Saturday, June 10, 2006

LIS - Discipline and Profession: Part 2

Lots of have written here in the previous posting. Hence, I'd like to synthesis and contextualize my arguments into four proposals which I argue should be taken at least for discussion.

(1) Distinguish between "Library" and "Information Science." vUnderstandably, doing so is very much like separating "Arts" and "Social Sciences," or worse yet -- "Liberal Arts and Sciences" (still referred to in some colleges. . .). Are we training Librarians, or "Information Professionals?" Are we studying "librarianship" (based on reference services, collection management, and cataloguing) or are we studying "Information Science" (such as information-seeking behaviour, the Semantic Web, or Informatics?) Where does one begin and the other end? If we continue integrating "information" together, then will it not eventually spill into the realms of Computer Science, Engineering, Business (. . . and eventually everything? Some schools are already demarcating their battlezones, lest LIS invades its academic/professional territory). One LIS scholar once crudely asserted that Information Science was simply "Libary Science for men." I argue otherwise, for that is simply too narrow-minded; LIS is too broad to be one and the same thing.

(2) Librarians should have the same requisite number of courses and credits in order to be accredited with professional status. Unlike medical school or law school, there is no set curriculum for librarians. Many can attain an MLIS entirely online, without taking such courses as Collection Management, Reference Services, or Bibliographic Control.v True, learning is one the job, but if one does not have at least a basic understanding of the subject matter, then the very core of the profession cannot be truly taken as seriously, especially if it wants to have the status of "professional" attached to it. Simply put, if a physician has not even undertaken rudimentary operation on a cadaver, then would his or her training be really be complete? (I hope I am not equating surgery to bibliographic control, although for most students, the similarities are striking).

(3) Clearly delineate the status of "Library Technicians" and "Libarians." This is an extremely sensitive topic for most, particularly when most Libarians start out as Library Techs or at least worked in a Libary Assisant position. True, each employee has his or her own role in the library, and without the team, the library cannot hold -- the functioning of the library depends one cooperation of each member's strengths. However, despite its elitist approach, the reason why the Librarian holds a more senior position (not to mention an office, which is worth the extra degree), is because of the extra post-graduate degree, the MLIS. Regardless of whether the person is actually competent enough to do anything with it is another story, the truth remains that the person holding the graduate degree was not only selected through a fairly "rigorous" application procedure (thus implying a substantially impressive undergraduate achievement), but he or she also holds a more "complete" training in the area of LIS, having an equal mix of LIS theory and practical hands-on skills during his/her course of studies. A graduate degree should carry weight with it, as elitist as it may sound.

But that is simply not the case in the real world. The fact is that many Library Tech programs are as rigorous as MLIS programs (often taught by the same adjuncts). On top of that, Library Technicians are often better trained for handling cataloguing and technical services, and sometimes even have the management and reference service courses to go with them. Thus, it is not surprising to find that Lib. Technicians are often very adequate for taking on positions straight out of their tech programs. In fact, in the private sector (i.e. corporate libraries, media libraries, even law firms), library technicians are often hired in place of libarians. One law librarian brought up a case in which one of her library technicians left her position for another law firm, taking on the position of "Librarian" (as stated on her business card). Perhaps this is because library technicians are often seen (perhaps justifiably) holding the similar technical skills, but on a cheaper wage level than "professional" librarians. Why pay the dentist higher premiums when the dental assistant can do just as well cleaning your teeth for that yearly check-up for a quarter less of the price? However, as one librarian puts it, the difference between libarians and para-professionals is that librarians are more concerned with vision and looking at things from a "bigger picture" perspective. Hence, while both are interested in managing the overall budget and administrative duties, librarians are also concerned in how to improve the existing state of affairs through careful reflection and creative experimentation. In a small private library, perhaps the difference is minimal, but in a larger institution, librarians are perhaps more suited for senior positions at the end of the day.

As a result, this level of uncertainty has at times hurt the profession. Because there is no "professional designation," or accreditation board, unlike the CMA or CA for Accountancy or P.Eng for Engineering, it is difficult if not impossible to keep track of discrepancies in the library and information world. Which leads me to my next point.

(4) Uphold and increase the rigour of the MLIS program. In order to be treated seriously, it must first treat itself seriously. While all Canadian programs consist of 48 credits (16 courses), a great many LIS schools, particularly in the United States, award the MLS within 36 credits, and often within one calendar year (12 months straight). As one SLAIS professor pointed out, some MLS schools just seem to care only about the money, and acts as a trade school which churns out certifications to those who wish to upgrade their credentials. Some "information schools" have gone as far as removing core courses as Bibliographic Control and Reference Services, perhaps with the notion that LIS is more than just that -- it is everything and it is nothing. Hence, it offers "streamlined" options such as "Knowledge Management" and "Informatics" for those who wish to specialize in one particular area of LIS.

I argue that there needs to be basic "core" competencies that every information professional from LIS graduate programs must instill before leaving the podium on graduation day. This means, in my opinion, a balanced portfolio of theoretical readings on top of small hands-on assignments. Moreover, there should be a standardized LIS comprehensive final examination for every graduating class.

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