April 19, 2018

More Than Information | Blatant Berry

John Berry IIII was surprised when the news came that the School of Information and Library Science at New York’s Pratt Institute had changed its name to the School of Information. I’ve been an adjunct professor there for more than three decades, and I was saddened at first that this old, venerable school, the second such school in the nation, was dropping “library science” from its name. After reading letters from Dean Tula Giannini and Pratt’s provost Kirk E. Pillow, I was somewhat reassured. I realize that this is now the direction of things and marks real progress in staying abreast of this digital age and the growing discipline once called information science. That field now carries a version of that name or informatics or just plain information studies. It is professed in every college and university these days, a kind of darling in higher ed. So it is understandable for Pratt to take that step.

While the change is undoubtedly a healthy one, I am still glad that the program that leads to the Master of Library Science (MLS) degree will survive in the newly named school as it has in many other programs that have made this change.

I do have one caveat, however: we must not let this reorganization of our place in the hierarchies of academe leave us thinking that librarianship is somehow a subset of information studies.

Those of us who remain librarians, or who aspire to be librarians and are now in MLS programs, must reject that thinking and convince our colleagues in the iSchools that while we reside in their academic institutions, libraries and library service are not and should not be considered simply one segment of information.

Modern libraries of all types—public, academic, school, and even special—provide and deliver much more than information. They are community centers to which people go in ever increasing numbers for entertainment, educational programs, and concerts; to search for jobs or develop their curricula vitae; and to introduce children to the world of books, stories, and free interaction with one another outside the disciplinary restraints of the classroom.

Libraries give communities a place to gather to work on solutions to shared problems. They provide a place where groups of students can informally discuss their studies and issues without teacher or parent involvement. They are bastions of civic pride, often the anchors of downtown development and commerce. They offer a peaceful space for those who need an office, a live demonstration of the latest technologies, and, in many recently troubled cities, a place to get away from the hurly-burly of civic strife.

Aspiring librarians may or may not object to being categorized with those studying to become information professionals of one kind or another, We must help them protect the full meaning of the professional term librarian.

We must ask faculty in the new schools of information to remember that although libraries do provide information services and products, they are not just an information agency. They go far beyond that into realms of social interaction, politics, and meeting both individual and public needs of a broader and different kind. These can include face-to-face, one-on-one guidance from experts alongside programs with big audiences who share cultural, educational, or simply enjoyable experiences with one another.

The library is a social institution defined and built by the people to our own specifications. Generally, we own those libraries, and we the people set their service menu.

As a result, the library is the only organization in this society with such a full agenda, and while that includes information services, it goes well beyond, to a address huge range of human needs and desires.

John Berry

This article was published in Library Journal's November 1, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.

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  1. rutgers did the same thing in changing to a masters of information. it’s just another erosion of the librarian as a profession because anyone can specialize in “information” and it cheapens us all. masters of information is just another horn of extinction on a profession that is largely valued as backward book jockey public servants.

  2. Uldis Skrodelis says:

    The current students , past graduates and future students should consider themselves lucky.The oldest such school in the United States no longer exists !

  3. Uldis Skrodelis says:

    The current students, past graduates and future students should consider themselves lucky. The oldest such school in the United States no longer exists!

  4. Blanche makes a great point. “Information” is now ubiquitous as in, “I get everything I need off the internet.” For this reason, “Master of Library Science” may convey greater value to those outside the profession. Might I suggest that this traditional degree title also aligns with the game changing “Libraries = Education” vision.

    Adopted by a growing number of libraries across the country, “Libraries = Education” includes “Information” in that the term is part of the definition (see bit.ly/Edu_Defined).

    The strategy:
    * Repositions libraries as educational institutions and librarians as educators
    * Categorizes all that libraries do under three, easy-to-remember “pillars” (Self-Directed Education, Research Assistance & Instruction, and Instructive and Enlightening Experiences)
    * Replaces traditional terminology and jargon with strategic language that people outside of the field understand (e.g., “education,” “instruction,” and “research” replace words like “information” and “reference”)

    If you are interested in learning more, I’ll be presenting the approach at PLA in Denver: “Libraries = Education: Reclaiming Our Purpose for the 21st Century” (April 7, 2016, 2 – 3 pm, Colorado Convention Center)

    This strategy is also set forth the Aug. 2015 issue of Public Libraries (see: bit.ly/1NPoXZw)

  5. Library Journal is deleting comments. Very classy.

    • Randy Heller says:

      Hi Lassy – I can assure you as the person who oversees the websites that we most certainly do not delete comments. From time to time (rarely), we may redact part or all of a comment that doesn’t follow the comment policy (see below), but when that happens, we keep the comment itself in place with some kind of message explaining the redaction. Other times, a comment may wrongly be snagged by our spam filter, in which case we can recover it if made aware. And other times, online technology and web connections being what they are, a comment may simply not process all the way, in which case, we welcome commenters to resubmit. If there is a particular comment that has lead you to believe this, I’m happy to search for it in the spam folder.

      Randy Heller, Senior Web Developer

  6. “…They offer a peaceful space for those who need an office…”

    Really? In my library, these people DO think our space (public computers/communal desks) are “free” office space. They receive calls, make calls, speaking in LOUD (NOT “library”) voices, disturbing staff and patrons. And we (I’m a taxpayer AND employee) are just supposed to put up with them, and subsidize their business? WHY? I’d like the government to require them to pay the same fees I’d have to pay for running a business out of my home.

    Making libraries “all things to all people” is going to backfire…we’ll feel it in our pockets by way of higher taxes to “give them what they want”. Funny, isn’t it, that the people who run libraries (boards, directors, “new” librarians) are pushing for this. Yes, blanche, librarians themselves are often the cause of their own profession’s downfall! My library has ONE actual librarian (just hired) that works with the public (the other “directs” from a back office,very rarely stepping out onto the floor to help patrons). The rest of us are not librarians (though the public THINKS we are. FOOLS!)

  7. Insightful comments once again, John. Thanks. At the end of the hour, someone who collects, saves, shares, advises on, and protects books in a particular space will be once more, the go-to person – the Librarian. Conceive, if you can, of a post-electronic order, courtesy of a human provoked EMP or solar CME, where then is the knowledge? …in the caves and under the sand perhaps if you’re lucky, still on the shelf. Librarians at your service. Sometime back [ca. 2011] LC looked at shared print repositories as libraries increasingly dump their respective print collections for all things ‘e’. An obscure librarian’s reference or two spoke to this black swan, the one-off. Just last year DHS and others re-assembled to ruminate over grids going dark – attention span however was short lived as many were too busy trawling their phones… Save the books, become a librarian. Be tech savvy for the here and now and to leverage ROI, that’s about it.

  8. UNT has dropped Library Science to join the iSchools. So it’s now the college of information science instead of college of library and information science. Very sad :-(