New Academic Year 16/17 at London Library School, #citylis

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Image by @ludiprice cc-by


Thoughts around my talk planned for Induction this year. For reference, as I most likely won’t stick to the script.

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Library & Information Science

I am delighted to welcome our new and returning students to the London Library School, #citylis, 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:

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Information Communication Chain – @lynrobinson cc-by

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, we examine the ways in which new and existing knowledge is created, developed, communicated, re-used and understood. The processes of scholarly communication are related to those of the information communication chain, and our course content will highlight issues drawn from these related perspectives. Whilst we use the term ‘scholarly’, our focus on understanding (see recent work by Bawden and Robinson) is intended to be inclusive, for anyone interested from any sector of society, not solely those associated with the academy.

Changes and developments in the communication chain and in scholarly communication occur as a result of several factors. These are referred to as ‘drivers 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 research, but also in the wider community.

Whilst many definitions of LIS refer to the human record, 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, AI.

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, this year’s news is tomorrows recycled notepaper. Our learning ambitions look towards sustainability; we seek the ‘i’ in ‘data’, rather than the latest model. 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 timeless, globally significant questions of documentation, which include:

  • how to understand the nature of documents
  • how to record and organise what we know
  • how to facilitate and promote access
  • how to ensure equality in access to information
  • how to preserve documents (understanding?) in perpetuity
  • how to choose what to preserve
  • the ethics of documentation, preservation, access and use
  • how to analyse documents to create new knowledge
  • how to use what we know to promote understanding
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Google search for peace, love, understanding. Screenshot by @lynrobinson on 18/09/16 cc-by

Technology is often compelling, but it rarely works alone to bring about change in knowledge creation and sharing. Other factors or drivers for change include the political climate, social trends, and of course, economics.

We shall consider all of these factors as we progress through our course material. Importantly, we will emphasise the role philosophy plays in providing a framework of guidance for research and practice. We will look specifically at the philosophy of information as authored by Luciano Floridi, but the work of other philosophers in relation to information, documentation and communication will be considered.

A key consideration, which spans all of our course content, is ethics. Library and information professionals have long been associated with ethics, in respect of on the one hand facilitating access to ‘information for all’, whilst on the other hand in regard to assuring privacy. 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 network services. Conversely, we need to examine what is meant by ‘access for all’.

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 big data. Data is the new black. Library and information professionals have a responsibility not only to promote ethical information behaviour, but to contribute to its definition and evolution.

So then, in addition to the above, perhaps it is timely to summarise some of the other new content that will feature in our syllabus; with the caveat that core material including information history, information resources, retrieval, organisation and use, is still very much prevalent and emphasized. LIS is a broad discipline, and we struggle to keep the syllabus manageable. Course content is selected primarily according to the interests and understanding of our team at #citylis,  although we are pleased that our course benefits from the significant input of external colleagues, practitioners and friends. We acknowledge that other library schools, practitioners, scholars and individuals may choose to emphasise different topics on their curriculum, for entirely valid reasons. In any case, it will most likely be different next year.

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, journals about data, and directories of datasets. Re-use and reimagining of collections and information resources, via data sets and APIs, is now a significant informational activity in disciplines from science to the humanities, and the library and information science community is ideally placed to comment on, facilitate and contribute to this. In addition to the traditional subject related resources which have long featured in LIS courses, we will examine the creation, dissemination, indexing, access, use and re-use of datasets, alongside the ethics involved and the role for the LIS specialist. Examples of data, and software management, will be drawn from libraries, archives, museums and galleries, but also science, government, non-governmental organisations, business and social media.

Other contemporary topics that have come to our notice include the role of 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.

From the viewpoint of technology, the role of APIs (application programming interface) is critical in the traditional LIS role of access and understanding. 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.

Social Media and Communication

In addition to its forward-looking socio-technical focus, #citylis is also known for the promotion of social communication and networking skills. These skills are commonly referred to within the mixed bag of ‘soft skills’, and are highly regarded by employers in all sectors. Whilst this umbrella phrase is somewhat unappealing, good communication skills are valuable and long lasting. 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 discuss our course material, to share resources, research ideas, practice tips, to start discussions, 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 (over 5 years) future of the content.

Modus Operandi

#citylis courses are delivered face-to-face, and although we are a postgraduate school we do ask that everyone attends the taught sessions. All #citylis students take 8 modules, 7 core plus one elective. There is then the individual research project or dissertation. Information about our course content can be found on the Moodle e-learning system for registered students, and on our course web pages, (LS, IS) for those interested in studying to masters level. Our courses can be studied full-time for 1 year, or part-time for 2 years.

In addition to the face-to-face sessions, we provide material via an internal e-learning environment, Moodle, via the university email system, and via social media.

Occasionally, the Programmes Office may communicate with by the UK postal system, so do please ensure that we have a reliable home address.

Keeping up-to-date is hard, and for many of you the amount of reading and current awareness will seem almost overwhelming. It does get a little better with time, 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 some kind of filtering. Try to work out what is important for you, and pay attention to that. We will provide extensive lists of resources during the course of the academic year. We aim to find something to please (almost) everyone, but do remember that *you do not have to read everything*.

We work very hard on the content and interconnection between our modules. However, each year new ideas, references, practices, organisations and methods pop up, and so what you learn during your formal time with us will be outdated fairly quickly. The #citylis team act as guides through what is undoubtedly a widespread, pervasive, and rapidly changing discipline, in the hope that the concepts we communicate and share will be worthwhile, and the enthusiasm for life-long learning a permanent skill. Hold tight as we tell the stories, check, challenge and ask questions about everything. #enjoytheride.

References:

Robinson L (2016). Between the deluge and the dark age; perspectives on data curation. Alexandria, 26(2), 73-76. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1177/0955749016661067