LIS 7010: Reading Response for September 21, 2011

LIS 7010 (Intro to Library and Information Science)

Reading Response for September 21, 2011

– Rubin, Foundations of Library and Information Science, 3rd edition, Chapters 3 & 4
– Haycock and Sheldon, The Portable MLIS, Appendices J & K
OCLC Perceptions of Libraries, 2010

Somewhat randomly this summer (I was googling the acronym MPOW, which apparently stands for “my place of work”), I came across a blog post by K. G. Schneider, a.k.a. Free Range Librarian, in response to a speech by McMaster University’s research library director Jeff Trzeciak (“Thoroughly Modern Karen: A Response to Jeff Trzeciak”). According to Schneider, Trzeciak noted that the future of the research library involved hiring PhDs in subject areas and information technology specialists rather than librarians-as-such, ostensibly those with master’s degrees in library science. The speech was clearly a provocation for the world of librarianship, and Schneider offers one spirited defense of librarians’ embrace of the changing world of information technology and library user services (although the defense often veers harshly towards ad hominem attacks).

The debate raised by Trzeciak’s critique of an outmoded library that is resistant to change is worth considering in light of this week’s readings about the history of librarianship’s professionalization since the late nineteenth century. That history has involved related issues such as determining the appropriate kind of education/training for library workers as well as how to adjudicate the tension between library science and information science in a world of rapidly changing information technologies. Much of the furor raised by librarians in response to Trzeciak’s prognostications were about his devaluing of the kind of training that librarians receive in their graduate education and his insistence on the need for new and different competencies.

With regards to the second issue about perceived incompatibility between library science and information science, one distinction that Rubin draws is that the former focuses on education and literacy in the institution and physical structure of the library while the latter is centered on information access in more decentered and networked environments. I find this distinction useful even as it seems to oversimplify the issue at hand. My own take on the issue is that the library as an institution offers a rich history as well as an important infrastructure for access to books and other information, and as such, it is more useful to consider ways of holding on to what libraries offer in terms of services while transforming them for emerging technologies rather than abandoning them wholesale for a brave new world of digital information. Rubin also emphasizes how libraries promulgate democratic values, and in this capacity, it is worth mobilizing libraries as a social site and a socially-relevant actor in education and providing information for the public.

Question for consideration: What are the pros and cons of continuing to invest in libraries in the twenty-first century as centers of information, literacy, and education?

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