Showing posts with label LIS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LIS. Show all posts

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.

Friday, June 09, 2006

LIS As Displine And Profession

I recently encountered a fascinating article, "Symbolic interactionism as a theoretical perspective for multiple method research" in the Journal of Advanced Nursing by Benzies KM and Allen MN (2001). The article argues that the fundamental schism in nursing science as an academic discipline is the inability to integrate quantitative and qualitative research methods together. As a result, nursing has unfortunately always swayed more towards the side quantitative methods, and not surprisingly, too, since it is very much an empirically-centred scientific field. However, the authors argue that since nursing deals with human behaviours, there must be at least be some negotiation of qualitative methods into its studies. The author advocates for a middle ground called "Symbolic Interactionism."

On many levels, I see similarities between between Nursing and LIS. (Some similar comparisons has been made between Education and LIS, in particular, by Michael Lorenzen). What confuses and complicates the traditional scholarly world of academia is that LIS is both a profession and a discipline.

Why isn't LIS treated as seriously as other acdemic disciplines, such as History, Economics, Anthropology, or Physics? And at the other end of the spectrum, why is it not similarly respected as Law, Medicine, or Architecture? And then there are those that fall in between: Accounting, Finance, Engineering, and so on, which can be similarly compared to LIS. There are many theories to this -- usually centred on the reality of wage disparities among these professions).

My own theory is that the LIS discipline/profession has forever lacked of competing schools of thoughts. Crassly put, unlike history or economics, there simply are not enough thinkers in the field, unlike "historiography" or "microeconomics" that rouse scholars enough to foster theoretical factional warfare. True, there will always be the Michael Bucklands, Bjorg Hjorlands and Elaine Svenonius in the LIS academic sphere that gives the discipline weight, but not enough to propel the field of LIS to another level. (Moreover, such thinkers tend to lean towards bibliographic/classification theory).

Perhaps part of the reason lies in the breadth of LIS. Taking a page from Sun Yat-sen when he called China's multiethnic populace a "loose sheet of sand," I believe it is not too brash to use the same analogy for LIS. Simply put, when describing "Library AND Information Science," we are consolidating multiple sub-disciplines together and tying them to the venerable profession of Librarianship. Doing so is very much like tying together English and rest of the world's languages and calling it (EWLS - English and World Language Studies). If such were the case, it is quite likely that it would not be taken as seriously (or at least not as clearly defined as just "English" - which already have its own difficulties of balancing between "English Language" and "English Literature").

I find that one of the new "hot" items in the LIS world currently is "Information Seeking Behaviour." It is an interesting case study, particularly since it seems to cause problems for LIS. What exactly is it, and is it really "Library-related?" How often do Library professionals deal with the results of ISB in their day-to-dy activities? Of course, the answer always, for patrons seek information every moment that they are in the library. But on a practical and realistic level, librarians are more concerned about how many people are walking into their libraries and using the library's many services rather than how many hits on certain key strokes per search entry.

The closest any library/information professional has done in amalgamating the micro and macro worlds of LIS is S.R. Ranganathan. The Indian mathematician-turned-librarian in the early 20th century wrote tracts upon tracts of timeless pieces on the topic of librarianship and library science, establishing procedures from cataloguing to proper open and closing procedures. But not all working information professionals are priveleged and talented enough to establish the Five Laws of Library of Science and still be able to run a library, worrying about payroll and staff retainment.

In many ways, the current "core" of LIS programs typify the problems of the field. Most programs require students to take the core of: (1) Bibliographic control; (2) Info Technology; (3) Management; and (4) Reference Services. (Often, a Research Methods course is included for "research purposes" which is never clearly and satisfactorily explained). So there you go, each of these courses themselves comprise a major area of LIS. Put together, they are what information professionals do. (Collection management is always left out, but it should be the fifth. . .)

An information professional is thus expected to master these skills when they get the job; however, in most instances, real learning comes on the job (unfortunately). However, this is not unlike most other professions. Engineers, physicians, lawyers, do not learn everything in two years of schooling (usually more years are involved), so why should information professionals? However, most library and information professionals tend to discount this similarity, and argue that LIS school did not properly train them for their immediate positions post graduation. And when library tech programs churn out graduates which have mastered the MARC, it often makes the LIS with the graduate degree appear unworthy and perhaps haven't learned as much as she/he should from graduate school.

If such is the case, then the world of LIS is neither here nor there; it's a game of catch-22. It cannot win as a profession, nor as a discipline.