsha Bates5 wrote:
At this historical juncture, information scientists need to
become more conscious of the thought-world we are operating
out of, so that we can communicate it more rapidly and
effectively to large numbers of new people, and so that we
can continue to influence the future of information in the
twenty-first century. (p. 1061).
The premise of this essay is that, by accepting human caring as a foundational
concept of library and information science practice, librarians will become more
conscious of the thought world operating not only at their own level, but at the
1 Watson’s Caring Theory. http://www2.uchsc.edu/son/caring/content/evolution.asp accessed 5/6/2007
2 Boeree, C. George. Carl Rogers 1902-1987. http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/rogers.html accessed
3 Vandergrift, Kay. Journey or Destination: Female Voices in Youth Literature.
http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~kvander/books/KAYMOS.pdf accessed 12/6/2007
4 Phipps, Shelley (Spring 2001). Beyond Measuring Service Quality: Learning from the Voices of the
Customers, the Staff, the Processes, and the Organization. Library Trends. Vol 49, No. 4. Retrieved June
15, 2007 from Academic Search Premier.
5 Bates, Marsha. (1999). The Invisible Substrate of Information Science. The Journal of the American
Society for Information Science 50, (12), 1043-1059.
level of the user. This foundational concept is the best way to influence the future
of information in the twenty-first century.
Because we live in a time when technology has played an increasing role in information
provision, the responsibility to bring records of human achievement to assist in a greater
understanding among people has never been greater. Twenty-first century librarians have
a global view, yet they are still drawn to serve their audiences through the desire to
interact with clients in a positive and humanistic fashion. As library students they have
depended on faculty members for assistance in conducting research and writing papers
and have inculcated the values shown to them. When students and faculty members work
together, both are fulfilling a purpose of information literacy and lifelong learning. The
importance of bringing meaning and credibility to library service through continued
reflection and inquiry into information needs continues after graduate school and is an
essential aspect of professionalism. A caring disposition is perhaps the greatest asset a
librarian can bring to the profession and on that the librarian develops along with
knowledge of resources. Since users are no longer just consumers of information, but
contributors themselves, the importance of such a service mentality deepens simply
because it empowers. Acknowledgement of library service as a soft science, a caring
science, brings theory and practice together in a way which promotes teaching and
learning. In his dissertation entitled Interpersonal Communication in the Reference
Interview, Richard Crouch6 wrote: “The librarian’s role is to minimize the inquirer’s
intellectual and emotional effort in seeking information”. This is no less true in the
6 Crouch, Richard Keith. Interpersonal Communication in the Reference Interview. Doctoral Dissertation.
University of Toronto (Canada). DAI 42/10 A., p. 4189, 1981.
Adele Fasick writes “We welcome and support all people in their enjoyment of reading
and pursuit of lifelong learning”.7 Such a profile of the librarian as an “information
caregiver” clearly puts clientele needs first. Optimism is fostered through a welcoming
approach to the library and its environs. Carl Rogers’s8 Self-actualization Theory - the
innate tendency toward growth that motivates all human behavior - can also be applied to
service friendly librarianship. Librarians encourage livelong learning; they encourage
self-development. They encourage the positive self-regard that Rogers spoke of, by
showing positive regard to others. Rogers states that a therapist, in order to be effective,
must have three very special qualities: (1) congruence -- genuineness, honesty with the
client. (2) empathy - the ability to feel what the client feels and (3) respect – acceptance
and unconditional positive regard towards the client. These special qualities are what an
effective librarian generates as she interacts with people.
The process by which the library can make a contribution in sociological, cultural,
and human terms to society is via the service given by the librarian and found in the
literature of science, social science and the humanities. The leadership role of
librarianship is tied to the basic mission of library services and has not changed in 200
years. The personality of the librarian can determine if the information is used at all.
Status is gendered, however. Rossiter9 states that the stereotypical status of “womanly
activities”, that is, non-competitive and nurturing kinds of feelings and behavior, is seen
rhetorically as the opposite of “science” which is rigorous, impersonal, competitive, and
8 Boeree, C. George. Carl Rogers 1902-1987. http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/rogers.html accessed 5/6/2007
9 Rossiter, Margaret W. Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action 1940 – 1972. Baltimore:
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
unemotional. Applying research to practice involves the service role and that role is
often not held in high esteem – for many reasons. Preparing students to become librarian
leaders through service is a qualitative aspect of graduate education. Leaders have a
capacity for self-direction and lifelong learning. Rather than asking what do people want
to know, the librarian can ask “How can I intervene?” ; “What questions can be asked?”;
“How can I enter the user’s informing processes?”; “What can I deliver that will be
informing to the unique individual asking the question?” The approach is reflective,
flexible, and communication based. 10 It is also historically indicative of women who
pioneered library service to children; service to children was to be intelligent and
sympathetic, and this was the most ethical way to approach them. Not unlike Watson’s
science of caring, Kay Vandergrift11 promotes the ethic of care. In the past, the advocacy
role of caring was possible in the library because the library was a channel of hospitality,
idealism and reverence for culture.
Jean Watson’s12 Theory of Human Caring, proposed as a framework for nurses, and is
philosophically congruent with Fasick’s optimism, Rogers’s positive self-regard,
Vandegrift’s ethic of care, and contemporary global approaches to education and library
promotion. Jean Watson’s caring science theory is congruent with the traditional role of
librarians, predominantly women, drawn to a traditional role. Her theory states:
10 Dervin, Brenda and others. The Development of Strategies for Dealing with the Information Needs of
Urban Residents. Final Report. ED125640. Washington, D.C.
11 Vandergrift, Kay. Journey or Destination: Female Voices in Youth Literature.
http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~kvander/books/KAYMOS.pdf. Accessed 12/6/2007.
12Watson, Jean. Dr. Jean Watson’s Theory of Human Caring. University of Colorado Health Sciences
Center. www2.uchsc.edu/son/caring/content. Accessed 26/9/2007.
Caring science encompasses a humanitarian, human science orientation to human
caring processes, phenomena and experiences. Caring science includes arts and
humanities as well as science. A caring science perspective is grounded in a
relational ontology of being-in-relation, and a world view of unity and
connectedness of All. Transpersonal Caring acknowledges unity of life and
connections that move in concentric circles of caring - from individual, to others,
to community, to world, to Planet Earth, to the universe. Caring science
investigations embrace inquiries that are reflective, subjective and interpretative
as well as objective-empirical and Caring science inquiry includes ontological,
philosophical, ethical, historical inquiry and studies. In addition, caring science
includes multiple epistemological approaches to inquiry including clinical and
empirical, but is open to moving into new areas of inquiry that explore other ways
of knowing, for example, aesthetic, poetic, narrative, personal, intuitive,
kinesthetic, evolving consciousness, intentionality, metaphysical - spiritual, as
well as moral-ethical knowing.
Because this theory gives librarians so many epistemological ways to look at the people
they serve, the questions they ask, and the way information is used, the librarian can
easily internalize the role of servant-leader.
James Heaphey13 explores this idea in an article entitled Servant-leadership in Public
Libraries. Servant-leaders possess the ability to listen, be empathetic and compassionate,
encourage growth in people, have foresight and focus on community. He states that
servant-leaders must be able to assume duties carried out by those in more subordinate
positions rather than maintain rigid hierarchies. Clearly, what makes a good librarian is a
13 Heaphey, James. Servant-leadership in public libraries. Indiana Libraries 25(3), 2006
servant-leader, propelled by human caring as well as knowledge of resources; therefore,
the context of interaction with individuals in the community is essentially qualitative.
More quantitative, systems based approaches were used in the past because LIS research
concentrated on systems rather than individuals using those systems. Management style
in public libraries tends to be traditionally hierarchical and chain of command or systems
based. Although qualitative research in LIS literature has gained strength in the last
twenty years with a focus on investigating user needs and user-seeking behavior,
Waseem Afzal14 writes: “at the same time, a lack of research to explore the importance of
context in the development of those needs is prevalent.” (p. 22). Afzal suggests
exploring context to build LIS theory and address multidimensional ways of interaction
because “the nature of research problems that have been declared to be worthy of
exploration have contributed to this lack of theory building” (p. 23). The profession of
librarianship shares much in common with teaching, counseling, and nursing. The links
between these professions are clearly worthy of exploration because all have grounding
In order to determine how adaptive we can be to face problems and opportunities
associated with theory building in library and information science, we must consider
service friendly librarians as powerful designers of the information and research
landscape of tomorrow. Librarians are experts in the context of the information milieu.
14Afzal, Waseem. An Argument for the Increased Use of Qualitative Research in LIS. Emporia State
Research Studies, vol. 43, p. 22-25 (2006).
The milieu may be subjectivist, but in the end, it is more participatory and therefore
coherent. We can speculate as Joanne Passet15 did that because early women librarians
accepted modest salaries and less-than-satisfactory working conditions to gain
experience, be near their families or to ‘minimize health limitations’. Ironically,
dependent relationships with female library educators and directors, caring as they were,
tended to have a deprofessionalization effect. Speaking of the time period of 1887-1912,
Passet writes: “In the final analysis, the library educators succeeded admirably in placing
their students, but, like female pioneers in other feminized fields, failed to empower their
progeny or the profession.” (p. 228). This was in the past, however, and the future holds
much more promise. Today librarians are more conscious of the past, their own thought
world and the complexity of what they do.
15Passet, Joanne. Entering the Professions: Women Library Educators and the Placement of Female
Students, 1887-1912. History of Education Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 2 Summer 1991, pp. 207-228.