Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Librarianship As An Academic Discipline?

Librarianship has been treated as a practice-based profession.  Programs are designed around the practical applications of "doing" library work.  Yet, in a world where there is increasing emphasis on information as a key to economic, social and political success, there may be a need to pull apart the issues that shape librarianship and examine them from an academic angle. 

There are numerous issues related to the profession of librarianship that are worthy of examination beyond a two year Master's or Diploma program.  Indeed, within those two year programs students can be titillated by the interesting problems and prospects that new technology and information use present.  However, there is little time for exploration.  Certainly, once one becomes a practitioner, there is little time to reflect on the broader aspects of the field.   It is a common complaint among busy librarians and there is great frustration in trying to make informed decisions when there is little time to discuss and reflect on long term consquences.  Greater discourse is needed and although this can occur at conferences, discussion boards, blogs, and lists, there is room for more research and debate in post secondary institutions. In turn, those forums can supply the industry with inspired, engaged and active participants that may be better positioned to move back and forth between academic study and practice.

The current situation is troubling because there is a tremendous amount of change in how people use and manage information and library workers are often the ones who observe these changes.  As a result, they have some valuable opinions, experience and advice that may enhance how the broader community adopts technology and change.  Those who work in information centres have first-hand knowledge of how publishing, emerging technologies, and user search behaviours intersect.  There is a tremendous opportunity to share this knowledge with other disciplines and communities.  As the ground shifts beneath us, it becomes clear that there is a profound interconnectedness between information and change.  There is room for information studies to more actively partake in the discussions held by the academy of higher education.

In other disciplines, there is an avenue where academic discourse can occur and develop through formally recognized academic programs.   Most professions enjoy a continuum of study that can begin at a certificate or diploma level and move through undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate programs.  Librarianship does not enjoy this direct path of observation, exploration, discussion and reflection.  There are programs that look at information management at the undergraduate level but many of these are centred around other, more specific disciplines including business and computer information systems.  While there is nothing wrong with such programs, there is another outlet of study that has not been fully addressed.  Many disciplines will look at ethics, research methods, and even internet searching but there is a large hole where examination of issues around librarianship are not well explored.  And, although many of these issues and themes affect information work, they also have an affect on many other members of society - non "library" types.  For example, course work at the undergraduate level that looks at the nuances of intellectual property is not only compelling because the laws around this are in flux but also because everyone who uses information can be affected by both the laws and conventions around it.  The information studies context looks at such topics through the lens of practice and can offer a perspective that is valuable to students of every ilk.

Charles Sturt University in Australia has one of the few examples of a Bachelor in Information Studies.  Schools like Ontario's Mohawk College go so far as to present this as a viable option for library tech graduates since the program is a part time distance program.  Although this is a respectable option for those looking for a bridge to a Master's program, there is a great deal of room for further academic review.  The Charles Sturt example continues to show a preference for the applied aspects of information work.  While this has value, there is an opportunity for expanding the field into more academic circles.  This, in turn, would spawn new interest in the qualitative and quantitative research behind the use of information, its creation, management, and uses.

The applied nature of librarianship will always be central to those working in information centres but there is also room for more academic discourse at all levels of the post secondary system.  This expansion would provide greater opportunities for discussion and research among other fields of studies to enhance our understanding of our changing world.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Prompting Some Discussion

Recently, the Atlantic Provinces Library Association posted an article that I submitted in an attempt to spurn on some discussion about our future. 

 “Wanting to be a librarian because you like books is like wanting to be a cop because you like guns” is a recent tweet from, David Lankes, Associate Professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies and Director of the Information Institute of Syracuse (2010). This simple comment evokes a number of complex realizations and affirmations. Many will agree that to perform the work expected of information professionals, a love of one media format is not a prerequisite...

The discussion continues at:  Changing the Way We Look at Ourselves  APLA Bulletin Volume 74 » Issue 2 - December 2010