LIS Evolves

rubin_fullsize_rgbIn Chapter 5 of Foundations of Library and Information Science, Richard Rubin looks at the Library profession and the history of the profession’s educational moorings. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, library students trained under Melvil Dewey or his students from the Columbia School of Library Economy; the first library school which opened on January 1, 1887. Course requirements were brief and narrowly focused on clerical work, taking as little as six months to complete for a certificate. The Carnegie Corporation was concerned that library-related professional competencies dwarfed that of other professions. Attempting to address this issue, the Williamson Report was conducted by C. C. Williamson, which redefined the nature and scope of library teaching. A pedagogy emerged with greater emphasis on applied theory rather than work routines or “task-specific rules” (Rubin, 249).

Rubin goes on to explain the contemporary trends in the library profession; trends which have been so disruptive that they have changed the ways we even talk about the profession. I liked the metaphor from Van House and Sutton (2000), suggesting that the library profession has moved from “the Ptolemaic information universe with the library at its center, to a dynamic, Copernican universe with information at its center…” (Rubin, 256). Indeed, the influence of the rapid growth of information in defining this field has been stark. Due to the natural evolution of Information technologies, the traditional library profession has been forced to reassess its pedagogy.

It was interesting to learn that just fifteen years ago, critics declared library education to be in a state of crisis because there was no academic consensus on what Library schools should focus on. For instance, should iSchools focus on Library Service or Information Science? Or, as Rubin frames the issue: the library-service paradigm or the information science paradigm? Rubin concludes that these two perspectives are not incompatible. In fact, understanding socially-critical cultural values and the forms/functions of information technology are equally important for today’s library professional.

Rubin offers up three models that distinguish the LIS professional from other professions. He discusses the Trait Model, the Control Model, and the Values Model. The Trait Model identifies LIS professionals as being service-oriented, theoretically-informed, competent in library clerical duties, a member of associations, and cognizant of the ALA core values. The Control Model, borrowed from Winter (1988), emphasizes a more strict and hierarchical mindset. The Control Model, as I understand it, has more to do with information-based library professionals who catalog and organize knowledge. In other words, technical service professionals who classify, index, and determine library collections. This is regarded as a kind of “power” that is imposed on outside users from within the library as a centralized institution. Finally, the Value Model identifies LIS professionals who focus on fundamental library values, intellectual freedom, democratic access, etc.

Rubin’s section on the future of LIS professionals is appreciated for its optimistic outlook. For years, library professionals have been predicting a doomsday scenario for their careers. But I feel that there is a lot more certainty nowadays when it comes to staying employed in this field. Indeed, the outlook has changed significantly in the past 10, or even 5 years. Today, there is a big professional push toward e-resources and digitization. In terms of archives or special collections, these activities are admittedly proscriptive. Given enough time, collections will have been digitized, and the amount of work and employment available in this professional aspect will fade. But there is still an ongoing need for classifying and making available e-resources, as well as born-digital content. There is also an ongoing need for traditional librarians and clerical staff. True, digital architecture and digital assets may be ephemeral jobs on a long-term occupational time-scale, but there will still be a need for reference and user services in various fields. As well, I see librarians taking on – as Rubin mentioned via Lankes (2011) – a more “participatory” role in society. Think tanks and the blogosphere – or biblioblogosphere – is the ready province of 21st-century librarians. Research is also an inexhaustible area. With time, there is an ever-expanding amount of informational resources that need to be preserved, collocated, and brought to mind instead of being left to deteriorate or obsolesce in some forgotten space. Moreover, future generations will need education in literacy, reading, and lifelong learning. Indeed, as long as there is a society with human problems to be solved, there exists a need for an LIS professional.

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