Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Library and Information Science as a discipline

Some discussions have caused me to reflect on library and information science (LIS) as a discipline. In fact the issues are so many that I wonder if LIS can really be called a "discipline". Today, we have little theory as we borrow our theories and methods from other disciplines.

Further, we are having trouble categorising and labelling ourselves especially as information and communication technologies have changed and revolutionised how people acquire, seek, access and create information. There are those with different philosophies that have removed the term "library" all together, and have just focused on 'information science'.  

Another problem is that the library and information science community, apart from being divided over labels as to what to call themselves, are also divided into two camps, the scholarly community and the professional or practitioner community. For the practitioners, research must be situated in practice, as they need answers to understand how to do their work better. For the scholars, they question the nature of the work being done by practitioners in the first place.

In my view, most LIS publishers for the main part are interested in publishing for practice and may not necessarily serve the interests of scholars in disseminating their research. Of course, publishers are driven by the need to profit from publications, and must seek to publish articles that they believe their audience will want to read. For scholars and academics, the issues of professional journals are not necessarily issues that they contemplate and have an interest in researching. For when you are an academic in the ivory tower, you get a license to research anything of interest and may pursue research that questions the very nature of what is currently practiced in the field of librarianship. Much of this research may never be integrated into practice.

I heard a view expressed that LIS should no longer be a discipline, as every discipline requires the methods, practices and skills of library and information science. In every discipline, information is being generated, and needs to be organised, managed, acquired and made accessible. Who better to do it that the persons who are already situated in those communities?

This has gotten me to think that library and information science should actually be a foundation course for all disciplines. Rather than train a group of professionals and practitioners who specialise in organising, managing and facilitating the acquisition and access to information, why not train every one to do it so that they can manage their own information.

The practitioners of librarianship are complaining that nobody values their work. Perhaps, the solution is to move from actually doing the work to training persons from all disciplines to do the work. Rather than teach specific techniques, methods and systems, why not teach generic methods for information organisation. Through this process we can raise awareness of the best practices that we have discovered and show the importance of what we know and have been doing and why it is important that persons of varying disciplines realise this.

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