Monday, September 19, 2011

The state of LIS as a discipline and its "research"

One of my course readings for the research methods course was on an article by Budd and Hill entitled "The Cognitive and Social Lives of Paradigms in Information Science". I must say that the reading by Budd and Hill makes me motivated to read Kuhn's work on the nature of scientific paradigms and revolutions for myself to form my own opinions about its relevance and application in Library and Information Science. The following reading was posted or submitted as part of my weekly reading reaction report

In this blog entry I want to discuss 3 main points:
  1. How disciplines/theories/paradigms are formed?
  2. Trends in LIS research
  3. How can changes be made to LIS as well as how changes are stifled?

Most importantly for me, the reading caused me to reflect on how school of thoughts, theories disciplines and sub-disciplines are formed or emerge.These are all socio-economic products and constructs. In the previous class we concluded that research problems must be rooted in the social and situated in society, as well as in a discipline. This reading, was however not as normative, but more descriptive about the process.

Irwin Sperber is cited in Budd and Hill as indicating that funding impacts the development of science, as does politics in the case of political appointments to important, well-funded  and powerful agencies. Sperber is also cited as indicating that the audience to which a scientist must communicate and be accountable also impacts on science. This brings me to a critical look at LIS research trends in its publications and literature in general.

In the case of librarianship, I see where the audience, the practitioners and pragmatic professionals impact on the research of the field. The issues of practitioners or professionals do not necesarily overlap with the issues that academics want to study. Practitioners want research situated in practice, and in my view, academics question and criticize the nature of the practice in the first place. Practitioners are looking for ways to do their jobs better and improve their practice, while academics may question, what is it that is practiced and why?

With regards to funding, I see where vendors are sponsoring, partnering or encouraging librarians to present papers and to research their products and its use by library users. I have been to conferences where vendors and practitioners are co-presenters, and have seen in the LIS literature numerous publications that focus on technology products and how these were either implemented in libraries or are being received by library users. Can these be legitimately termed “research” and “scientific research” at that. Aren't these what we call “market research”?

Another issue to discuss is how can LIS change. From my reading and understanding of Kuhn through Budd and Hill's writing, because science is social (Sperber expands it to political and economics), if  young scholars and academics such as myself and my peers in the PhD programme want to change LIS and its direction as a discipline, then it begins with us making a strategic alliance and agreeing to principles, research methods and what constitutes the problems of LIS today. That is if we accept, as I do, the definition of a paradigm as a 'state of collaboration, agreement, attention to a specific set of problems, and co-citation...' (p.4).

At the same time, we are scientists bred after our own kind, by faculty. Our beliefs, principles and methods will be inherited from our socialisation with faculty members at FIMS UWO. FIMS will shape us and our scientific approaches to researching and thinking about LIS. We will see the problems of LIS through their eyes.

The reading has definitely caused me to reflect that LIS is an immature science, in danger of being subverted by politics, economics and pragmatism. Pragmatism according to Budd and Hill are the major forces that shapes science through funding sources and departmental faculties, an issue which I see aptly applicable to LIS. LIS is shaped by funding sources- whether government, corporate or private bodies in my view, and I am yet to see the extent of the influence of departmental faculties.

For LIS, with the evidence based practice movement, I see where more and more, LIS research and theories will be chosen based on social and economic pragmatic reasons, rather than by LIS community identifying the gaps in our current research and theories, and intellectually, rationally and objectively filling those gaps.


Budd, John M. & Heather Hill. (2007). "The Cognitive and Social Lives of Paradigms in Information Science." Paper published in the proceedings presented at the Conference of the Canadian Association of Information Science. Information Sharing in a Fragmented World: Crossing Boundaries. McGill University, Montreal, Quebec. May 10 - 12, 2007.

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