[Versió catalana]

Michael Lowe

University of Wales a Aberystwyth
Department of Information Studies


Abstract [Resum] [Resumen]

The article centres on library and information studies at the graduate and professionally qualified level, but refers also to career and qualification structures as a whole, including for the associated disciplines of records and archives management. The context is given of the LIS department within universities, and the dual influences of government's higher education funding and quality control structures, and the professional bodies' qualifications and accreditation structures. The nature of departments and their staff is described, including of their support and communications structures. The article covers the type and numbers of students, their reasons for studying, and costs and entry qualifications. Examples are given of the levels and specialisms of available programmes, typical core/option structures, subjects studied, and teaching and assessment modes.

1 Introduction

The famous librarian poet wrote “sexual intercourse began in 1963”.1 It would not have made Philip Larkin so famous, but he might have said the same about the current system of library education. Until the 1960’s the Library Association controlled which jobs should be occupied by qualified persons, established the qualifications, wrote and taught the syllabus – by correspondence courses, and even published the textbooks. The 1960s saw the beginning of “library schools” in universities, and therefore full-time study, and entrants to the profession with degrees but little or no work experience. This article characterises education for library and information studies (LIS) in the UK today. The emphasis is on “professional” level education for librarianship and information work, but reference is also made to the sub-professional level, and to disciplines associated with LIS.

2 Profession or professions?

The boundaries of the LIS profession and the academic discipline have become less and less clearly defined. Names of organisations have added “information” to “library”, and even omitted “the L word” completely to try to embrace the diversification caused by information and communication technology (ICT) and employment trends. There are more and more jobs, but fewer and fewer where LIS education and professional status is a prerequisite. So the neither professional body nor the educational institutions have a guaranteed clientele any more, and rely on convincing students and employers of their value. The Library Association has not only renamed as the Chartered Association of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), but has amalgamated with the association previously favoured by “information scientists”. Library schools are now generically called LIS departments, and although the focus of most is still the modern equivalent of librarianship, they have responded to ICT and employment trends with additional programmes of study.

2.1 Records and archives

LIS sometimes includes the smaller and well defined discipline of records and archives management, where the relationship between study and practice remains close. Through relationships with the relevant professional body, the Society of Archivists, the employers, and sister departments such as History; several British LIS departments provide specialist Master’s programmes which lead directly to professional qualification and posts. Like CILIP the Society periodically visits and reviews programmes against its accreditation criteria. They also “Register” members who demonstrate a certain level of professional development after their academic programme. Below the professional level, the Society of Archivists supervises a mainly practical and work-based Certificate Scheme, they say that this is recognised “as the conservation qualification leading onto the pre-registration training scheme.”

Details of LIS departments and programmes are collated on the Web pages: Courses in library and information studies currently accredited by CILIP,2 and records and archives programmes on the Society of Archivists’ Postgraduate courses Web page.3

3 Qualifications

British LIS employment and education is infamous for its neglect of workers below the qualified “professional” level. By definition, university LIS departments are most interested in first degree level upwards, they see their role as education as opposed to formació. The original full-time LIS courses were at Master’s level, on the basis that a librarian should be a graduate of an accepted academic discipline. However towards the end of the 1960s, first or “bachelors” degrees were accredited by the professional body for admission to its Register. They were initially “joint honours” degrees which means one half librarianship and one-half a more conventional academic discipline. A decade later, “single honours” degrees, that is entirely in librarianship, became acceptable to the profession, and are today generally preferred by undergraduates to joint honours. Qualifications from EU member states are accepted in the UK for employment purposes and for registration by CILIP, provided they have been assessed as being at UK degree level or equivalent.

3.1 Paraprofessional level

Below full professional status, there is no one national scheme of qualifications, nor structure for career progression. Even so, local colleges and some national further education institutions have for many years offered courses towards national qualifications which are sometimes recognised by employers for certain posts and pay levels. CILIP’s recent introduction of a “Certificate” qualification (allowing use of the letters ACLIP, i.e. Associate member of the Register, after a person’s name), gives recognition and hope to workers sometimes called “non-professional”. The certificate is at a much more practical level than the “gold-standard” Chartership (MCLIP, i.e. Member), but it is part of one of the routes to full qualification. CILIP includes an ability-based and experience-based route to qualification in their Framework of qualifications,4 taking some of the control back from HE (higher education) institutions. Another aid to progression is degrees in distance-learning mode, where the student continues living at home and working in their LIS post, for which they are granted exemption from perhaps one-third of the Bachelor’s (i.e. first degree) credits.

3.2 Continuing professional development

Continuing professional development (“CPD”) or “lifelong learning” is informally and voluntarily engaged in by many, mainly through courses and meetings organised by the professional association, such as CILIP or its 13 regional branches and 28 or so special interest groups. As the need increases for people to update their qualifications, CILIP invites chartered members to submit portfolios of CPD activities every three years in a Revalidation Scheme, which it is also hoped will be recognised and rewarded by actual and potential employers. With the advent in universities of credit transfer, part-time registration, modularisation and in some cases distance learning, LIS departments have unrealised potential to be significant players in CPD.

4 University departments

LIS is a vulnerably small discipline in the 14 universities which offer it. And admissions have declined recently, for the reasons mentioned above, the competing attractions of new programmes in computing, media studies and so on, or the comparatively low salaries of LIS jobs in the public sector. Larger departments have around 500 full-time equivalent students with up to 25 academic staff, and smaller ones around 50 students and 6 staff. The smallest obviously have a limited range of staff specialisms, sometimes supplemented by part-timers from the profession, and therefore a limited range of specialist modules. Most departments aspire to official rating as “excellent” in both teaching and research, but small size, and the competing demands of profession and funding bodies, make it very difficult to achieve both. The trend in universities is towards larger organisational groupings, so we find for instance several CILIP accredited programmes at the School of Computing Napier University, Edinburgh; and at the Information Management Group, in the School of Business Information, Liverpool John Moores University; and the Departments of Information Science at Loughborough, and within City University’s School of Informatics. As a vocational subject rather than a traditional academic discipline, universities have always found LIS hard to “classify”, and as seen here it is sometimes grouped with computing and the sciences, sometimes with humanities, and sometimes with social sciences. In some cases restructuring has led to LIS loosing its identity, staff and other resources, and even disappearing as a whole programme. However most LIS programmes are still offered by university departments (or “schools”) dedicated to LIS, as at Loughborough above, the Department of Information Studies, University of Wales Aberystwyth, or the School of Information Management, University of Brighton. John Feather’s article “Whatever happened to the library schools” further examines the relationship between the departments, the universities and the profession.5

4.1 Communication between LIS educators

Heads of departments have been united by the British Association for Information and Library Education and Research (BAILER), and its news group LIS-BAILER,6 is probably the most active communications medium for all LIS lecturers. As an informal body, currently with an uncertain future, BAILER tried but did not quite succeed in creating groups of those teaching particular LIS subjects; such as information retrieval. However the Higher Education Funding Council - England has sponsored the LIMES Project to “enhance the provision of skills-based teaching materials”.7 One LIMES outcome is the instigation of several “communities of interest”, one of them bringing together practitioners and academics on the subject of cataloguing and indexing. Lecturers are offered career advancement incentives to join the Higher Education Academy; this is the HEFCs sponsored body set up to develop teaching effectiveness. It is hoped that the HEA’s Subject Centre for Information and Computer Sciences will add the LIMES communities of interest to the activities it supports. The British periodical Education for Information8 also gives communication opportunities for academics, but their small number compared both with academic colleagues, and practitioners, leads to limited interaction.

5 The programmes

Glancing through the offerings of the 14 universities shows that most offer general purpose first qualification degrees at both undergraduate and post-graduate level (“Bachelors” and “Masters”). The former is for those leaving school, or for anyone without a first degree. It is normally used as a direct route to vocational employment, but is occasionally used as a degree like any other. The Master’s is for those who already have a first degree in any subject, either following that immediately, or more often after working in LIS for some time and realising that a vocational degree is necessary for higher level salaries.

Continuous study towards completion is the norm, but most of programmes have interim exit points, so that credits or lesser qualifications can be gained and carried forward. Most LIS Master’s have a Diploma exit, normally between the taught and dissertation stages. It is reasonably popular because that level is recognised for professional qualification. Programmes with “information and library” in the name in some combination, normally cover both wings of the discipline. Others give the opportunity to concentrate on the information management end of the spectrum, without necessarily studying libraries as such. For example Aberystwyth offers its full-time undergraduates either the Information and Library Studies, or Information Management pathway through an overlapping group of modules; whereas only the LIS route is so far available to distance learners. Information science is a more theoretical aspect of the discipline, rarely offered today; the content of City University’s “Information Science” MSc would be called information management by other institutions. Some of the fourteen universities also have programmes which specialise in managing the information of a particular subject, or for a particular user group, such as Sheffield’s MSc in Health Informatics and City University’s MSc Geographic Information Management, and their MA/MSc in Information Management in the Cultural Sector.

The ".A" and ".Sc” in degree titles, means Arts, Science and so on, and is usually determined by the "faculty" (major grouping of departments) which LIS finds itself in.

5.1 Research degrees

Above the level of plain Masters is MPhil, then PhD (Doctor of philosophy). Several departments offer these “research degrees” by full and part-time study, for those who win rare scholarships from UK government’s Research Councils, or as often for students from abroad. The Doctorate is mainly used for access to LIS lecturer posts. A consequence of LIS education being in the HE sector is that lecturers are expected to have come through the PhD route, with the result that few have been LIS professionals, and by no means all are members of the relevant professional association.

Some departments offer only postgraduate LIS programmes – notably The City University, in London. Part-time study is usually available for those who can travel regularly to the classes, and partly because they are not in large cities, Aberystwyth and Robert Gordon (Aberdeen) offer many of their programmes in distance learning mode also. Today the majority of Aberystwyth’s students are distance learners; a sizeable minority studying from abroad.

6 Who controls LIS education?

Essentially it is the universities who decide what degrees to offer in terms of subject and level, which students to admit, and how many. Of course, their decisions are influenced, as already seen by professional bodies, government as the “paymaster”, and most of all by student choice.

6.1 Influence from the profession

CILIP can only invite universities to seek accreditation of their programmes, so that students holding them have fast access to its own qualifications. Of course the degree has sufficient status in itself, so CILIP registration is sought by only a substantial proportion of graduates, and is required by only a proportion of employers, mainly in the public sector. Almost all universities offering LIS degrees do apply for and gain accreditation from CILIP, and where appropriate the Society of Archivists. CILIP judges programmes against its “Body of Professional Knowledge”. So departments have to meet these criteria for accreditation, and different criteria to receive continued funding from government’s Higher Education Funding Councils. For librarianship, accreditation is a major extra selling point for the degree, for records and archives it is more directly necessary for the available jobs. For practical and political reasons, many departments set up a group of practitioners to advise them on trends in the profession and on programme content.

6.2 Influence from government

Government’s Funding Councils (for England, Wales, etc.) have in the last ten years made universities much more accountable for the money spent. Their expectations of programme content and quality partially overlap with those of the profession, but force attention away from the demands of the profession. Universities themselves have created the Quality Assurance Agency which “works on defining clear and explicit standards for higher education, for public information and as reference points for their quality assurance services is contracted to monitor them . . .”. 9 QAA’s “Academic Infrastructure” includes defining the expectations for Bachelor’s and for Master’s level degrees, so that they have a standard, known level throughout the UK. However in late October 2006 an independent survey has made national news by reporting disparity of workloads between both disciplines and universities.10 Combined with suggestions on disparity in awarding degree classes, the press concludes that this “brings the value of a degree into doubt”. QAA have established, with representation from the professional associations, “Subject benchmark statements” which “set out expectations about standards of degrees in a range of subject areas. They describe what gives a discipline its coherence and identity, and define what can be expected of a graduate in terms of the techniques and skills needed to develop understanding in the subject”.11 It is being updated, but the current “Librarianship and Information Management” statement can be seen on QAA’s site.12 QAA also specifies that universities provide standardised “Programme specifications”, that is “a concise description of the intended outcomes of learning from a higher education programme, and the means by which these outcomes are achieved and demonstrated”.13 Thus, where implemented by a university, any potential student or employer can discover the learning outcomes, content, and assessment methods of a programme and its modules. QAA’s periodic “institutional audits” scrutinise institutions and programmes against the standards set; though only a general summary is made public.

The Research Assessment Exercise is government Higher Education Funding Councils’ mechanism for selectively assigning “Quality Research” funding. RAE 2001 graded the research and publishing of individual members of staff upwards, to rate research quality and quantity by department and university. The majority of universities’ research funding in the following years’ was based on their RAE rating, with no money for subjects ranked in the lowest four points on the seven-point scale. So for instance, in 2006/7 one university received 5 million pounds in total, 1 million from the efforts of its politics department, and in common with several others, nothing from LIS.14 It is not surprising if departments are already worried about RAE 2008.

7 Entry qualifications

Whether living in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, applicants are free to apply to any university. There are currently financial advantages in staying in Wales and Scotland, and the departments in large cities benefit from those who save living costs by living at home. Entry qualifications vary from university to university, and from degree to degree. Departments’ Admissions Tutors normally set a certain “points score” from the end of school A-level examinations of eighteen year olds, but are more flexible for older applicants and for postgraduates. The score is based on the ability level needed to succeed at the level of the UK degree, plus additional points depending on the amount of competition for the limited number of places funded by the parent university. LIS is not particularly in demand at the moment, so it is easier to obtain a place than for most other disciplines.

Other than CILIP’s list of accredited programmes, there are several official and commercial selection services. The Web site of HERO - Higher Education and Research Opportunities in the United Kingdom, is the official online gateway to British universities.15 It links enquirers to the course finding & application services, sources of funding, and collates comparative data from official and non-official reviews, statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, HESA,16 and surveys, on its TQI - Teaching Quality Information site.17 Major newspapers carry out their own regular guides and occasional surveys, including The Times.18 The Universities Central Council for Admissions (UCAS) provides the official list of campus-based first degree programme and their entry requirements, and transmits all applications and offers between candidates and universities.19 To study by distance learning at Aberystwyth, candidates must be in an LIS post, and have gained sufficient relevant education and/or work experience to be exempted the one-third of modules which are more basic.

8 Cost to students

Distance learners, sometime sponsored by their employers, pay their own fees of about £3,000 per year. Only a small proportion of full-time postgraduates win financial awards offered by central government through for example government’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. UK and EU full-time undergraduates pay about £3,000 per year towards tuition, and about half are eligible for a means-tested living costs grant of about £2,750 a year. Non-EU nationals pay whatever the university decides for the particular subject – perhaps £10,000 per year for the sciences. This suggests that universities depend on government’s Funding Councils to subsidise home students for at least £5,000 per year. Most British students move away from home to study, and in some universities half of the students take up university accommodation, paying around £2,750 a year for it. The average undergraduate is said to owe the banks, parents and/or the national student loans system about £10,000 after a degree, to be repaid from a typical starting salary of £12,000 per year.

9 The nature of study

Most institutions only allow progression from year to year, and qualification for a degree, if the majority of modules are passed at a level above, for example, 40%. Passing a module is not normally dependent on any particular piece of module assessment, e.g. an exam, but on the assessment as a whole. Degrees are classified according the average of the credits taken, often adjusted to favour better modules and/or later modules; e.g. First Class 70% and above, Upper Second Class 60% and above, Lower Second 50% and above, Third Class 40% and above, and Pass/Unclassified 35% and above. A limited period and number of attempts is usually allowed for failure, but not to improve the degree classification.

Each undergraduate module may be designated as Level 1, 2 or 3, so that study is progressively demanding during the three years. 75% of a programme’s modules are typically compulsory or “core”, and the rest are “electives” or “options” chosen from a limited or unlimited list, often allowing some credits from other disciplines. Certain strands can usually be identified in the core of most programmes, including: management of organisations, information retrieval, information sources and their bibliographical control, information and society, information systems, information literacy and ICT (information and communications technology). Optional modules allow further study of aspects of these, often in relation to particular communities of users; such as: marketing, business information, knowledge management, records management, school librarianship. The structure of typical programmes can be seen on a university’s Web site,20 and can the content, teaching and assessment of individual modules.21

9.1 Progression, study and assessment

Most institutions only allow progression from year to year, and qualification for a degree, if the majority of modules are passed at a level above, for example, 40%. Passing a module is not normally dependent on any particular piece of module assessment, e.g. an exam, but on the assessment as a whole. Degrees are classified according the average of the credits taken, often adjusted to favour better modules and/or later modules; e.g. First Class 70% and above, Upper Second Class 60% and above, Lower Second 50% and above, Third Class 40% and above, and Pass/Unclassified 35% and above. A limited period and number of attempts is usually allowed for failure, but not to improve the degree classification.

Institutions and their quality assurance bodies are very flexible in terms of the nature of learning and assessment. The learning norm may be for a ten credit module to have 10 1-hour classes, including conventional lectures, some seminars (small group meetings, often with students presenting something they have prepared), and some IT or other laboratory based practicals. So a typical full-time LIS student spends only about 6 to 10 hours per week in classes. In other cases, much more of the module’s time may be devoted to lectures, or reading, or practicals, or individual or group exercises; at the discretion of the module tutor, subject to any norms in the institution. Distance learners normally rely on printed or online study material; though they usually have to attend a number of one-week study schools, and participate in online discussions. Unlike campus based students they are usually able to set their own deadlines for assignments, for completing modules, and usually have greater flexibility over the number of years taken to complete. Most universities assign a Personal Tutor to each student, as a point of contact for pastoral care, and continuity across modules and years.

Institutions may have norms specifying a certain amount of assessment per 10 credits, and a certain proportion of “unseen written” examination per programme. For practical reasons exams are less common in distance learning, and rare for all postgraduates. Typical assessment on a 10 credit undergraduate module is one 1500 word essay worth 50% of the module marks, and one 1500 word report worth 50% (with no exam); or one 1000 word report worth 40%, and one 2-hour exam (normally essay-type questions) worth 60%. A sizeable minority of assignments involve such activities as the production of audio visual presentations, or Web sites; or group projects with oral presentation. In the latter case students occasionally contribute to the assessment, while the marking of written work is often done anonymously by the tutor, and a proportion second-marked by a colleague. At the end of the semester or year a proportion is also read by an “external examiner” from another institution, and the marks “moderated” by meetings of the external examiner with departmental then faculty staff, before confirmation.

Data de recepció: 10/10/2006. Data d'acceptació: 20/10/2006.


1 Philip Larkin, in 1974 poem Annus mirablis; available in his High Windows collection, e.g. from Faber and Faber, 1979 (ISBN 0-571-11451-2 1979).

2 Courses in library and information studies currently accredited by CILIP (CILIP, cop. 2006):
http://www.cilip.org.uk/qualificationschartership/Wheretostudy> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

3 Details of the Society of Archivists’ accredited Postgraduate courses: Postgraduate courses (Society of Archivists, last modified 28/04/2006): <http://www.archives.org.uk/careerdevelopment/startingout/postgraduatecourses.html> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

4 Framework of qualifications (CILIP, cop. 2006): <http://www.cilip.org.uk/qualificationschartership/FrameworkofQualifications> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

5 John Feather, "Whatever happened to the library schools", Library + Information Update (Oct. 2003), p. 40–42.Available free via: <http://www.cilip.org.uk/publications/updatemagazine/archive/archive2003/october/update0310d.htm> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

6 Details of LIS-BAILER news group: <http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/archives/lis-bailer.html> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

7 Limes project: library and information management employability skills (Loughborough University):
http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/ls/disresearch/fdtl5.html> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

8 Education for information: the international review of education and training in library and information science. IOS Press. ISSN 0167-8329.

9 Explanation on the site of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, about the Quality Assurance Agency: <http://www.hefce.ac.uk/learning/qual/qaa.asp> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

10 Bahram Bekhradnia, Carolyn Whitnall and Tom Sastry, The Academic experience of students in English universities, (Higher Education Policy Institute, 2006). <http://www.hepi.ac.uk/pubdetail.asp?ID=223&DOC=reports>.[Accessed: 2/11/2006].

11 Explanation of subject benchmark statements, and programme specifications, on QAA Web site: <http://www.qaa.ac.uk/aboutus/qaaIntro/intro.asp> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

12 Subject benchmark statement for librarianship and information management (QAA):
http://www.qaa.ac.uk/academicinfrastructure/benchmark/honours/librarianship.asp> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

13 See reference 9 above.

14 Research Assessment Exercise 2001, results for Library & Information Management (Higher Education & Research Opportunities in the United Kingdom, Last updated 14 December 2001): <http://www.hero.ac.uk/rae/rae_dynamic.cfm?myURL=> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

15 Higher Education and Research Opportunities in the United Kingdom: [gateway to UK universities] (HERO): <http://www.hero.ac.uk> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

16 Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA): <http://www.hesa.ac.uk> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

17 TQI: Teaching Quality Information (HERO): <http://www2.tqi.ac.uk> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

18 Times online. Good university guide: <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/section/0,,6734,00.html> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

19 Llistes de programes de l'UCAS: <http://www.ucas.com/search/index.html>. [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

20 Examples of LIS programmes & structures - DIS, Aberystwyth: <http://www.aber.ac.uk/schemes/current/dis.html> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].

21 Examples of LIS modules – DIS Aberystwyth: <http://www.aber.ac.uk/modules/current/dis.html> [Accessed: 16/10/2006].