Thoughts around my talk planned for Induction this year. For reference, as I most likely won’t stick to the script.
Library & Information Science
I am delighted to welcome our new and returning students to the #citylis London Library School, as we start the academic year for 16/17. This year we are celebrating joining the University of London to become City, University of London. This new association will bring many benefits, including access to new resources, wider perspectives, and a higher profile for the work we do, and for our students and alumni.
Library and information science (LIS) addresses the questions arising from documentation of the human record. We explain this by saying that LIS research and practice focuses on the categories of activity comprising the information communication chain, shown below:
The processes of the information communication chain are often associated with information literacy, and information professionals practice, share and promote the skills and abilities which facilitate information literacy, and more recently, digital literacies.
Another way to consider the goals of library and information science is from the perspective of scholarly communication. That is, the examination of the ways in which knowledge is created, accessed, developed, communicated, validated, preserved and re-used. The processes of scholarly communication are related to those of the broader information communication chain, and our course content will highlight issues (e.g. scholarly publishing and open access) drawn from these related perspectives.
Whilst we often use the term ‘scholarly’ in LIS discussion, our focus on understanding (see recent work by Bawden and Robinson) is intended to be inclusive, that is, of relevance to anyone from any sector of society, not solely those associated with the academy.
Changes and developments in the processes of the communication chain and in scholarly communication occur as a result of several factors. These are referred to as drivers or agents for change. The principle change agent is technology. The move within scholarly communication to digital processes has had a significant impact on the work of the LIS sector, especially in higher education and the research lifecycle, but technological changes also impact information processes within the wider community.
Whilst many definitions of LIS refer to keeping the record of humanity, it may be that we now need to expand our model, to consider documentation of the machine record, in light of contemporary developments in technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, resulting in an autonomous ability to create text, art, music etc.
Our core module DITA (Digital Information Technologies and Architecture)* sets out and explores the technological landscape as it relates to LIS. We are, however, mindful that in technology perhaps more than other subjects, today’s news is tomorrow’s recycled notepaper. Our learning ambitions look towards sustainability; we seek the ‘i’ in ‘data’, rather than the latest device. Although #citylis students have the option to take more specific computing modules as their elective, if this is of interest, our core computing content is carefully weighted towards the use of technology in helping us to answer the globally significant questions of documentation, which include:
- how to understand the nature of documents
- how to record and organise documents
- how to facilitate and promote access to information
- how to ensure equality in access to information
- how to preserve documents
- how to choose what to preserve
- the ethics of documentation, including preservation, access and use
- how to analyse documents to create new knowledge
- how to use what we know to promote understanding
Technology is often compelling, but other drivers for change must be appreciated, including politics, economics and social trends. We shall consider all of these factors as we progress through our course material.
Additionally, we will examine the role philosophy plays in providing a framework of guidance for LIS research and practice. We will look specifically at the philosophy of information as authored by Luciano Floridi, but the work of other philosophers and theorists in relation to information, documentation and communication will be introduced.
A related thread, running across the whole course, is ethics. Library and information professionals have long been engaged with ethical behaviour, in respect of issues of censurship, privacy, and equality of access. Our contemporary society, within which we cannot help but leave a digital footprint, requires us to re-examine what is meant by privacy, and to establish and understand the consequences for what we give away, perhaps unknowingly, when we use digital network services.
Manifestations of ‘ethics in action’ then, include questions posed to the scholarly community by open access, open data, and open educational resources, but also societal questions posed by access to network services, use of the internet and social media, and the impact of big data. Library and information professionals have a responsibility not only to promote ethical information behaviour, but to contribute to its definition and evolution.
Whilst core LIS material including information history, information resources, retrieval, management and use, is still very much prevalent and emphasized within our syllabus, I would like to introduce more of our new content. LIS is a broad discipline, and there is always more material than we can cover within the timescale of our masters programme. Course content is selected primarily according to the expertise, interests and understanding of our #citylis teaching team, benefiting further from the significant input of external colleagues, practitioners, alumni and current students.
One of the most noticeable areas rising to prominence for the LIS professional is data management. Within the academic and research sector, this is often written and talked about in respect of research data management, but the wider phrase, ‘data curation’, invites a broader audience from LIS workers within the social, cultural and heritage sectors to consider issues of documentation (Robinson 2016). Alongside data management, where we can envisage a data file as a document, there is the need for data metadata, i.e. data about the data. Standards in this area are just starting to emerge, as are repositories for data, directories of data repositories, data papers, and journals about data.
The increasing availability of APIs allows datasets to be searched, analysed, re-used, remixed and reimagined. APIs govern the data we can access from the massive collections accrued by social media, scientific, commercial and government bodies. Of course data collectors may not share willingly, and the contrast within our society between the increasingly visible open access/data movement, and closed data capture systems is striking. Knowledge is power, and keeping closed datasets has potential benefits for some, yet disadvantages for others.
We will also consider analysis of data. Analytics, counting things, affects us all. We have witnessed recently a striking duality in LIS, between qualitiative, informational analysis, and the contrasting quantitative approach.
These practices are already significant informational activities in disciplines from science to the humanities, and the library and information science community is ideally placed to comment on, facilitate and contribute.
Returning to more familiar territory, we are also introducing a focus on libraries, librarianship and library spaces, in relation to the current socio-political climate, and as considered alongside the historical use of space in the library, and public spaces in general.
On a more conceptual level, we will be pushing the boundaries of our discipline to consider the future of documents, the relevance and meaning of understanding, and the ways in which philosophical insight can contribute to practice within the sector.
Social Media and Communication
In addition to its forward-looking socio-technical focus, #citylis is also known for the promotion of communication and networking skills. These skills are commonly referred to within the mixed bag of ‘soft skills’, which are highly regarded by employers in all sectors. Whilst this umbrella phrase is somewhat unappealing, good communication skills have long-lasting appeal. They work even when the technological systems we use have returned to plastic dust. It will come as no surprise to anyone joining our cohort, that students and staff are encouraged to engage with and beyond their cohort via social media, as well as via more traditional scholarly output mechanisms. Our course actively promotes professional writing skills, and we consider reflective learning, practice and research throughout the year. We realise that not everyone is comfortable posting their own original material to a public forum, but we do everything we can to ensure a supportive environment, and we do require all our students to be aware of the nature, functions and advantages of social media from the LIS perspective.
We use blogs and Twitter to promote and discuss our course material, to share resources, research ideas, practice tips, to start discussions on current issues, highlight events, and to create a community of past, current and future students beyond the physical classroom, and the constraints of the course timescale. Further, we use social media tools to engage with the wider profession, and others who may not have encountered LIS before.
We are also aware of the negative side of social media engagement, and we hope to equip all our students with the skills to identify, be resilient to, and to avoid contributing to social media’s dark side. This includes online obsession, trolling, abusive or passive-aggressive posts, boast-posts, oversharing, and posting whilst drunk, otherwise intoxicated or merely very angry (!).
Whilst for resource reasons we stick to blogs and Twitter, we encourage any of our students to engage with other social media platforms in a professional capacity. Social media applications, especially those handling multimedia, are key communication mediums in the 21st century. They are always evolving however, and before investing large amounts of time and energy in an application, it is always wise to consider the long-term (say, over 5 years) future of the content.
Our courses are delivered face-to-face, and although we are a postgraduate school we do ask that everyone attends the taught sessions. All students take 8 modules, 7 core plus one elective. There is then the individual dissertation. Detailed course materials can be found on the Moodle e-learning system for registered students, but public information about indicative content can be found on our course web pages, (LS, IS). Our courses can be studied full-time for 1 year, or part-time for 2 years.
Although some course materials are available on the e-learning system, this is not intended to suggest that attending the face-to-face sessions is unnessessary. Course participants are also encouraged to engage with out-of-hours activities and social media. A greater understanding of the concepts presented throughout the course will be gained from engagement with the course cohort, and wider professional networks.
As the Programmes Office may communicate official news to students via the UK postal system, do please ensure that we have a reliable home address.
Keeping up-to-date is hard, and for many of us the amount of reading and current awareness seems almost overwhelming. It does get a little better with time, as we learn to filter out the signal from the noise, but we live in a society where there is always more to pay attention to than we have time for. We all derive our own coping strategies, which invariably includes selection, and the ability to decide what to pay attention to. This ability is one of the key skills for contemporary society.
We will provide extensive, structured lists of resources during the academic year. We aim to provide students with a fair representation of the literature, but do remember that you do not have to read everything.
We work very hard on the content of, and interconnection between, our modules. However, new ideas, references, practices, organisations and methods arise all the time, and so material encountered during the formal course time will often be superceded fairly quickly. The #citylis teaching team members act as guides through what is undoubtedly a widespread, pervasive, and rapidly changing discipline, in the hope that the frameworks and concepts we communicate will be worthwhile, and that our students will be empowered with skills for life-long learning. Hold tight as we tell the stories, check, challenge and ask questions about everything.
Enjoy the show!
Robinson L (2016). Between the deluge and the dark age; perspectives on data curation. Alexandria, 26(2), 73-76. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1177/095574901666106
*From 17/18 DITA has been renamed Data, Information, Technologies and Applications