On being Library and Information Science

My colleague Lyn Robinson has recently written a blog post on the nature of library and information science in the 21st century. Showing how LIS is inextricably associated with the idea of the ‘document’, she points out how the nature of documents is changing, and how this affects LIS, and its relations with disciplines such as computer science, publishing, data science and digital humanities.

With this as a stimulus, I thought it would be timely to mention our newly formed Department of Library and Information Science at City University London. City has had a very well-known Department of Information Science for over thirty years, and has carried out teaching and research in the subject for over fifty years, as we have described in a journal article. It has to be said that this was named originally to emphasise the rather different perspective at City from the other departments at the time, a perspective which focused on technology application and on subject-specialist information work. Leaving the L-word out was seen as a good way to emphasise City’s distinctive nature, although many City students, then as now, went on to careers in librarianship.

So why now include ‘Library’ in our title, particularly at a time when similar departments are dropping it, to become Information Studies departments, i-schools, and the like. Partly perhaps because we like to take a contrarian viewpoint; if everyone else is going off in one direction, we feel an attraction to being different. But mainly because we believe in libraries, and in the library brand. Of course, just as the nature of documents, and the ways in which they are used, changes, so must the nature of libraries change. But we see a continuing value in the basic idea of the library, the curated collection of documents supporting the transmission of recorded knowledge across space and time, adapting to technological and social changes but maintaining is unique purpose and values.

So, when a restructuring of the university’s organization enforced some change for us, we took the opportunity to amend our name. We are now the Department of Library and Library Science, with an associated research centre, the Centre for Information Science (another name with a long history), within a large School which brings together City’s technical, mathematical and engineering activities. Library/information departments are well-known for appearing in many different places in the structure of universities, from arts faculties to business schools, from integration with computing and information systems to close links with education. We find ourselves now, in effect, the liberal arts wing of a technical school, but not inextricably tied to it; for example, we submitted our research to the recent UK Research Excellence Framework assessment as part of an integrated submission with colleagues from publishing and cultural policy. This strikes us a particularly helpful place to be, in order to form the links we will need to teach and research effectively in a rapidly changing environment.

image dlis jpeg
How long our new name will last, who can say? We cannot promise another 30 years without change, but we like it for now.

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