Summer Reading for Library & Information Science

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photo by @lynrobinson cc-by

For those of you planning to study for a masters in Library or Information Science, LIS, here are some suggestions for background reading in preparation for your course. Although I am writing from the perspective of those of you intending to enroll for the academic year 16/17 with the Library School at City, University of London, [#citylis], it is possible that my recommendations may be of wider interest; to those studying elsewhere, or for those of you who are just interested in what LIS is all about.

My last ‘summer reading’ post was four years ago. Over that time, our course content has developed, along with the nature of information and communication processes, and our understanding of library and information science as a discipline and practice. Whilst the texts that I suggested in 2012 remain valid, new publications are always appearing, and existing texts to which I have not yet paid attention often find their way into my field of vision.

The intention here is twofold. Firstly to offer a personal, ‘capsule’ selection of printed books, (although some may be available in electronic format), which will cover LIS from the broad perspective, the big-picture if you like. Throughout the course we will provide more specific reading lists, including: books, papers, websites, blogs, Twitter accounts, videos, podcasts, artworks and places to visit. My idea here is more interdisciplinary, showing the reach and depth of our discipline, and its continued relevance to society today. It is not necessary to read all the books, and each one stands alone perfectly well, although I have described them in an order of understanding the complexity of LIS.

My second aim is to say something about our use of social media at #citylis, and to suggest some internet resources as starting points for those of you new to digital communication processes.

The Books

Intro to Inf SciBawden D and Robinson L (2012). Introduction to Information Science. Facet: London

In spite of the deluge of novelty, some texts remain seminal and I will start by mentioning Introduction to Information Science, which I co-authored with David Bawden, as an accompaniment to our classes in 2012. The text remains a solid place to start if you need an overview of the sort of topics and concepts that are covered in courses relating to library and information science. The text has been very well received, and is now used internationally as a basis for understanding and framing the discipline. We give many ideas for further reading and pathways for following-up with areas you find interesting or especially relevant. The topics listed are covered in my previous post, but you can see the content from the link to the Facet Publications site.

Intro to InformationFloridi L (2010). Information: a very short introduction. OUP: Oxford

The success of OUP’s ‘very short introduction’ series marches on. This series has the enviable, dual status of being both informative, and collectable. It is impossible to stop at ‘just one’ and I find myself drawn by the physical aesthetics of the little volumes to regularly add one more to my set. In this context, I would like to mention again two of the other texts from my last post. These volumes cover respectively the two concepts that are central to our courses: information, and its processing by computers. There are many books which cover information and computing, as neither of these subjects is unique to LIS. These books however, offer an approach suitable for readers from a wide variety of backgrounds, with an interest in information and its communication from a semantic perspective.

Firstly, information. Luciano Floridi is well known for his work on the philosophy of information, which informs our work within library and information science as a discipline and practice. This volume considers the nature of information, and the social and ethical implications it raises.

51UULOTow+L._AC_UL115_Gleick J (2011). The Information. Pantheon

If you enjoy the concept of information from Floridi’s ‘very short introduction’, you might like to read James Gleick’s wider story, “The Information”.

 

sc0004ffe2Magee B (2016). The Story of Philosophy. Dorling Kindersley

If you would like a wider introduction to Western Philosophy, try “The Story of Philosophy” by Brian Magee.

 

 

9780199586592Ince D (2011). The Computer: a very short introduction. OUP: Oxford.

Secondly, the computer. The LIS sector has been inseparable from technology for around 20 years now, although many information professionals still feel anxious when faced with understanding the mechanisms by which information is processed. Darrel Ince’s book offers reassurance, in explaining how a computer works, and importantly, why we need to know. The book is short, with a social focus, and technological pain will not last long.

9781783300419Dempsey L (2014). The nework reshapes the library. Ed. Varnum K. Facet: London

Having embraced the technology, Kenneth Varnum’s 2014 edited volume of Lorcan Dempsey’s writing, The Network Reshapes the Library provides good follow-up reading on how technologies are changing the work of the library professional. Dempsey writes on a diverse range of topics, covering library organization, services and technologies, and the evolution of the library to embrace the learning and research needs of inhabitants of the 21st century.

imagesWright A (2014). Cataloguing the World: Paul Otlet and the birth of the information age. OUP: Oxford

The modern information age, underpinning our library and information services today, is often attributed to the work at the turn of the 19th century by Paul Otlet. Alex Wright’s book Cataloguing the World: Paul Otlet and the birth of the information age is a wonderful telling of the story of humankind’s longstanding and continued effort to collect and organize knowledge, and Otlet’s part in this.

Otlet’s prescient understanding of the varied nature of documents was coupled with his work on the UDC, Universal Decimal Classification. The process of describing documents now embraces digital as well as physical items. Cataloguing and classification codes used to describe physical entities laid the foundations for modern day metadata; data about data, which is used to described and index the digital world.

9780262528511Pomerantz J (2015). Metadata. MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Jeffrey Pomerantz book Metadata describes the origins and types of metadata, how it is used, and why it exists.

 

 

9781783300105Tattersall A (2016). Altmetrics: a practical guide for librarians, researchers and academics. Facet: London

Looking further into the digital world, we encounter new methods of scholarly communication and dissemination of information. For those of you with an interest in digital scholarship, Andy Tattersall’s new book: Altmetrics: a practical guide for librarians, researchers and academics focuses on research artifact level metrics which go beyond traditional journal papers to include book chapters, posters and data sets. The book covers the history of altmetrics, and looks at how library and information professionals can facilitate new approaches to learning and sharing knowledge.

books as historyPearson D (2012). Books as History. British Library: London

Finally, for those of you who came for the books. Take a look at David Pearson’s Books as History, and James W P Campbell’s The library: a world history (photographs by Will Pryce). In case you were wondering if LIS is the right discipline for you, pictures speak a thousand words.

 

9780500342886_26164Campbell W P and Pryce W(2013). The Library: a world history.  Thames and Hudson: London

 

 

 

All of the books listed above should be available from the smashing City University Library for anyone who is already registered. If you need more inspiration, please take a look at my LibraryThing catalogue, where you can see books tagged for the modules I teach, or for LIS related topics in general. There is some background to using my catalogue on my profile page.

Social Media

At #citylis, we are unapologetically digital. Whilst the documentation of our physical/analogue world will always be an essential tenet of LIS, we cannot ignore the digital processes and entities which are now pervasive in our information society. During the course, we will take the opportunity to examine what this means for LIS, and discuss how the digital realm relates to the physical.

Accompanying the contemporary shift to a culture which is as much digital as physical in many parts of the world, has been a change in the processes of scholarly communication; a change in the ways in which knowledge is created and shared. The tradional, print based dissemination pathways are evolving into new highways of digital scholarship. Although there is much to be worked out before the traditional forms of publishing are completely superseded, we encourage all our students to  understand the factors for change in communication, and to gain experience in working digitally. Our starting point will be to introduce two popular social media channels: tweeting and blogging.

Many of you will already have a Twitter account, and some of you will be familiar with blogs. For those of you new to these practices, we will run a social media 101 class at Induction (this year on 23/09/16). If you are keen to get a head start, you may like to check out:

Twitter: https://support.twitter.com/articles/215585#

WordPress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzrRQHSMc5w (video)

Writing for Research: https://medium.com/@Write4Research

The Lost Infrastructure of Social Media: https://medium.com/@anildash/the-lost-infrastructure-of-social-media-d2b95662ccd3#.rm13ptw50

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For further information about Induction, please check your email if you are a new #citylis student, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @citylis. We have a blog, where you can read about our alumni, news, research and events. If you have any further suggestions for summer reading, please add a comment.

Documentation in the post-factual society; or what LIS did next (after Brexit)

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Photo by @lynrobinson cc-by

It has become something of a truism that LIS has rather lost its way. The importance of the information professional role is generally believed to have been diminished by the ready availability of digital information, particularly through Google, Wikipedia and social media, while news from the formal library sector is increasingly of closures and mergers. Not surprisingly, the underlying library/information discipline wonders what its purpose is, what it is educating for, and researching about. This is not new, but the concerns have now become more pressing.

One response, with which we identify, has been to suggest that we return to our turn-of-the-twentieth-century roots, and focus on documentation; the study of the varied forms and genres of documents which carry recorded information. This seems particularly apposite in light of the novel forms of complex digital documents now emerging, which traditional LIS is ill-equipped to handle, both in theory and in practice.

More broadly, we might see this movement framed within a wider set of social issues and problems, which we might categorise as those of the post-factual society.

The phrase “post-factual democracy”, now in wide circulation, seems to have risen to prominence in 2013, apropos of the ‘infostorm’ phenomenon, the multiple repetition of an idea on social media:

“Infostorms may be generating a new type of politics, the post-factual democracy. Facts are replaced by opportune narratives and the definition of a good story is one that has gone viral”

V.F. Hendricks, All these likes and upvotes are bad news for democracy

It has come into more frequent use in 2016, particularly in conjunction with Donald Trump’s candidacy for the US presidency, and the referendum decision for Britain to leave the European Union.

However, other variants are older. The term ‘post-factual age’ appears in 1999 (C Bybee, Can democracy survive in the post-factual age? ), and ‘post-factual era’ in 2007 (D. Sirota, Welcome to the post-factual era.)

The phrase “post-factual society” has contemporary popularity, used, for example, in an MTV report in July 2016,  although “post fact society” was used in the title of a 2008 book.

While all these terms seem to have much the same import, “post-factual society” seems most appropriate for the perspective of LIS, with its emphasis on making accessible the (at least partly factual) records of society.

What this means was shown in sharp relief in the political campaign which culminated in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union in June 2016. It is generally agreed that the information available to the public during the campaign was accompanied, on both sides of the issue, by a great deal of misinformation (unintentionally false and/or misleading) and disinformation (deliberately false and/or misleading). Two widely publicised events threw light on the post-factual nature of the debate. One was the suggestion by Michael Gove, a leader of the Leave campaign that the public had had enough of experts. The second, the revelation that many British internet users searched for “what is the European Union” in the the days after the vote. Social media also played a major, and, in the views of many a malign, part in the campaign.

There are other, perhaps less dramatic, observations supporting the idea of the post-factual environment. One is the decline in fact-based news reporting, replaced by comment and supposition around a small amount of information (or misinformation, often) spread through the multiple reproduction of an initial report or press release, and lacking fact-checking or research in relevant information sources (K Schopflin and K Stoddard, The news librarian, CILIP Update June 2016, pp 28-30). Another is the reliance on social media for information of all kinds; while undoubtedly rapid, easy to consume, and able to be filtered according to taste, this works against the need for considered rational material, with an openness to views outside one’s filter bubble. Finally, there might be mentioned the inarguable move to a generally shallow, light or distant reading of materials of all kind, exemplified by a reliance on headlines, tweets, updates, snippets in internet news, and on abstracts for professional materials.

What might the response of LIS be to this complex of issues and problems? The problem is certainly not one of a lack of information; arguably the reverse. The response of the library community in particular over the past decade to information overload has been the enthusiastic advocacy of information literacy, with a focus on the selection of ‘good’ sources, and the evaluation of information. While this is no doubt of value, particularly in the educational settings where it is most strongly espoused, it seems too limited an approach to make much headway in a wider post-factual context.

We have argued that LIS should take as a major task, indeed perhaps as its main role, the promotion of understanding, as a replacement for the previous task of the provision of information. Understanding is, ironically enough, a poorly understood concept, and there is scholarly work to be done in capturing exactly what it means, from a documentation perspective, and hence how it may best be promoted. However, it seems likely that it will certainly involve two aspects. First is the development of information fluency: the conceptual grasp of the world of information, in its new digital environment with its new forms of document. Second is the complementary development of digital literacy; the set of skills necessary to navigate, to access and contribute to, the new information environment. These need to be studied and taught within LIS academic departments, and then promulgated through society generally by practitioners. This is certainly not a matter of attempting to go back to some golden age of universal deep reading of the kind of documents familiar in the pre-Internet age; the world has moved on from that, and will not go back. Rather, it is an attempt to help society to regain the fluent and effective dealing with information which has, to a significant extent, been lost in these post-factual days.

But together with these conceptual and practical concerns should go a specific ethical, and arguably political, commitment to oppose and to counteract the post-factual tendency and its proponents. The latter include much of the media, and some highly placed political figures, as well as the section of the population which prefers not to have to engage in rational fact-based debate.

It may reasonably be said that these are not wholly new tasks or perspectives for LIS; and indeed one may find analogies going back to the origins of the public library movement in the nineteenth century, if not before. But the social transformations which we are now seeing lend a new urgency. The transformation of LIS into a subject based around the principles of documentation, and with the primary aim of promoting rational understanding in society, is a necessary response.

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Note: The nature of LIS as a discipline and its relevance to practice is one of my research interests, and I often write and speak about the content and boundaries of the subject, and the design of LIS curricula.

Here are some of my previous posts around this topic:

30/03/16 Waving not Drowning

10/05/15 Don’t go to Library School, you won’t learn anything useful

08/03/2015 Time for the blue whale

17/11/2014 21st Centruy Library & Information Science

18/03/2014 My name is Lynxi, I am an academic

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If you are interested in studying for your masters in LIS, I give regular presentations on the discipline, careers and our course content at our #citylis open evenings, which are held in November, April and June at City University London as part of their postgraduate open evenings. Check the website for the next date – free but you need to register.

Student Research at #citylis

The summer term, from May – September, is our research period. This is when our students undertake what is regarded by many as the most exciting part of the masters course, the independent research project, or dissertation. The dissertation is regarded by employers as the definitive way in which new LIS professionals can demonstrate their individual skills and expertise; the completed project not only functions as a showcase for expertise within a given area, but demonstrates research competence, commitment, insight, creativity, determination and resilience. All of which are characteristics which underpin successful employment in today’s workplace, alongside excellence in communication.

Research Seminar 16:05:16As a precursor to the main research phase for 2016, we added an additional research workshop to the #citylis agenda. This session was designed to put students at ease, allowing everyone to be able to discuss any remaining doubts or concerns before starting their research. Those in their second year of the masters course, or those studying full time had already put together their research proposals, and this seminar provided a forum for discussion/feedback. Some first year students also joined the group, keen to get a head start on their research, and also to catch up with friends and ideas!

#citylis positions itself at the forefront of library and information science. LIS aims to organise and preserve the record of humankind, making it available to all. To do this in the 21st century, we reach beyond traditional library roles, and beyond traditional definitions of information, documents and collections. We anticipate the changes and challenges thrown up by the digital information society. We constantly examine our understanding of documentation, and strive to put forward ways in which we can interact with the information communication chain to promote our ultimate goal of information use for the purposes of understanding.

The research topics chosen by our current students reflect the broad, contemporary nature of library and information science; library services for minority groups, area studies, the impact of makerspaces, the impact of AI on information organisation and retrieval, and how computers are changing the way we think, and thus the consequences for information services.

Concepts of documents, collections and metadata are considered and challenged, alongside the impact of technology on provision of access to theological literature, music, art, videogames and materials.

As always, #citylis students are encouraged to process what they learn reflectively, by sharing their progress via social media. Posts relating to our work on Twitter are tagged #citylis.

#citylis offers a full, 10 session, core module on Research Methods to all our students, as preparation for the disseration, and in anticipation of a future career which fully embraces both the application of and contribution to research. A sample of previous dissertation titles undertaken by #citylis students supervised by me can be seen here:

If you would like to study with #citylis, come to one of our open evenings, or email me [l.robinson@city.ac.uk] to arrange a time to chat.