Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Librarians and the fear of other disciplines

It is fascinating how an op-ed about the facts that more and more libraries are hiring people without an MLIS, how libraries are being run like "dehumanized supermarkets", offers the "chaotic disorganization of the largest Barnes & Noble", and how users and librarians prefer "less precise, more watered-down 'metadata' that has replaced what used to be cataloging", along with a flurry of messages on the jESSE mailing list, quickly identifies *the* two main sources for these phenomena:

1. MLIS programs have been "
invaded by faculty from other disciplines". Since people from "other disciplines" care more about getting tenure than the "principled professional practice of librarianship", MLIS programs apparently don't produce people who will standard guard of the forces that changes libraries these days... the reason for this is, according to several messages on jESSE, that students are steered toward more technology and programming courses, and away from traditional reference courses. Geez.

2. MLIS education have been broadened in scope at many schools, and now offers courses that are not restricted the practices of the traditional library institutions, but includes theories, concepts, and practices from a broad range of disciplines and areas. The fact that some schools have exchanged "cataloging" with "knowledge organization" and "reference" with "information resources and services" are, apparently, to blame for this change in library practice and users' expectations of library services. Geez.

I am afraid that the sad reality is that the profession will disappear quicker if LIS education only gave students the practical skills of cataloging and reference of yesteryear and restricts itself to the narrow defined scope of "libraries". The forces that are changing the library profession and libraries are forces in society at large and to pretend that we can save the library
profession and libraries by ignoring these forces in our education and practice is naive and shortsighted. LIS education needs to open up, broaden its scope, and welcome ideas and concepts from other disciplines to save its schools... and our research impact [but that is another discussion for another day].

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