New Academic Year 16/17 at CityLIS London Library School

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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 #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:

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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, 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
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Google search for peace, love, understanding. Screenshot by @lynrobinson on 18/09/16 cc-by

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.

Modus Operandi

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!

 

References:

Robinson L (2016). Between the deluge and the dark age; perspectives on data curation. Alexandria, 26(2), 73-76. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1177/095574901666106

*From 17/18 DITA has been renamed Data, Information, Technologies and Applications

Don’t go to Library School: you won’t learn anything useful

empty lecture theatre

photo by @lynrobinson cc-by

 

I keep hearing this, in a variety of guises. The dismissive certainty that library schools are out-dated in their understanding of how digital information has changed the modern world and its management of humanity’s record beyond recognition, and that LIS masters programmes produce graduates who are unemployable.

Having directed masters programmes in LIS for nearly a decade, I take a different view, and offer my firm belief that our library school, #citylis, delivers a sound contemporary understanding of today’s information landscape, and fosters a wide range of highly desirable professional and personal skills in our students. I doubt I am the only library school advocate, I know several colleagues from other schools who are equally passionate about their curriculum. At #citylis, we enjoy a constant dialogue with practitioner colleagues, our professional body (CILIP), employment agencies (Sue Hill, TFPL), alumni and current students, which allows us to elicit trends in technology, services, economics, user needs and other aspects of current practice. We are also avid horizon scanners, keeping an eye on the literature beyond the boundaries of our LIS discipline, to ensure we understand the wider context of what library and information science is trying to say. These combined activities result in a constant need to update our classes and materials, but we think our relevant, contemporary syllabus is worth it.

That is not to say that we offer everything to everybody. In the first instance, we work from a UK perspective, although within an international context, and secondly, our content is driven by the interests and backgrounds of our staff, and available resources, together with the primarily London-based collection institutions to which we defer for practitioner context. I don’t think any library school does, can, or even needs to offer an exhaustively comprehensive curriculum. Some variation between specializations of individual courses is perfectly acceptable, and even advantageous.

Our #citylis students are enthused, engaged and positive about their chosen discipline and profession, and the majority readily find employment, not only in the traditional areas of librarianship and information work, but across a wider range of information centred activities, such as publishing, information policy and governance, data management, information architecture, web-design, customer relations, training, user-support, and educational technology to mention just a few. All businesses rely on sound information management, so the future should be bright for well qualified graduates from LIS schools.

And yet, there are still doubters in the back channels. I recently read Deanna Marcum’s clearheaded report “Educating the Research Librarian: are we falling short?” Within the scope of research libraries, and with a US focus, this well written report of a conference aiming to use design techniques to map the future of library education, suggests that the problems stem from the broad scope of LIS itself:

“Perhaps the diverse backgrounds of the participants guaranteed the utter impossibility of developing a general curriculum that will meet all needs. For many of the younger representatives, technology was the main concern. How do we prepare new professionals to take full advantage of social media and emerging technologies to deliver information services to all who need them? Library buildings, legacy collections, and preservation— these were all topics that hardly registered on their list of interests. Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Lab argued passionately that the purpose of a library and information school is to produce a cadre of individuals devoted to the universal right to access to information. Public librarians at the conference believe that new librarians must be trained as community activists focused on civic discourse. With no common vision for the library’s role, there could be no agreement on how library schools should prepare the next generation of students.”

I have also read posts from library school curriculum dissenters on Twitter, in blog posts, and have verbally heard discontent from potential employers working in the sector. In response, I have informally attempted a wider conversation to solicit the actual knowledge, skills, understanding or abilities that library schools fail to provide. Responses to my question “what knowledge and skills do LIS graduates need that they don’t get from library school?”, are often vague, but some are highly sensible and relevant, including: a clearer focus on the implications of the transformation of information communication pathways brought about by digital, the subsequent changing expectations of users of library services, designing systems and processes for information management, information architecture and research data management.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of these specific suggestions have a technological focus, and I am in complete agreement with the necessity for LIS courses to acknowledge the significant changes affected by digital advancement. Indeed, over the last two years, colleagues and I have already gone a long way to enhance our library technology focus, via curriculum design and out-of-hours workshops and seminars.

A significant number of dissenters cite a lack of emphasis on more generic skills such as how to use a spreadsheet, marketing and promotion, design of promotional material, and communication skills. Communication skills covers many areas; ability to write well, ability to make a convincing case/argument (advocacy), ability to lead, to work in a team, ability to analyse, interpret, present and communicate data, ability to teach, ability to attract funding, and all-round social know-how. Knowledge of the company and its ways of working, was a favourite request, but here there was agreement that this could only be attained once a graduate was employed by the specific company. The generic skills outlined above, are all valid and important. The question here is which of them should be included in the LIS curriculum. Most (UK) masters programmes are a year long, and the schedules are already tight. Inclusion of more generic skills invariably means something else must be excluded. And, of course, there are other aspects of LIS to be fitted in, in addition to the purely technical aspects, and the generic.

At #citylis, we are keen to get this right, and would be willing to host a forum/meet-up where employers, professional bodies, students and programme directors can meet to discuss the role of LIS courses in preparing new professionals for work in our sector. Students, I am sure, would welcome this dialogue. Such a discussion is likely to stir up the longstanding tension between the demands of an academic masters course to cover theory and concepts, research methods and ideas found at the edge of our literature, versus the demands of employers for graduates who are ready to go from day one. But, a debate could surely only aid the smoothing of joins between the two halves of the whole. If anything it would allow us to re-examine ‘essential’ knowledge and skills, which need to be explored in the masters programme, alongside areas which could be covered by continual professional development, or in-house training.

To conclude, here are a few of the areas we feel are presing at #citylis. Some of them are newish, some of them of longstanding centrality to our work:

  • communication – traditiona/social media
  • research skills
  • information literacy
  • digital culture
  • scholarly communication
  • data analysis and presentation
  • digital curation and research data management
  • information resources – documentation
  • information organisaton – metadata
  • human information behaviour
  • information law, policy and management
  • information and communication technologies
  • role of library and information services in the 21st century

#citylis logo

Thanks to Dave Thompson (@d_n_t) for ideas.

Reinventing the (colour) wheel

colorIf you are a little jaded with the grey skies of London, try a visit to the Making Colour exhibition, showing at the National Gallery this summer.

Deep in basement darkness, we are reminded of how to see colour as the layout focuses on the discovery and development of pigments through the centuries. Each room considers a single colour, looking at how artists have painted according to  available hues; astonishing palettes derived from limited offerings derived from ground up minerals, sea creatures and insects, suspended in either oil or egg yolk. Fascinating representations of textiles – the pile of velvet, the sheen of silk. Understanding how the colour was made enhances our appreciation of the appearance of the delicate skin tones in frescos, (faces under painted in green earth, then overlaid with pinks), the rendering of silver from black and white, and the appearance of gold from yellows. We are given a reminder of how time fades organic pigments, and changes how we see today, a different image to that originally created by the artist; red lake in particular fading from its mix with blue, so that originally vivid purples fade to grey. Modern synthetic paints in tubes subtly transformed artistic licence – allowing the impressionists to create their dreamy mixes with ease.

Making Colour is illustrated with examples from the National Gallery’s fabulous collection – including some of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite works.

Go and be inspired – think about all the different shades of red and how to see the colours in clouds.

harris colour wheel card