The role of reflection in the library and information sector: a systematic review


  • Maria J Grant

    1. Salford Centre for Nursing, Midwifery and Collaborative Research, Institute for Health and Social Care Research, University of Salford, Greater Manchester, UK
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Correspondence: Maria J. Grant, Salford Centre for Nursing, Midwifery and Collaborative Research, Institute for Health and Social Care Research, University of Salford, Allerton Building, Salford, Greater Manchester, M6 6PU, UK. E-mail:


Objectives: To systematically review published literature on the role of reflection in the library and information science sector. To identify examples of good practice and to investigate the reported contribution, if any, of reflection by library and information workers as part of their professional practice.

Methods: Free text searches (reflective or reflection* or reflexion*) were conducted for English language papers on the Library and Information Science Abstracts (lisa) bibliographic database in two phases; in March 2004 for literature dating from 1969 to 2003 and between 2004 and 2006 in January 2006. Thirteen papers met the inclusion criteria and were coded and analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Two categories of reflection exist: analytical and non-analytical. These focus on events in the recent and distant past. Non-analytical reflective accounts generally adopt a retrospective tone in reporting on multiple events over a number of decades. In contrast, analytical accounts of reflection focused on single events and attempt to understand the relationship between past experiences and how this might impact on future practice.

Conclusion: From the examples of reflective practice identified, greatest personal and professional benefit is reported when time is given to considering the implications of past events on future practice, that is, analytical reflection.


In 1983, Schon1 wrote an eloquent account of how the daily activities of professionals’ draw on their tacit recognition and judgement of practice. According to Schon, this application of knowledge involves a reflection on ‘patterns of actions, on the situations in which (we) are performing, and ... the know-how implicit in (our) performance’. Schon proposes two types of reflection, those of ‘reflection in action’ and ‘reflection on action’ (see Table 1). As both terms suggest, rather than being a passive endeavour, Schon proposes that reflection provides an active and structured way of thinking and of facilitating professional development.

Table 1.  An example of ‘reflection in action’ and ‘reflection on action’
Reflection in action
An example of ‘reflection in action’ might occur during a training session when you become aware, and act upon, the need to rearrange the layout of the room so that all participants can watch a demonstration
Reflection on action
An example of ‘reflection on action’ might occur after a team meeting, when you consider how you responded to a particular comment or criticism, how this made you feel, what you have learnt from that experience, and how you might respond in the future

Since this landmark publication and subsequent incarnations as applied to specific settings and professional groupings, for example, education,2–4 management3,4 and advice on how to be reflective,5 the concept of ‘the reflective practitioner’1,6 has become an integral part, and widely adopted technique, of many professions; most noticeably in teaching and health science education and practice.

There are numerous definitions of reflection and reflective practice, and it is noted that authors have often felt the need to qualify their definitions depending on context. At its most general level, the Oxford English Dictionary7 defines reflection as: ‘The action of turning (back) or fixing the thoughts on some subject; meditation, deep or serious consideration’.

Within the nursing and midwifery sector, reflective practice is a mandatory competency8–11 for students and qualified practitioners who are variously required to ‘identify one's own professional development needs by engaging in activities such as reflection in, and on, practice’8 p.34 and to reflect on their ‘own practice and (make) the necessary changes’9 p.46.

Given this regulatory underpinning of reflective practices as set in place by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)—an organization established by the UK government in 2002 to replace the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (ENB), and which, in addition to maintaining a register of all nursing, midwives and specialist community public health nurses eligible to practice within the UK, sets standards for their education, training and conduct—it seems reasonable to anticipate a general acceptance and appreciation of the value of reflection practice. This acceptance manifesting itself not only in portfolio development to demonstrate professional competence, but extending to the wider and systematic adoption of reflection during general professional practice. It is therefore interesting to note the findings of a grounded theory study on nurses’ perceptions of the value of reflection.12

The study involved two focus group interviews with 12 experienced nurses completing the ENB 870 ‘Understanding and Appreciation of Research’ year-long course. During the interviews, Jasper12 explored how nurses were using reflection to develop writing techniques to both facilitate and support their development in practice. Coding revealed four categories of reflective writing: (i) the skills of reflective writing; (ii) developing analytical and critical thinking; (iii) developing self through reflective writing; and (iv) writing as learning. Within these categories, Jasper notes that ‘whilst the nurses all subscribed to the view that reflective practice is what nurses do automatically ... this is on an extremely superficial level and there is benefit to be gained from learning structured reflective skills and techniques’.12 p.458 She also reports that nurses ‘found the process of reflective writing difficult initially, suggesting that, whilst reflection occurs spontaneously, written reflection is not a natural process, but has to be learnt and practised’.12 p.459

Discussions at recent evidence based librarianship events13,14 have alluded to the role of reflection in professional practice in the library and information science (LIS) sector. However, these references were often made ‘in passing’, assumed to be commonplace, and implied to have a positive impact. This presumption has been further supported in the publication of ‘Evidence Based Practice for Library and Information Professionals’, in which Booth15 proposes that reflection forms part of an evaluatory stage of evidence based practice; in statements articulating the need to develop reflective practitioners16,17 and, more recently, in the provision of courses by professional bodies.18

In the absence of an existing review, a decision was made to appraise what was already known about reflection as a professional activity in the library and information science community. The objectives were to (i) identify published examples of reflective practice, (ii) investigate the reported contribution, if any, of reflection by library and information workers as part of their professional practice, and (iii) consider the implications of the above for those working in the LIS health sector.


In the absence of relevant thesaurus terms, it was elected to undertake a free text search seeking to maximize recall. It was recognized that this was likely to result in the retrieval of a large number of irrelevant references, but anticipated that the majority of irrelevant references could be identified and excluded during an initial review of title and abstracts.

Free text searches (reflective or reflection* or reflexion*) were conducted for English language papers on the Library and Information Science Abstracts (lisa) bibliographic database in two phases.

The first phase of searching was undertaken in March 2004 for literature dating from 1969 to 2003, with update searches conducted in January 2006 for literature published between 2004 and 2006.

A total of 929 references were retrieved. Abstracts, where available, were read and efforts made to obtain the full text of those that appeared to be relevant or where closer inspection was required. Following citation tracking, 13 documents (see Fig. 1) were identified as meeting the review inclusion criteria (see Table 2).

Figure 1.

Flow chart of articles

Table 2.  Inclusion and exclusion criteria
Pertaining to reflection, in or on practice, by the library and information sector workersPertaining to the facilitation of reflection, in or on practice, by the library and information sector workers in others
Documents published between 1969 and 2006Non-English language publications (no translation services available)
Peer- and non-peer- reviewed publications 

The author coded and analysed the papers meeting the review inclusion criteria (see Table 2) using thematic analysis.

An examination was also made of patterns of publication over time, by type of publication, country of origin, and the sector in which the reflective account took place.


Thematic analysis revealed a clear division between analytical and non-analytical reflective accounts focusing on events in the recent and distant past (see Fig. 2).

Figure 2.

Matrix of reflective activity

Non-analytical reflective accounts of events in the distant past have been published from both an individual (n = 3)19–21 and an organizational perspective (n = 2).22,23 The majority of these accounts adopt a retrospective tone in reporting on multiple events over a number of decades.19,20,22,23 Those non-analytical accounts of recent events reflect on single events relating to an individual (n = 2).24,25 These accounts highlight areas of difficulty or experiences which the authors believed they had benefited from. As with all non-analytical examples of reflective practice, they are largely descriptive in content, without any critical reasoning or consideration of the implications of events or experiences.

Analytical accounts of reflection (n = 6)26–31 differ from non-analytical reflective accounts in attempting to understand the relationship between past experience and future practice. Unlike non-analytical accounts of reflection, all examples of analytical reflection identified relate to recent events. Analytical reflective accounts represent a systematic approach to revisiting experiences or situations, questioning motivations, attempting to pinpoint the reason why they experienced a situation in a particular way, and contemplating how this might impact on future practice.

The results section has been structured accordingly.

Non-analytical accounts of reflection on the distant past

At an organizational level, Fulford22 looked back at the automation of the British Library. Acknowledging the changing climate in which libraries were increasingly viewed as ‘an informal international network’,22 p.14 Fulford discusses the financial and technical difficulties associated with ‘retrospective data capture’ in facilitating library automation. For example, ‘I cannot think of any other area of activity where ... the weight of pre-existing data is so large and constitutes a major obstacle to exploiting automation ...’.22 p.14 Starting in 1973, Fulford charts the developments of the library catalogue and speculated on the wider potential of automation on library co-operation in ‘opening up of interlibrary communication’.22 p.16

A more parochial tenor is adopted in an account provided by Kingsley23 of the environment and activities, and of the decisions made within the Country Archive of Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) in the period prior to the implementation of the UK Freedom of Information (FoI) Act. Commencing the account of each year (2000–2005) with a bullet pointed list of key documents and events that took place in that year, Kingsley briefly discusses how the archive service responded to these events. For example, in 2001 a joint report to the Corporate Management Team written by the Head of IT and himself as County Archivist (CA) proposing that the CA lead on both Data Protection (DP) and FoI matters. Kingsley notes that he ‘squeezed out the money to ... upgrade a clerical post to a professional post ... to give us the capacity to address the new agenda’.23 p.112 Throughout the article, Kingsley indicates that it was ‘very much the GCC way to “wing it” ... (and) not to undertake the “grand project”’.23 p.112 Acknowledging that they ‘mostly got away with it’,23 p.112 he concludes that ‘with hindsight, we might have done (things) differently’,23 p.121 although he doesn't allude to what.

The first example of individual reflection in the library and information sector was published in 1978. Lusty19 gave a presentation, later to be written up as part of the proceedings of a Library Association seminar, in which he reviews his 45-year career in publishing. In an anecdotal style, Lusty presents a picture of the social and economic context in which the relationship between the publisher—be it of printed or electronic media—and the public library sector had evolved. Much like the account given by Gaymon20 3 years later, Lusty's account is highly personal in content, with recollections of working relationships with the early book traders of Boots, The Times Book Club, W H Smith and Harrods.

A similarly extensive time frame (32 years) is covered by Gaymon's reminiscences of his career as a ‘Black librarian’ in ‘Black Academic Institutions’.20 A recurring theme in Gaymon's paper is the need for Black librarians to be ‘twice as good’,20 p.41 although, with the exception of the acknowledging of limited resources, there is scant evidence to support much of Gaymon's claims. Once again a progression is made through the decades, presenting the social context alongside his career progression. For example, ‘The mid sixties was turbulent ... (t)he students were militant, so was the faculty. Students were demanding more resources and longer library hours’.20 p.39

A defining feature of these retrospective accounts is that the reflection occurred, not at the time of the event/s reported nor shortly after, but, with the possible exception of Kingsley, at a future point in time. It is perhaps as a consequence of this lapse in time that the accounts lack any critical or evaluatory analysis of the event/s. A reflective account published by Line16 in 2005 contrasts with this.

Acknowledging his own ‘irreverent’ approach, Line21 provides numerous examples of learning as a result of reflection. Whilst employed within a University library setting which adopted a mechanistic role driven approach to working, Line ‘started to think’21 p.157 about alternative ways of organizing services. Whilst still employed at the University, Line's perceptions of different ways of working were reinforced when he experienced diverse management styles, including an empowering management style; a style which Line reports as having facilitated greater personal automony and higher levels of motivation within the staff. Line reflects that this ‘made me realise’21 p.157 more fully the multi-faceted role of a manager to ‘engage, trust and coordinate staff’.21 p.157 Line concludes by reflecting that he ‘did not of course stop learning or trying to apply what I had learnt’,21 p.158 although, perhaps because of the writing style, it is unclear whether this learning consciously took place at the time or was only recognized much later.

Non-analytical accounts of reflection on the recent past

In a case study of a management course, Rehahn24 considered its contribution to her role as a senior manager within a college. Rehahn undertook the course because she ‘wanted to examine some of the increasingly complex issues of management within the education environment’.24 p.29 Rehahn describes how assignments were completed in relation to her workplace and encouraged her to consider her ‘college as a whole entirety rather than concentrating solely on the role of the library service within it’.24 p.29 Rehahn states that this knowledge enabled her ‘to appreciate the problems facing my colleagues ... at the college senior management team's meetings’.24 p.29 As with subsequent admissions that she found that ‘aspects of the research process proved to be tough’24 p.29 and that ‘subsequent analysis of data proved initially very difficult’,24 p.29 Rehahn does not provide an elaboration as to why this may have been the case, how she applied her new knowledge nor how she overcame such difficulties.

In 2000, Jone-Quartey25 outlined his experiences as a mentee on the US Special Libraries Association Diversity Leadership Program. Jones-Quartey notes that his mentor had made him ‘feel worthy and proud’ of his achievements by translating his ‘activities into important skill sets relevant to potential association leadership positions’.

Analytical accounts of reflection

In a case study recounting their experiences of creating a developmental teaching portfolio, Lally and Trejo26 describe how they used the portfolio format to assist them in assessing their ‘own performance and identify areas for improvement’.26 p.776 The portfolio was a collection of ‘unique, personalized (documents) for growth and reflection’26 p.776 including, amongst other documents, a curriculum vitae, an outline of their teaching philosophy and a statement of their teaching responsibilities. In preparing this latter document Lally and Trejo report that they ‘began to assess and reflect upon our teaching strengths and weaknesses’.26 p.777 They indicate that this reflection focused on lessons learned from past successes as well as past mistakes, in addition to what changes they would make when asked to teach in the future. For example, in preparing and focusing on their teaching they learnt to communicate more effectively with faculty members in order to structure classes to appropriately meet the needs of a particular group of students. They conclude by indicating that, in using the portfolio to aid reflection, they ‘were able to develop a more holistic approach to the continuous improvement of teaching’.26 p.778

A change in perspective is a recurring theme in analytical accounts of reflection. As part of the training-the-trainer component of UK Society of Chief Librarians ‘Branching Out’ initiative on reader development, participants were asked how equipped they considered themselves as a result of the training they had received.27 They reflected that they now felt ‘confident the approach we had developed ... was within my ability to deliver successfully’,27 p.70 that they had ‘a better understanding of how to identify training needs and set objectives’27 p.71 and that it had ‘really helped to focus the mind’.27 p.70

In 2001, Long28 reflected on her year as President of the American Library Association (ALA). In comparing the way in which she works following her tenure with that of the years preceding her Presidency, Long acknowledged several unexpected areas of self-discovery. For example, she realized that she had previously been reticent in speaking out on issues of interest to her but, through her role as ALA President had developed a ‘capacity to be a public spokesperson’.28 p.12 In questioning her motivations, Long recognizes that she ‘could have done all this anyway’28 p.12 and asserted an intention to ‘continue to speak out for libraries’28 p.12 after the end of her tenure.

Responding to a 2002 paper by Cox32 suggesting Librarians should ‘become a part of a (Blackboard enabled) course’ Giles29 attended a Blackboard training programme and, through colleagues met during the programme, subsequently joined a team providing a history course at the Dominican University, Illinois. Giles reflects on numerous learning events, including situations which countered her preconceived expectations. For example, having facilitated a traditional session on library instruction, she would normally have only encountered students on a single occasion. However, as part of the Blackboard course team she found that she ‘felt comfortable becoming proactive’29 p.262 in initiating interactions with students. In some instances, this led to ‘threaded’ discussions on a message board, on other occasions to the identification of additional student training needs; for example, in using the library online catalogue effectively. Giles also reasons that her knowledge base in the subject area had expanded as a result of her exposure to posting by other members of the Blackboard team.

Two similarly insightful examples were published in 2005.30,31 Sands,30 a recent library and information science (LIS) graduate, was reflecting on a week-long course at the Pacific North-West Library Association (PNLA) Leadership Institute. During the course, Sands recognized that she ‘felt very frustrated’30 p.14 about her employer's negative attitudes to paraprofessionals. By being introduced to techniques to change her own patterns of thinking, she changed her own attitude to her workplace as it ‘became clear’30 p.14 to her that, even although she was employed as a paraprofessional, having recently qualified, she could legitimately refer to herself as a Librarian. Sands reflects that the course ‘led (her) to consider (her) direction ... professionally’30 p.15 and that, during a session on providing feedback, she came to recognize that she had previously ‘water(ed) things down for people so as not to seem too harsh or hurt someone's feelings’.30 p.15 As a result of this realization, Sands reflects that this could lead to the feedback not being taken seriously because her message is not ‘strong enough’.30 p.15

McDonald31 illustrates how she uses questions to shape her future activity in achieving her goal of securing tenure at the University of Memphis. For example, ‘What is the mixture of (librarianship, scholarship and service) activities that will fulfil the requirements (of tenure)? How much is needed in each area?’31 p.42 McDonald expresses concern at over committing her time to local committees, and how she had responded to it, that is, preferring to ‘actively participate in a few opportunities rather than be spread too thinly’,31 p.42 whilst reflecting that she is ‘still discovering what works for me during this process’.31 p.42

The 1970s and 1980s represent a period of non-analytical reflection of multiple events from an historical perspective. In more recent times, a small but significant shift is recognizable towards reflection of single events closer to the occurrence of the subject of the reflection.

Patterns of publication

The 13 papers included in this review were published in 11 unique publications; some in newsletters and others in peer-reviewed periodicals (see Table 3).

Table 3.  Patterns of publication
AuthorYear of publicationSource of publicationCountry of originPeer or non- peer reviewedType of reflectionIndividual or organizational reflectionSectorReflection ‘in’ or ‘on’ practice
Lusty191978South-Western Branch, Library Association (now CILIP)UKNon-peer reviewedNon-analytical: distant pastIndividualPublishingOn
Gaymon201981Journal of Educational Media Science (now Journal of Educational Media and Library Science)ChinaPeer reviewedNon-analytical: distant pastIndividualAcademic: acquisitionsOn
Fulford221986LIBER Bulletin (now Liber Quarterly: The Journal of European Research Libraries) ISSN: 1435–5205The NetherlandsPeer reviewedNon-analytical: distant pastOrganizationalPublic sector: nationalOn
Rehahn241990Library Management ISSN 0143–5124AustralianPeer reviewedNon-analytical: recent pastIndividualAcademic: designOn
Lally and Trejo261998College and Research Libraries NewsUSA (American Library Association)Peer reviewedAnalytical: recent pastIndividualAcademic: arts and humanities; social sciencesOn
Jones- Quartey252000Information OutlookUS (Special Library Association)Non-peer reviewedNon-analytical: recent pastIndividualPrivate sectorOn
Train and Elkin272001Journal of Librarianship and Information Science ISSN: 1741–6477UKPeer reviewedAnalytical: recent pastOrganizationalAcademic: reader services/ public sector: localIn/On
Long282001New Library World ISSN: 0307–4803USAPeer reviewedAnalytical: recent pastIndividualConsortium/professional associationOn
Giles292004College and Research Libraries NewsUSA (American Library Association)Peer reviewedAnalytical: recent pastIndividualAcademicIn/On
Kingsley232005Information Management and TechnologyUKNon-peer reviewedNon-analytical: distant pastOrganizationalLocal governmentOn
Line212005Library Management ISSN 0143–5124AustralianPeer reviewed (although this one is a viewpoint)Non-analytical: distant pastIndividualAcademic/public sector: nationalIn/On
Sands302005PNLA Quarterly ISSN 0030–8188USANon-peer reviewedAnalytical: recent pastIndividualAcademicOn
McDonald312005Serials Review ISSN 0098–7913USAPeer reviewedAnalytical: recent pastIndividualAcademic: cataloguingOn

Reflective accounts were published around the globe, including the USA (n = 6), the UK (n = 3), Australia (n = 2), China (n = 1) and the Netherlands (n = 1).

Those reflective accounts (n = 4), which appeared in non-peer review publications, were written in both the USA (n = 2) and UK (n = 2) and, with the exception of a paper produced in 1978, were published since 2000 (one in 2000, two in 2005).

Those reflective accounts (n = 9), which appeared in peer-review publications, had a more diverse heritage heralding from Australia (n = 2), China (n = 1), the Netherlands (n = 1), the UK (n = 1) and the USA (n = 4). Two were published in the 1980s (1981 and 1986), two in the 1990s (1990 and 1998) and five since 2001 (two in 2001, one in 2004 and two in 2005).

With the exception of two articles,21,27 reflective accounts focused on a single employment sector, the majority of which were in academia (n = 7). Other employment sectors reflected upon included local government (n = 1), commerce (n = 1), professional associations (n = 1), the public sector at both a national (n = 1) and local level (n = 1) and publishing (n = 1).

The majority of reflective accounts (n = 8; 62%) were published since 2000 (see Fig. 3).

Figure 3.

Patterns of publication by type and frequency of reflection


This review has identified 13 accounts of reflective practice by those employed in the library and information sector published between 1978 and 2005.

The first examples of reflective practice, published around the time of the first edition of Schon's1 work on reflective practices, tend towards reminiscences, were largely explanatory in nature, with individuals looking back at their career, often in a nostalgic way. They formed part of a wider body of non-analytical accounts of reflection which were presented in a descriptive, account-giving tone with little or no analysis of events presented and limited evidence of self-awareness.

The emergence of evidence based medicine in the early and mid-1990s, and its need to appropriately identify and apply evidence according to context,33 initially extended LIS professionals’ supportive role in enabling others to draw on research and theoretical models of practice.34 It also had the effect of leading LIS professionals to consider the application of these techniques to their own practice, from which emerged the concepts of evidence based information practice35 and evidence based librarianship.36 These factors appear to positively correlate with the publication of reflective accounts and, in particular, analytical accounts of reflection which began to appear in greater numbers.

Although not necessarily of direct influence in encouraging the publication of reflective accounts by LIS professionals, the publication of Moon's guide on writing reflectively in 1999,5 signalled a wider acceptance of the potential value of reflective practice and coincides with an increased number of analytical reflective accounts in the library and information sector. These analytical LIS accounts of reflection began reporting changes in perspective that would shape the writers future practice.

Examples of LIS reflection are predominantly, although not exclusively, examples of reflection on practice. That less than a quarter (n = 3) of published reflective accounts referred to examples of ‘reflection in action’ is perhaps unsurprising. This type of reflection, by its very nature, occurs at a specific point in time, for example, during a meeting/training event, etc., and so is unlikely to have been recorded unless an individual has later reflected upon it; in which case it naturally becomes ‘reflection on action’.

In considering reflective practice, texts have been published on the models and frameworks available to librarians in facilitating reflective activity in others,37–39 although guidance on reflective practice for the LIS professions has been slower to manifest itself.40,41 Moon5 suggests that ‘reflection does not necessarily just happen, but that conditions can be structured to encourage it to happen’,5 p.166 whilst acknowledging that ‘there is no one behaviour or one consistent set of behaviour that is reflective practice’.5 p.65 Notwithstanding, in relation to nursing, Lauder42 has suggested that reflection is ‘the Holy Grail’42 p.92 which can rescue nursing practice from ritualistic behaviour. This statement might equally be applied to that of LIS practice. In 2004, Booth15 adapted Sackett's five stages of evidence-based practice when proposing an evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP) framework for LIS professionals in which they might:

  • • define the problem;
  • • find evidence;
  • • appraise evidence;
  • • apply results of appraisal;
  • • evaluate change;
  • • redefine the problem.

Booth15 proposes that reflection can form part of the evaluation of change at both an organizational and individual level. Likewise, truly analytical reflection, in which past practice informs future behaviour fits the model of problem redefinition represented in the sixth and final stage of the EBLIP framework. In seeking to redefine a problem, an individual might contemplate a range of options before taking up an idea, making a decision or reaching a conclusion. Through this process, it is possible for a greater level of personal and professional insight to be achieved, the way in which individuals work may change in response to this insight, and have to potential to result in a paradigm shift in both thought and process.

The limited number of published reflective accounts may suggest limited reflective activity within the profession, although other possible explanations also exist. For example, that reflection is a private activity which naturally goes unpublished, or that journal or newsletter based publication is not the only mode of publication now in usage.

The appearance of Web 2.0 applications such as blogs provides an accessible and alternative means of online publication. Although they may have multiple authors or bloggers, most have a single author who adds content and retains overall control of the blog's development and the categories or topic under discussion. Blogs tend to be frequently updated and published chronologically, with the most recent postings appearing first. A common and defining feature of blogs is the ability for others to comment on postings and develop discussion threads. However, used within this social context, blogs generally provide a commentary on issues of the day43,44 and repository for collective discussion around these issues rather than a forum for individual reflection to facilitate personal or professional development. An alternative use of blog technology is its use as a personal digital reflective diary, published in virtual void, without the means of others to find the blog. Much like its paper based contemporary, by virtue of the digital diaries inaccessibility and invisibility, it provides a private forum for reflection and learning.

The potential impact of publicly reflecting on events may also be a factor in a willingness to publish. Line21 reported that ‘I will not go into these years (in my current post), partly because they are too close to the present’.21 p.158 Although not made explicit, this mind set appears to be the case for all of the reflective accounts identified, with authors either reflecting on past appointments or on completed and discrete projects or training courses undertaken within their current post.

Given their proximity to evidence based medicine, and their leading role in the early days of the development of evidence based librarianship, it is surprising that health librarians do not appear to have been similarly avant garde in embracing reflective practice. Of the 13 published accounts identified in this review, none is based within the health sector. Library and information professionals in other sectors appear to be early adopters of reflective practice and from 1998 a small but insightful set of LIS professional based exemplars have been published. The generic nature of the topics considered, for example, collections development, user education and issues related to staff and service management, provide transferable examples which those in the health sector will both be able to relate to and learn from. The reflective accounts demonstrate how analytical reflection, particularly of recent events, can positively influence an individual's future attitudes, behaviour and professional practice. At this juncture, it is worthy to note that no studies were identified which investigated what measurable impact reflective practice has on service provision.

The dispersed nature of the reflective accounts identified in this review are both a cause of celebration and concern. A celebration because it demonstrates the global interest within the library and information sector in using reflection as a means of continued professional development. The broad publication base also expands the chances of those new to the concept of reflection encountering it and evaluating its potential contribution to their own development. However, the dispersed nature of publications could make it difficult for others to identify examples of good practice from which to learn. Other professions, for example, the education sector, have designated journals such as Reflective Practice (Taylor and Francis—ISSN 1462–3943) in which to publish ‘original, challenging and stimulating work which explores reflection within and on practice’. The introduction of a similar gathering point of LIS reflection can only be a matter of time, given the significant increase in the number of analytical reflective accounts published since 2000. With only 3 years of this decade remaining, this trend seems destined to continue.

Internationally, professional associations are increasingly recognizing the importance of reflection as part of professional practice. In addition to its implicit inclusion within continued professional development frameworks, this has manifest itself more explicitly in a number of guises. For example, the Australian Library and Information Association16 has issued statements of the need for the development of reflective practitioners as part of wider professional development; in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) has provided courses on reflective practice.18 Whilst in office the CILIP President expounded the need to recognize ourselves as professionals who would benefit from reflective practice,17 and has recently drawn on her own personal experiences to reflect on professionalism and evidence-based practice.45


The past 25 years has seen a gradual yet consistent shift from reminiscence and retrospective accounts of careers and organizational development lacking insight into how experiences changed, influenced or informed future practice, through to analytical accounts of reflection both ‘on’ and ‘in’ practice.

It could be reasoned that reflection can improve professional practice by facilitating understanding through self discovery, and for this understanding to enable individuals to manage and bring about change more effectively. However, it is currently unknown what measurable affect reflection has on future activity. Knowing how to reflect in a structured way can be difficult and there is limited published evidence to suggest either that library and information professionals regularly and actively reflect on their professional practice. Whilst this could be indicative of a lack of activity, in which case an awareness of its potential contribution may be needed, it might also be suggestive of reflection as a private activity that naturally goes unpublished. Nevertheless, where analytical reflection on practice is undertaken, individuals view it as a process through which learning can be achieved, and personal and professional knowledge can be acquired.

Parallels may be drawn with the nursing sector in that, whilst the LIS community might anecdotally subscribe to the view that they automatically reflect on events, in reality this is likely to occur on a superficial level. Reflection on practice can be a process through which individual learning can be achieved, and personal and professional knowledge can be acquired, but for meaningful reflection to occur the skill of reflective writing needs to be developed, be it for individual contemplation, for example, diaries, journals or portfolios or for wider public consumption. Other professions have dedicated journals publishing examples of reflection and this seem likely to be an area that will evolve for LIS professionals over time.

At the inception of this review, the author had restricted access to a single LIS bibliographic database (lisa—Library and Information Science Abstracts). Searches further afield, for example, LISTA, scanning of conference proceedings, and hand searching of selected journals, e.g. Evidence based Library and Information Practice, may have elicited further examples of reflective practice. However, despite these limitations, it is believed that the general trend towards publication of reflective accounts of practice is now apparent, and will encourage other to engage in this potentially valuable continued professional development activity.

Further research is recommended to investigating the, as yet, unknown proportion of the profession which engages in some form of reflection; how reflective activity has changed or influenced current or future practice; and whether reflection leads to measurable service improvements?


Thanks go to Richard Stephens, University of Keele and the members of the University of Salford Learning and Teaching Research Network writers’ group for their constructive and helpful comments on previous incarnations of this article.

Key Messages

Implications for Policy

  • • Guidance is required from professional bodies on how to use reflection effectively in facilitating continued professional development.
  • • Guidance is required from professional bodies on when to use reflection effectively in facilitating continued professional development.
  • • There is a need for a dedicated forum within the library and information sector to act as a gathering point for the publication of reflective accounts.

Implications for Practice

  • • A coherent set of exemplars’ of good reflective practice have now been identified from which the LIS sector can learn.
  • • The exemplars’ of reflective practice demonstrate how active reflection can lead to positive changes in attitude and future behaviour.
  • • The exemplars’ highlight that most insight can be gained from engaging in active reflection of recent events.