Mana, Manna, Manner: Power & the Practice of Librarianship

by Elizabeth Lieutenant

Cram, J. (1999) Mana, manna, manner: Power & the practice of librarianship. Progressive Librarian, 16, 1-25.

Cram crafts a narrative tale of the influence and application of power and it role in professional librarian practice. Cram proposes that the lack of power in librarianship is rooted in various methods of self-defeating heuristics that influence professional thought and practice, including negative perceptions of and by librarians, internal and external competition, and implicit bias within the profession and its social environments. Cram advocates for the eradication of fear and professional empowerment through distributed organizational hierarchies, recruitment of allies, collective intra- and extra-organizational action, and harnessing the power in the moral purpose of librarianship: facilitating access to knowledge in contribution to social progress and improvement.

I loved this article. All its little nuggets of wisdom on power dynamics, grappling with problems, overcoming fear, organizational change, constructing common vision, distributed authority, actualizing power, connectivity, professional purpose, implicit bias, systems theory, communal alliances, negotiation tactics, power analyses, heuristics, intentionality, and overpowering systems, touch on so many aspects of where my thoughts reside. Granted, Cram threads all of these interrelated elements together in a seemly haphazard way that, in all honestly, closely mirror my own attempts at presenting my internal thought processes. It’s hard to tie all these discrete elements together into a holistic framework for environmental evaluation, much less communicate them in a clear manner.

I have found that this mental framework, while incredibly valuable, is overwhelming. The genesis for all this has simmered for quite some time, coming to bear in my management course this past summer. Constantly engaging in critical analysis, strategic planning, countering opposition, and framing actions often leaves me exhausted. While it has profoundly enhanced my understanding of the environments in which I operate, our profession, and myself, it is an intellectual framework that I cannot disassemble when moving from context to context. It permeates everything I pursue. All these pursuits, whether they be intellectual, academic, professional, or personal in nature, have been worthwhile initiatives. Each has resulted in positive outcomes, large and small, some expected, some unexpected, and yet, I wonder when it stops. How does one achieve balance once conditioned to this mental framework? Of that, I’m still not sure.

Cram’s tactic for addressing problems is to engage in issues slicing; tackling problems as small, measureable issues that, while severely limited in their affect, address the root problem (pp. 2-3). This allows for targeted, effective actions in a way that Dugger’s¹ does not. And yet, I am concerned that even this approach is not enough. One can plaster cuts, stitch up scratches, and ice bruises, but if the sword wound is left unattended, the victim will still die. Can resolving issues ever truly have an impact if they leave the root problem untouched? If the root problem continues to bleed out unacknowledged? This is what worries me about our professional approach. It’s seems like we just keep falling on swords.


Question for future exploration:

  • How does one manage organizational change when those who occupy positions of power are crippled by fear and perceptions of powerlessness?
  • Cram argues that performance measures for librarians appear objective but are strongly influenced by the perceptions and values of those in power (p. 11). Would shifting the development of librarian performance measures to those who have less power (for example, support staff and patrons) more closely align these measures with communal values and professional purpose, or is this merely a less-bad example of unhealthy power relations and influence?


1. Dugger, W. M. (1980). Power: An institutional framework of analysis. Journal of Economic Issues, 14(4), 897-907.