The challenges of training in Library and Information Science


[Versió catalana | Versión castellana]

Ernest Abadal

Dean of the Faculty of Library and Information Science
University of Barcelona


1 Training, a cause for concern

It is perhaps hard to experience in first person as many sad endings in university Library and Information Science (LIS) centres as Blaise Cronin has. Cronin studied in the Department of Library and Information Studies at Queen's University (Belfast), was Director of the Department of Information Science at Strathclyde (Glasgow), and Dean of the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University, in the US. When he looks back (Cronin, 2012), he finds that the first department no longer exists, and the other two centres have been totally transformed in mergers with computer science departments.

In any case, the disappearances and transformations of LIS centres that we hear about from time to time are signals our sector emits to remind us that education in Library and Information Science is plagued by doubt and uncertainty. The justified concern about the future of university training in LIS explains why this subject is being repeatedly addressed in publications, at conferences and in seminars. For example, it was raised in a monograph entitled "Education of Library and Information Professionals" (Gardner, 1987), at the conference Information Professionals 2050 (Marchionini, Moran, 2012), and at the International Seminar on Library and Information Science Education and Research (LIS-ER), which was organized in June 2015 by our Faculty to celebrate 100 years of LIS studies that began with the creation of the School of Librarians in Barcelona, and which is the leitmotif of this issue of the BiD journal.

The LIS-ER Seminar was held on 4 and 5 June 2015 (International Seminar, 2015) in Barcelona to reflect on the international challenges of training and research in library and information science. The seminar was a good opportunity to hear prestigious academics from around the world describe their analysis and opinions on teaching and research in library and information science, and to share experiences and concerns with participants.


2 What are the problems?

LIS training has a professional focus. It began to gain recognition in the university environment in 1920, when the Graduate Library School was founded at the University of Chicago. The School was a driving force behind the establishment of LIS as a scientific discipline. This is well-explained by Charles C. Williamson, who was Dean of the Graduate Library School, in a paper entitled "The place of research in library service" (Williamson, 1931), published in the first number of The Library Quarterly. In the text, the author stressed awareness of the discipline in universities, and contrasted profession (library service) with science (library science). He also assessed the problems in the practise of research, which at the time was mainly based on individual work, with a lack of planning, no economic resources (no grants or financial aid) and no specialized journals in which to disseminate the results.

Clearly, then, the main change in LIS training has been a move from professional studies to academic studies that can generate research activity, form part of the university, and be recognized by it.1 However, to reach this position, the focus of the discipline gradually widened beyond library services. It is now concerned not only with books and public libraries, but also with all kinds of documents, information and the operations that can be carried out with these resources, particularly information retrieval and knowledge representation.

Fifty years after the publication of Williamson's paper, a certain degree of LIS tradition and consolidation has been reached. We can find an interesting analysis of how well the subject is adapted to universities in the book Education of Library and Information Professionals (Gardner, 1987). The work analyses the problems of LIS schools in universities, in a context of decline and loss of presence (two schools are mentioned that had closed in the preceding years). Richard Gardner, who is Director of the École Bibliotheconomie et Sciences de l'Information at the Université de Montréal, sets out the main problems: the small size of schools, their lack of involvement in university activity (in general), the limited offering of master's degree and doctoral programmes, and very low levels of research. In his opinion, the solutions should come from joining with other areas and disciplines (he gives the example of the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, which was formed at that time), to create cross-cutting programmes and increase research activity. In this way, LIS would advance further in aspects required by universities.

Today, we can see that many of the abovementioned actions have been carried out and are fully consolidated. However, they have not been sufficient, and despite the efforts to adapt, students are losing interest in LIS education. The clear decrease in enrolment is threatening the future of the studies, given that many institutions are beginning to discuss whether it is worth maintaining a specific course for such low levels of demand. Recent publications have reported these difficulties in Spain (Abadal, 2013; Ortiz-Repiso, 2015), and they are also being felt in other geographic areas. In Europe, Larsen (2005) states that LIS is characterized by small centres with low numbers of teaching staff and students. In this issue of the BiD journal, Ángel Borrego (2015) describes the current situation of LIS studies, based on an analysis of 220 centres in 26 EU countries (in two of which there are no educational programmes), and highlights the diversity of structures, the lack of internationalization and the low level of collaboration between centres to offer joint degrees.


3 Strategies

We are faced with a situation in which LIS centres are small and have few opportunities for growth; in fact they are more likely to shrink. In a context in which large organizations and units are valued, a range of strategies must be implemented to try to minimize these problems. We can highlight four areas of action: the first two are related to the contents that should be taught; the second two, to teaching methodology.

a) Expansion of subject areas

As mentioned above, the area in which LIS specializes has tended to expand since the beginnings of this discipline. Initially, LIS involved the study of (mainly public) library services, with particular emphasis on the book. However, the focus has gradually expanded to cover analysis of all aspects of the document, theories about new functions (retrieval and representation of content), the study of information itself and the design of information systems.

b) Working with other disciplines

Due to their size, LIS centres have needed to work in collaboration with related disciplines, including communication, computer science, and business studies. The iSchools are an association of university LIS centres that have led this joint work with other disciplines, and are a good example of this new direction.

c) Online programmes

Driven by its geographic isolation, the College of Librarianship Wales in Aberystwyth was one of the first LIS centres to offer distance learning. The College first entered this area in mid-1980 with a distance master's degree, and in 1993, having merged with the University of Wales Aberystwyth, it added a bachelor's degree in this mode (Tedd, 2005). Subsequently, distance courses have been introduced in other centres worldwide, which take this opportunity to ensure that their programmes reach a wide audience.

d) New teaching strategies

Innovation and changes in education (gamification and flipped classrooms, among others) must also be introduced in LIS programmes. Sirje Virkus (2015) analyses five cases related to innovative practises in Europe in this issue of the BiD journal.

As we have seen, the first two strategies focus on what contents should be taught (what) and the other two refer to methodological issues related to education (how). However, despite these initiatives, the decline in LIS has not been stopped and the tendency does not seem likely to change at the moment.

These reflections help us to understand the nature of our sector, how we have evolved and where we now find ourselves, but they do not provide a magic formula to enhance results by increasing the offering of programmes and the number of students. LIS will always be a minority discipline and must constantly work to the limit to survive. This is its destiny; it can never settle into its position in the way that disciplines with high social, academic and professional recognition can. For this reason, the coming years will most certainly bring more seminars on these issues, such as the LIS-ER, a taste of which is offered in this issue of the BiD.



Abadal, Ernest (2013). "La biblioteconomía y la documentación en la universidad española a principios del siglo XXI". Nuovi annali della Scuola speciale per archivisti e bibliotecari, Anno XXVII, p. 211–228. <>. [Consult: 05/11/2015].

Borrego, Ángel (2015). "Library and Information Education in Europe: an overview". BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació, núm. 35 (desembre). </en/35/borrego.htm>. [Consult: 06/12/2015].

Cronin, B. (2012). "The waxing and waning of a field: reflections on information studies education". Information Research, vol.17, no. 3, paper 529. <>. [Consult: 05/11/2015].

Gardner, Richard K. (ed.) (1987). Education of Library and Information professionals: present and future prospects. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

International Seminar on LIS Education and Research (LIS-ER) (2015). Programme.<>. [Consult: 05/11/2015].

Larsen, Jeannie Borup (2005). "A survey of Library & Information Science schools in Europe". En: Kajberg, Leif; Lørring, Leif (ed.). European Curriculum Reflections on Library and Information Science Education. Copenhagen: Royal School of Library and Information Science, p. 232–242. <>. [Consult: 05/11/2015].

Marchionini, Gary; Moran, BB (ed.) (2012). Information professionals 2050: educational Possibilities and pathways. Chapel Hill: School of Information and Library Science. <>. [Consult: 05/11/2015].

Ortiz-Repiso, Virginia (2015). "Rethinking Library and Information Studies in Spain: Crossing the boundaries". BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació, núm. 35 (desembre). </en/35/ortiz.htm>. [Consult: 06/12/2015].

Tedd, Lucy (2005). "40 years of library and information studies education in Wales".
Education for information, vol. 23, no. 1–2, p. 1–8. <>. [Consult: 05/11/2015].

Virkus, Sirje (2015). "Change and innovation in European LIS education". BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació, núm. 35 (desembre). </en/35/virkus.htm>. [Consult: 06/12/2015].

Williamson, Charles C. (1931). "The place of research in library service". Library Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 1 (January), p. 1–17.


1 In Spain, this recognition came later than in the US. It did not occur until 1978, when LIS studies were officially approved.


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