- Still Breathing:History in Education for Librarianship
I wrote "History in the Library and Information Science Curriculum: Outline of a Debate" at the request of Donald G. Davis Jr., the long-running editor of this journal (then called Libraries & Culture), following a Historical Perspectives discussion at the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) conference in 2004, where panelists reflected on the place of history in the Library and Information Science (LIS) curriculum for the professional master's degree. The resulting article was my effort to summarize the discussion and provide some context. Don Davis, renowned LIS professor at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the foremost historians of libraries in the United States, was about to retire, and Libraries & Culture planned a special issue to celebrate his work. I was surprised, pleased, and honored when the editors decided to include my piece in the resulting Festschrift of 2005. Don himself was a supporter of library history occupying a central place in the LIS curriculum and had championed this cause throughout his career. But like others of similar mind, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, he was having doubts about its very survival. That the place of history (once a mainstay) in the LIS curriculum has become so perilous is best grasped through a historical understanding of LIS education itself. What follows are some highlights of that history, including an update from current Library History Round Table (LHRT) members who sent their comments to me.1 The essay ends with recommendations for institutional action.
In the early 2000s the professional master's degree in librarianship was still the bread and butter of some fifty or so schools in Canada and the United States of what had until recently been variously known as "library and information science," "library and information studies," or "library and information management," that were accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). The degree had evolved over the twentieth century as institutional libraries grew in size and number in [End Page 44] schools, colleges, universities, research institutions, businesses, and municipalities, especially after World War II. ALA has provided oversight since 1925, and its requirements (known as "standards") continue to structure the content of the curriculum.
The 1960s and early 1970s were a period of excitement and expansion as increased public expenditure on education coupled with the introduction of new digital technologies fostered optimism about librarian-ship's future. But from the mid-1970s onward expansion gave way to a contraction that itself reflected a dwindling public sphere, especially after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the rise of neoliberalism. Marked for sacrifice on college campuses where budgets were now in crisis, schools of professional librarianship—small, feminized, and often isolated from centers of institutional power—found themselves under attack. Many did not survive. Whereas between 1961 and 1976 twenty-three new schools were founded, between 1978 and 1991 fifteen others, including the oldest (Columbia) and arguably the most prestigious (Chicago's famous and iconic Graduate Library School) closed.2
School closings were also creating difficult times for the survivors. Rather than close ranks and present a united front, remaining schools were divided, both among and within themselves. Electronic technology had been transforming libraries since the 1960s, but in the 1970s lines of fissure appeared that pitted those who saw institutional libraries as still vital to a democratic society, as opposed to those who depicted them as irredeemably analog dinosaurs, an outdated public service—moreover, one dominated by women. Digital technology would do the job much better, these true believers insisted, since books and libraries were out and "information" was in. LIS schools that strongly emphasized digital techniques and products came to stand in many people's minds for a new, aggressive, and masculine approach to LIS education that saw in information science a potential source of transformation from an academic backwater, while privatized and individualistic information took the place of libraries. An influential figure who consistently stressed masculine while disparaging feminine imagery was Blaise Cronin, then dean of the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University and longtime editor of the Journal of American Science...