- Schools of Library and Information Science:Some Thoughts on Vision to Purpose
What are schools of library and information science for? How can schools of library and information science serve the needs of libraries and society? What do these schools actually do? These are three critical questions challenging those of us currently involved in LIS education at all levels, those who are contemplating pursuing a career in the information professions and those who will be hiring graduates of these programs. If we are not able to articulate our vision of LIS education in terms of a pragmatic purpose and come up with compelling answers to these questions soon, these programs will find their relevance called into question.
Many library schools think they have the answer, stating outright, or at least acting as if, their purpose is the creation of new knowledge. In such cases this translates into a focus on formal research projects with results predominately being published in peer-reviewed journals. C.D. Hurt noted that LIS schools had a choice—the professional school model or the academic school model recreating themselves more like other existing academic units at research universities.1 This essentially means more work on grants and a publications presence in highly ranked journals, allowing these LIS programs to compete for the same scarce resources as other academic units at their university.
It is only reasonable that library and information science faculty are involved in research to advance the profession. Over the past decade and a half, however, research has become an end in itself. Given that there have been more research dollars on the information science side, schools of library and information science have shifted away from library science, leaving it to become the poor sister in this duo. As a result, the trend has been that library science faculty wind up teaching the bulk of the students while the information science professors have small classes—if they teach at all—since the grants they obtain often buy them out of teaching so that they can concentrate on research. Moreover, as budgets become tighter, external grants are increasingly becoming "have to haves" rather than "nice to haves," if a faculty member is going to be able to [End Page 351] engage in any research at all, thus requiring that more and more time be spent seeking out external funding sources.
Schools of library and information science were not established as research centers. The first schools were established to meet the need for trained library managers. These schools were devoted to training and education. They provided practical courses and management principles to librarians who would lead libraries and other information management entities. The schools served society by helping libraries and information centers run efficiently and effectively, and by helping the profession articulate a coherent vision.
For more than a century the need for knowledgeable information professionals has been growing. So too has the need to enable citizens of all ages and in all environments to tap a knowledge base that is expanding exponentially. While our LIS programs should be educating and training information professionals to pragmatically apply and disseminate the knowledge acquired during their matriculation, LIS faculties seem instead to be focused elsewhere. Most faculty couldn't care less if their research has applications to practice. In fact, practical problem solving is no longer valued. In the academic model, one completes the research project, publishes the results in a peer-reviewed journal, and then concentrates on finding the next grant. After all, only research seems to matter.
For many LIS academics, teaching is nothing more than an unhappy consequence of failing to secure enough funds to engage in research that will be published in a journal that will be read by few. As a result, senior faculty, those with the most experience, have little or no teaching responsibility. And master's degree students, who seek to become practitioners, are taught by professors who have not had to work directly in the field for many years. At one time, LIS academics communicated new ideas and knowledge to professional audiences. The present authors have just completed a nine part series...