Professional Prize Proliferation

Ever think there are just way too many prizes and awards being handed out in the library profession. From the top of the heap (I see Library Journal just named its “Librarian of the Year“) to, well, just name it – there’s an award for just about everything in this profession (ILL, serials, book reviewing…) created by just about every association at every level – there are just so many awards and prizes being dealt out to academic and other librarians that the value of awards in an age of prize proliferation is being brought into question.

Prompting my thinking about prize proliferation is the recent discovery of the work of James English, a University of Pennsylvania English professor who speaks with some authority on the subject. His new book, The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value argues that we have become a culture saturated with prizes and awards. There are over 9,000 annual awards in the film industry alone. The library profession certainly has fewer, but it does seems that every time one picks up a professional journal there are more than just a few award announcements.

While English points out a number of flaws in a world of award excess, he insists they do have some value. In a profession such as ours, that receives little recognition from the world at large, the proliferation of prizes may help us to acknowledge that we make an important contribution – one worthy of awards. Are there too many? Should we insist on the elimination of many librarian awards so that the remaining few would be quite significant and leave no doubt as to their value and meaning? I guess we might all agree with what English has to say about that matter. “There aren’t too many prizes until I’ve won more of them.”

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