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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Library or Information Science?

Lately, one of the more interesting and lengthy discussions on the JESSE listserv (for L&IS education discussion forum) has been the tension between information science and library science, and whether the 'shift' to information science is happening in theory, but not for practitioners. There have been a number of thoughtful posts on the subject, and (chatty librarian with big, fat opinions that I am), I decided to put my two cents in. One of the more recent postings asked whether, indeed, librarianship is distinctive from information management, and if so, if librarians actually had knowledge and skills that were sufficiently up to date and advanced. As a practitioner of librarianship (and as someone who turned down a job in information management because of the severe - and to me, horrifying - differences), I stand firmly by the belief that there are sharp contrasts between the two, and that both are necessary...but this doesn't mean they are the same thing, nor should they be. My recent post in its entirety below, because I'd love to know what some other folks think about it:



Librarianship does indeed "embrace knowledge and skills that are sufficiently advanced, up to date, and distinctive from those of information managers", and I think this is important for librarians of all types to remember.



PERL and MySQL are completely unnecessary for what I do, but I am conversant in (by creating or using on a regular basis) podcasting, course management software manipulation for distance learning classes (as both a teacher and a student) videocasting, wikis, blogs, RSS and various other 2.0 technologies. Thank goodness I didn't 'waste' one of my very few available electives on learning something I'd not be able to use to my students' advantage!



As a reference and instruction librarian recently out of school (MLS - 2006), there is a great deal of information management architecture I decided to forego in order to fit in classes on instructional systems design, instructional services, and specialty reference classes (government documents, humanities info, social sciences info, medical informatics, science & technology reference), aside from all of the required core courses. Just because we could know it doesn't mean we should if it's completely unnecessary for the services I provide and the future of those services. So while I'm interested in learning XML and building nifty web pages, my IT librarians are the ones with MySQL and various other database experience - I know how to use STATA, SAS and Access, and that's more than what I need to know.



I would seriously lament a trend in MLS education that did away with specialty reference in order to teach us behind-the-scenes technologies that a lot of practicing librarians don't - and won't - use. (I've already seen a sorry number of MLS grads who know everything about the techie side and not how to use an index or know where to turn for a research question about fine arts.) While I will learn how our forthcoming metasearch works, I will NOT be the one to go digging through the servers and code if something goes wrong, ditto for when Virtua takes a dive and doesn't work. This is not because I'm uninterested in learning - it's because I have so much on my plate and am such a professional development junkie that what I do learn I want to be sure is useful.



No MLS program is going to be able to get it ALL in - this is why we as students end up tracking ourselves - some of us become catalogers, some of us go into reference and instruction, and some of us will be the IT behind-the-scenes info architects. Unless you're going to extend MLS programs by at least another year (which the salaries really don't justify, much as we all love our jobs), we'll just have to do a better job of advising our students which areas to go into.



Information science is a natural outgrowth of library science, and the two are most definitely related. What we may want to concede is that perhaps being an information scientist and being a librarian are *not* the same thing, or they are two separate areas in the same profession - enmeshed, but each having its own character. Perhaps too, we should consider that the MIS and the MLS mean two different things and imply two different kinds of training.



In any case, no librarian is going to be able to get away with not learning new technologies, as evidenced by more and more Library 2.0 learning communities springing up, and Learning 2.0 initiatives being put in place as internal training tools in more libraries."



So, that's my thoughts on the matter. The importance of this debate? It makes it even more crucial that MLS/MIS students know what they're getting into, and how important their elective coursework choices become.

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