In perfect harmony: an international standard for library and information science education.

EINFSE Homepage

Some thoughts and reflections from the recent multiplier event for the  EINFOSE project. The text is based on my presentation, and personal interpretation of discussions around  international harmonisation for library and information science, (LIS) education. Views expressed are mine, and not necessarily those of the project team.

EINFOSE: European Information Science Education: Encouraging Mobility and Learning Outcomes Harmonization [Project Number 2016-1-HR01-KA203-022180]

Multiplier Event at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, April 12th-13th, 2018. “Policy Recommendations for the Harmonization of Entry Requirements and Learning Outcomes in Information Science”.

The ways in which library & information science (LIS) are perceived as a discipline, and how it is taught internationally, are of pivotal interest to me. I was therefore, pleased to be invited to attend, and contribute to, a multiplier event for the EINFOSE project. This project considers how LIS education could be harmonized throughout Europe, based on a shared understanding of the goals of LIS, awareness of the benefits to embracing cultural differences throughout the profession, and the desirability of mobility for the workforce.

The project is focused on alignment and harmonisation of LIS courses between the project members initially, but perhaps with wider impact over time. Harmonisation requires understanding and adjustment of several course aspects so that greater mobility for students can be encouraged, and clear routes to employment established. I recommend the project website for those interested in further details, publications and updates.

The multiplier event was held over two days at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with longstanding colleagues from Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Germany, Sweden and the UK, and to make new acquaintances.

The programme consisted of a project update, followed by conceptual and technical presentations, and round table discussions.

Sessions identified and considered criteria for the harmonization of LIS education within Europe. Discussions arose around the disciplinary boundaries of library and information science, levels at which LIS is taught in European institutions, the ways in which content is delivered, entry requirements for admission to LIS courses, the skills acquired by LIS graduates, alignment of skills with the workforce and job opportunities, challenges to LIS education and future plans.

Library and information science is the discipline which allows humankind to record its activities and achievements; it is the foundation on which our civilized world is built, and is worth supporting, encouraging, promoting and keeping. Courses in LIS are an essential component of this infrastructure. International harmonisation of LIS courses would enhance the reputation and popularity of LIS courses, allowing graduates to study more widely, and to be eligible for employment opportunities according to demand.

Such an aim will require a closer connection with employment opportunities, which in turn will rely upon a wider understanding and promotion of how library and information skills support civilized society.

Ultimately, we could imagine an international set of LIS courses, with an excellent reputation, where employment opportunities for graduates are plentiful, based on clearly recognised and communicated skills and abilities.

What is Library & Information Science?
A fundamental issue to first address for any project such as this is how to define library and information science, and the questions it addresses. Only once an agreed understanding has been acheived, can we think sensibly about harmonisation of course content, knowledge, skills and competencies transmitted, and careers for our graduates. Beyond defining library and information science per se, sub-themes emerged, examining the relationship of library science to information science; the relationship of data science to (L)IS; the division between skills and competences for those wishing to work in a library, and those aiming for a career in information science; and the relevance of information literacy to LIS syllabi, in an increasingly digital world, tasked with ‘fake-news’ ‘post-truth’ and manipulative, algorithmic inference and profiling.

There was general agreement as to the overlap with information literacy, and with change management in as much as it involves informational processes, but a more fundamental consensus seemed needed on the core content of LIS. It seemed as though for some, LIS still faces the old accusation (1980s?) that as a discipline, it has nothing unique to offer. I am continually perplexed by the need to revisit this question, as I think LIS has been defended as a separate discipline many times, not least within my own department, CityLIS, which regards LIS as “the spectrum of activities associated with the processes of the information communication chain, and the interactions between them”.  As technological progress continues apace, it becomes increasingly difficult, and perhaps meaningless, to assign informational skills and understanding to either library science or information science, and the concepts of intention or focus are perhaps the ways in which we now understand the differencies between library science and information science. The difference between library and/or information science then, depends on the focus taken for any given process within the chain.

Information Communication Chain 2018

Robinson, L (2018)

This approach to allows us to translate LIS content into a collection of related modules which may be considered of equivalent effort and credit. The modules may be designated as either core or elective content according to the main focus of the overall programme. This is important for any moves towards harmonisation, as it allows a student to take one or more individual modules from different institutions, to make up their full qualification.

The ‘information chain’ perspective is prominent in schools of thought where LIS evolved from the documentation movement, around the start of the 20th Century (see Otlet, 1934 and ASIS&T). Our activities stem from humanities and social sciences, in contrast to the understanding of information science often found in US programmes, which align more with information theory, and are based in the mathematical underpinnings of computer science.

Information science is the quantitative study of properties of information, particularly: entropy, information theory, and communication theory; economics, value of information, information accounting; encryption, and information security; extraction of information from data; and emission and transmission techniques. This study is typically rooted in the computing and engineering disciplines.

(from the classic text of D.G.Luneberger, Information Science, Princeton; Princeton University Press, 2006).

If we try hard enough, we can see that everything is connected. Nonetheless, disciplinary boundaries, liminal areas and relationships provide a framework that helps us to understand ‘who we are’, and how what we study, practice and investigate, and the methods we use to answer questions, relates to other disciplines. The distinction helps us to understand how we approach problems, and how we can combine our perspective with those of others to bring about innovative thinking for new ideas, services and solutions.

On a more practical level, disciplinary boundaries underpin our education and research infrastructures, direct international and state funding, and define awards made by funding bodies. It is important that attempts at harmonisation take this milieu into account. Beyond the academy, disciplinary segregation can be seen in professional bodies, and the workforce. Although LIS skills tend to be applicable to many roles across sectors, in some locations, work in the library sector is seen as distinct from positions in IT, web design, information architecture or publishing, for example, although all of the latter roles could be found within a library environment.

Further to an agreed definition for LIS, we noted the need for LIS courses to proffer a clear view of the concepts/definitions fundamental to our field, those of data, information, knowledge, wisdom and understanding. There are no definitive definitions within LIS that I am aware of, although we have our own at CityLIS, but students need to have a foundation for these concepts in order to study pretty much anything else in LIS, and these foundations need to be made explicit, if courses are to be harmonized.

LIS and Data Science
There is then the question of how LIS educators should address the relationship of LIS to data science. With the rise and rise of big data, this latter discipline is seen somewhat as the golden goose to which everything sticks. Nonetheless, LIS is certainly not data science, and our reputation would suffer as badly from siting itself at the soggy end of data science, in as much as it does by peddling the softer skills of computer science as its main content.

Aspects of data science, and indeed computer science, are, without doubt, useful in engagement with the processes of the information communication chain, but we should be cautious about claiming to be data science or even data science ‘light’.

The disciplinary content of LIS can be found in text books, in overviews given by professional bodies, job descriptions, and both academic and professional course syllabi. Whilst each rendering may offer slightly different extensions and emphases, it is clear that there is a core content, around the processes of documentation and communication. See for example, the classic text by Bawden and Robinson, Introduction to Information Science, 2012.

Doubtless such examples can be found for data science too, but as a starting point from which to compare the realm of data science with that of LIS, see: The Modern Data Scientist Infographic, by Frank La Vigne.

At the current time, the content is quite different from that associated with LIS. There is always the possibility however, that the questions and problems addressed by LIS and its related methods, may evolve: the record of humankind may one day be a question for data science.

A member of the audience suggested that we could remind ourselves of the relationship of LIS to data science by focusing on the fact that LIS is concerned with documentation and keeping the record; the creation, dissemination, management, preservation and access to data files and associated software tools. This would include management of data files, data wrangling, or analytics.

Data science, however, is rather more about statistical analysis of, and prediction from, big data. See: Doing Data Science, by Cathy O’Neil and Rachel Schutt.

Further insight into the current extent to which data analytics relates to LIS may be gained by examining the content of coding courses such as Library Carpentry, or the Programming Historian. The skills gained by those taking these courses are arguably within the disciplinary area of LIS, especially in respect of systems librarianship, and the digital humanities.

Multi and Interdisciplinary Nature of LIS
An acknowledgement of the composite nature of LIS is essential for any process of harmonisation. If we examine this nature, it is perhaps twofold. Firstly, the processes of keeping the record are a valid concern for any subject, and thus LIS attracts students, researchers and practitioners from many backgrounds and areas of subject expertise. As the nature of each discipline will impact upon the ways in which it is communicated, we can say that LIS is multidisciplinary.

Secondly, the academic understanding and vocational practice of LIS requires us to embrace understanding and techniques from a variety of disciplines. In addition to our well-known overlap with computer science, we have from the earliest times embraced tools and techniques from the academic study of literature, languages, science, statistics, psychology, publishing, media studies, and cultural studies. The relative disciplinary newcomers of data science and the digital humanities have already made their impact on LIS felt. As LIS incorporates concepts from a range of fields, a diffusion of ideas if you like, we can understand LIS as an interdisciplinary domain.

Disciplinary edges are always moving, and a good place to begin the processes of harmonisation is with a conversation on the nature and definition of our subject, with reference to its origins, its current reach, its relationship with other disciplines, the variety of ways in which it is understood, and its anticipated future.

The Levels at which Courses are Offered
Some European institutions offer LIS qualifications at both undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG) level, in contrast to the UK, where courses tend to be delivered only at postgraduate level. In the UK, LIS tends to be regarded as a meta-discipline, and only a few courses offer generic instruction at undergraduate level, without the student having gained experience in another discipline per se.

For harmonisation, there is a need to consider what it means to teach at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and consequently the division of content, skills and competencies between courses.

See here for a list of CILIP accredited courses at UG and PG level.

We considered the courses offered by the partner institutions, and the content that would be appropriate at each level. There was a query as to whether a master’s course should cover material that has already been presented at UG level; presumably for those who enter the course from another disciplinary background. In the partner institutions, entry to PG courses is often restricted to those who have already completed the UG course. In these instances, those taking the PG course would expect a more advanced, or extensive course content than that offered by the UG course. For students to be able to move between courses internationally, the content offered at each level needs to be clarified and agreed.

International bodies such as IFLA suggest standards and levels for LIS course content. In the UK, organisations including the Quality Assurance Agency and CILIP provide similar benchmarks, and other countries may also have reference bodies that act in an advisory capacity. Harmonisation efforts should take advantage of exisiting standards where possile, and address the need to have meaing beyond the academy.

For international mobility, the number of credits for each module, and for the course overall would also need to be standardised, along with the hours of study, and the timing of the terms within the academic year.

Entry Requirements
Entry requirements for LIS courses differed between countries, and this would need to be standardised for harmonisation. It was notable that for UK postgraduate courses, we are keen to attract a cohort comprising diverse disciplinary backgrounds, and so we accept anyone with a good first degree, equivalent qualification or experience. We do not see ourselves as gatekeepers, and believe that LIS is relevant to everyone, even those not employed in obvious LIS professional positions.

In other countries, those without an undergraduate qualification in LIS may be prohibited from studying the discipline at master’s level, or may at least need to attend, and gain enough credits from, a summer school before entering the PG course.

The benefits of opening up LIS master’s courses to graduates from other disciplines were readily agreed: enhanced subject profile, more diverse content, greater graduate mobility. The question of how to encourage applicants from a wider disciplinary background in countries where entry to the master’s level is usually via progression for those who have already completed the undergraduate qualification, was harder. The pool of students available from UG courses is limited, and the courses and the profession as a whole would gain from a wider admissions policy. This would require changes in administration at higher levels within respective universities however; it would not be merely a decision for the department offering the course. The image of the profession, potential salary and career prospects are important here.

I raised the issue of gatekeeping. I believe our admissions policies should be as broad as possible, to allow anyone who wishes to study LIS, for whatever reason, to do so. Of course, economics cannot be ignored, and whilst in the UK, postgraduate study is run according to demand, i.e. students pay the university, in other countries tuition is sponsored by the state. In this case, limits to who can enter the course may apply, and may be more firmly tied to actual or perceived employment opportunities.

Skills and Competencies
It is hard to think of any academic courses today that do not strive to ensure that their content relates to knowledge and skills required for the workplace. LIS courses are no exception, and the full benefits of harmonisation will only be realised if we have  a rigorous and explicit understanding of expected course outcomes at both UG and PG level, how these relate to the tasks carried out by the workforce, and further to the knowledge and abilities anticipated by employers.

Additionally, it is necessary to clarify the skills and competencies that an employer might expect of a master’s graduate, in comparison to someone who had studied only to undergraduate level.

An overarching issue is one of employment opportunity, and this has to be linked to our understanding of LIS as a discipline, to ensure that LIS graduates are aware of the range of positions that they could attain, given their knowledge background, and accompanying skillset.

See for the UK, CILIP’s Professional Skills and Knowledge Base.

This is hard to achieve in practice within any one course or country, and will be harder to standardise within Europe and on a further international scale.

I have encountered on previous occasions, tensions between the competencies and skills that can be reasonably expected from new LIS graduates, and those that employers would like to see from job applicants. I have noted specifically, that employers wish for skills and competencies that might be attributed to an employee after 3-5 years with the organisation – insight based on an intimate knowledge of specific organisational practice, and a significant level of what we may call personal maturity and confidence.

To solve this, educators need to work with employers within the sector, to establish a dialogue around the interconnection of academic courses with the professional knowledgebase and skills. We need to establish, regularly review and update, attainments that can be delivered over the course of an academic qualification, and that which has to happen as work experience or continual professional development, CPD. At the same time, whilst we cannot pretend that any LIS course can ever be a final aspiration for the abilities needed throughout a career, we need to clarify, communicate and promote the significant benefits to studying an academic master’s course. It should be obvious that an educated workforce underpins a prosperous organisation, but a direct connection between course content and organisational prosperity is hard to realise. In the UK, the professional body CILIP has opened this conversation, having held two annual forums for discussion between LIS educators and employers, and having scheduled a colloquium to take place at the CILIP conference in July 2018.

To promote harmonisation, it will be necessary, and should be possible, to identify core understanding and abilities offered by LIS courses, in alignment with the level at which the course is taught, at both course level, and for individual modules. Country specific, unique modules or content should be celebrated and promoted as a benefit of mobility. These should be readily communicable to employers.

There was much discussion about the skills and competencies offered for those enrolled in library related courses in comparison to those enrolled in information science courses. Many of these were overlapping. The spectrum of LIS competencies seen in the UK differed from those in Europe, (e.g. Slovenia, Croatia, Sweden and Germany) where a more distinct emphasis between library and information science syllabi was evident.

The approach at CityLIS, where skills and competencies are seen on a spectrum of activities around the processes comprising the information communication chain, was somewhat unique, as other countries emphasized the differences between course content, and subsequent job skills, for library science and information science.

In Germany for example, entry to Information Science required NLP, programming and information retrieval. In Sweden, there is a clear distinction between the library course and the information science route, which is called ‘Information Architecture’.

The collection, service related skills of the librarian, tend to be regarded throughout Europe as very different from those attributed to information science, which seems to embrace content from computer science, through data science, to information science as understood from a US perspective.

Whether it is beneficial to differentiate skills associated with working in an identifiable library post, with those employed in other areas of information work needs further discussion. As libraries become more dependent on technology, the division by the library or non-library label, rather than focus or area of personal/professional interest is perhaps limiting.

At CityLIS, we do not notice that jobs awarded to our graduates relate to whether the PG qualification held is in either library science or information science. The important factor is the degree per se, and any course work, especially the dissertation, which may pertain to the job description in some way.

This may differ in other course and in other countries – France for example, immediately springs to mind, as the difference between the librarian, and in the information specialist, or documentalist is very clear, with different routes of study, leading to different career options.

For LIS courses, an understanding of the number and nature of employment opportunities for graduates is a priority. It would clearly be advantageous if this could be administered on a national, European or international basis, to allow educators to plan courses based on up-to-date evidence, and to ensure that workplace demand is filled with appropriately skilled graduates. There are caveats here, which assume that workforce data allows for speculation and surprises, and that we cater for the unknown – not all LIS graduates enter the job market immediately; some may wish to continue to PhD study, to enter the academy, or to enter the profession with research skills and competencies.

Alen Doracic reported on an analysis of the Swedish system, where the workforce in LIS institutions had been examined, and correlated with the number of graduates emerging from the Swiss LIS schools. The figures were the most encouraging that I have seen, in that supply and demand were reported as even. This assumes, however, that nothing in the sector will change.


Doracic A, 2018. Slide shown at EINFOSE Multiplier Event in Slovenia, April 12th -13th.

Doracic also showed another slide, which identified the skills and abilities perceived as most lacking in LIS graduates – it makes interesting reading.

Alen 2018

Doracic A, 2018. Slide shown at EINFOSE Multipier Event in Slovenia, April 12th-13th.

The main challenge to international harmonisation of LIS courses, between the project participants, and beyond, is the lack of a widely acknowledged understanding of our discipline, and how the knowledge, skills and competencies offered by LIS relate to the workforce.

Information related positions outside libraries and information centres are hard to define and document, and whilst it is easy to claim, probably correctly, that many jobs require information skills, it is difficult to collectively identify them all, let alone deconstruct the informational skills needed, and translate them into course content.

Further, although much speculation on the future of the workplace is readily found, precise data on future roles and the need for library and information skills is elusive. The sector changes rapidly, and at a pace beyond that which university governance procedures function, so that academic courses struggle to stay relevant.

Nonetheless, I think we can be sure that as more and more digital information pours into our world, we will need more and more human resources to deal with it. Keeping the record is not likely to become irrelevant.

Another challenge is that our discipline is not perceived as large, and hence relevant. We need to collect evidence for the size of our profession; looking at the numbers of students on LIS courses, and the numbers of people reportedly employed in the sector, and comparing these figures to those from other fields such as science, engineering, health, technology, law and business.

See, for example, CILIP’s 2015 results from a study of the UK information workforce, which suggests 86,376 people are employed within the sector.

Interestingly, in an earlier report from 2014, the workforce is estimated to be larger, 270,000.

We are also disadvanted by remuneration. Most positions initially gained by LIS graduates do not attract very high salaries, see HESA Destinations of Leavers for latest UK graduate employment and salary figures, although it is not possible to see results just for gradualtes from an individual LIS PG course. In the UK, as well as perhaps in Europe, librarianship is not regarded as a glamorous profession, although there is a strong vocational and ethical following, as exemplified by those advocating for public and school libraries. Roles regarded as being based more in the field of information, such as law, business or technology, tend to attract higher salaries and hence, higher regard. Information from employment agencies such as Sue Hill Recruitment could confirm this.

If we are advocating international harmonisation, it would be good to make explicitly clear its intended impact, with specific regard to the numbers of students on courses, and the consequence for the profession. Is the intention to fill currently unfilled positions, or is it to promote LIS graduates for positions currently taken by graduates from other disciplines?

It is likely that limitations on employment opportunities (whether perceived or actual) reflect the number of graduates wishing to study LIS. At my own institution, applications for Data Science courses are roughly three times those for LIS. More detailed insight into why graduates choose their subjects would be helpful, although it is clear that LIS would, as always, benefit from an enhanced profile as a profession. Not an easy task, but one which international harmonisation should surely take on board.

Restriction of entry to postgraduate courses to those students who have taken an undergraduate course in LIS is likely to be detrimental to growth and mobility. Issues such as modularization, and credit assignment are relatively small issues.

The situation for library related roles in the US may be different, but that is another post.

Future Plans
International harmonization of LIS education would seem a worthwhile goal for those involved in course design, development and delivery throughout Europe and beyond.

Once again, I am grateful to the organisers of the EINFOSE project, for the opportunity to participate in this discussion.


Bawden D and Robinson L (2012). Introduction to Information Science. Facet.
Otlet P (1934). Traité de Documentation, le livre sur le livre. Mundaneum.

Related Links:
1. David Matthews (2018). Bologna Process still ‘treading water’, say critics

Nearly two decades on, reports suggest the goal of a unified higher education area in Europe is still some distance away

Times Higher Education, May 29th 2018

2. Towards a European Education Area

CityLIS Pioneers Artist-in-Residence at City

Dr Joseph Dunne has joined the Department of Library & Information Science as a Lecturer in Library Science and artist-in-residence.

This post was first published on 21st February 2018, on  City University News.

In recent years, universities have started to explore the benefits to learning, teaching, research, impact and outreach that derive from collaboration with an artist-in-residence. See for example, initiatives at Kings, UCL and Exeter.

In September 2017, the Department of Library & Information Science, CityLIS, pioneered the idea of an academic appointment, joint with artist-in-residence activity, as we welcomed Dr Joseph Dunne to our team.

The concept of the artist-in-residence has no exact definition, but is generally taken to mean the introduction of an artist (e.g. painter, sculptor, dramatist, choreographer, musician, poet, writer), into a novel, previously unexplored environment, either on a permanent or a fixed-term basis.

The benefits of this are two-way, allowing the artist to draw upon new sources of creativity, whilst also providing the host organisation with fresh perspectives on their work, potential new directions, and new audiences.


Joe’s background is unique, in combining expertise in theatre and performance, with an interest in archiving and audience participation. It was for this reason, that he was appointed as Lecturer in Library Science/Artist-in-Residence within the Department of Library & Information Science, working towards further developing an interdisciplinary perspective to their core areas of interest, which include documents, documentation, digital culture and digital curation.

Joe has been working with Dr Lyn Robinson on the CityLIS project DocPerform, which endeavours to understand how temporal and participatory works such as theatre and dance can be understood as documents, and subsequently recorded and indexed for access, preservation, re-experience and re-interpretation.

Lyn and Joe share an interest in how performance can be read as a document, and they are especially interested in the affordances of technologies such as virtual and augmented reality in the creation of new types of immersive documents, and their place in facilitating the archive.

CityLIS has organised two international symposia connected with the project, both held at City.  DocPerform, which took place in November 2016, and DocPerform 2: New Technologies which was held in November 2017. A special edition of the peer reviewed journal Proceedings from the Document Academy featuring a selection of the papers from the latter event will be published later in 2018. CityLIS are currently in discussions with colleagues at the V&A Museum to co-host DocPerform 3.

The unique achievement of the DocPerform project to date has been in bringing together, for the first time, artists, creators, archivists, librarians, researchers and teachers from a variety of sectors to consider the documentation of performance, and to establish commonalities in respective understanding of performance as a document.

The CityLIS DocPerform collection of contacts, abstracts and papers brings a novel, cross-disciplinary perspective, to the LIS field, extending it beyond the boundaries of its usual audience and inhabitants.

CityLIS is currently engaged in further cooperative work within the area of performance documentation, including a major literature review and funding proposals to grow the project.

Informational society

The perspective of the artist-in-residence has brought additional benefits to CityLIS, beyond that of facilitating a new aspect to the discipline.

Notably, an increased awareness of, and interest in, our courses has arisen from students, practitioners and researchers of theatre, arts and performance; indeed we welcome engagement with those interested in postgraduate study from non-traditional backgrounds, as well as with those whose interest in digital curation, remixing, archives and preservation comes from outside the traditional library & information science domain.

The artist’s eye reimagines the world, and Joe’s experience and insight has led to new content for our courses, examining the place of theatre, participation, authorship and creation within the library and information sector. We have new colleagues and contacts, and new ideas for research and for non-text academic outputs.

It is likely that other courses, projects and departments could benefit from embracing the artist-in-residence concept.

The benefits are not all one sided, and for the artist, the liminal borders between disciplines provide a nourishing environment for creativity, individual growth and new work.

Dr Dunne said:

Since joining CityLIS and researching theories pertaining to documentation, digital culture and the philosophy of information, I have gained a significant insight into the capacity of technology to engender audience participation and create interactive performances. Floridi’s image of the “infosphere” and his vision of an informational society has profound implications for the ways artists can collaborate with audiences across different medias and over great distances. Information professionals are ideally placed to impart knowledge of how interactive technologies are changing how reality is perceived and engaged with, and the ways bodies of knowledge are formulated as a collaborative exchange in digital spaces.

Further information:
Dr Joseph Dunne

CityLIS Onlife

*** In this post, I describe how we have established, and continue to develop, a digital identity for CityLIS, the collective tag for activities within the Department of Library & Information Science at City, University of London.

I feel this post is timely, as we have recently set up a group on Humanities Commons, to enhance and extend our digital identity, to explore new ways in which we can engage with contemporary scholarly communication processes, and to increase our sense of community and belonging.

Whilst our real world interactions continue to be important, our digital outputs and engagements increasingly reflect our values and achievements. As the boundary between online and offline activities becomes blurred, we need to ensure cohesion and balance between our physical and digital actions and processes. We need to address the concept of onlife. ***


CityLIS on HComms


This term I have been thinking about how to further develop our digital identity at CityLIS, in the light of ever changing technologies and scholarly communication processes.

Many of us now live in a society where the distinction between online and offline activity is blurred. Luciano Floridi calls this ‘onlife’, and a corollary is that our individual and collective online profiles have meaning to everyone with whom we engage. Of course, we would like this meaning to be positive, and consequently we should, perhaps, pause for reflection on what constitutes an online profile, and indeed what we understand to be a ‘positive’ online profile.

These are questions that doubtless will have different answers for different people. I think online profiles and digital identities can be regarded as essentially the same concept. For expediency, I suggest they are a confluence of how we describe and represent ourselves, and how we engage with others. Our identity should be authentic; indeed, the definition of digital identity is increasingly used to refer to a mechanism of authentication for financial and other transactions. I also support the idea that it is more holistic if our online personas do not stray too far from our offline counterparts, and that planned development is important for both individual identities, and the collective identities which represent groups of people, such departments, projects, organisations and institutions. This is not a novel concept, and often enacted within a ‘social media strategy’. Our social media profiles are not, however, the only mechanisms via which our digital identities are formed. It is important to consider that all of our online engagement contributes our reputation, and that the latter should not be considered as divorced from our real world existence.

Whilst it seems everyone is living onlife, I notice that many students, colleagues and whole academic departments have limited or no digital identity. Despite the overheads required in time and ability, I think the moment has come for all those of us in the academy to have a digital presence. There are many reasons for this, and plenty of work exists which advocates, for example, the increased attention, (altmetrics), enhanced recruitment, and wider professional engagement that can result from extending our analogue lives into the digital realm. However, they are not discussed further here, as my intention is to write about what we are doing at CityLIS from the standpoint that we already believe it is not only worthwhile, but essential. Digital scholarly communication has developed rapidly in the last 5 years, fundamentally challenging and changing the ways in which knowledge is created, shared, organised and developed. Anyone who wishes to be part of this activity has to inhabit the digital as well as physical environment, and to engage with its methods and processes. Within the academic realm, the processes of digital scholarly communication are leading the transition to onlife.

Onlife at CityLIS

Within the context of our work at CityLIS, we encourage all our members to establish an individual digital presence. We encourage engagement and activity that is consistently professional, relevant and/or interesting to colleagues and/or friends. This does, and should, allow for warmth, personality and the occasional surprise, but the fine line between the personal and the professional is hard to tread for some. Whilst I understand this, the need for everyone in the modern library & information services profession to embrace digital communication is critical, and there is really no excuse at all for students and academics not to have a learning and/or research blog. In some cases, the personal and professional cannot be reconciled, and multiple electronic profiles may be the only solution for those with greater personality spectrums than others.

In addition to a profile on our longstanding, institutional, electronic communication systems, (email and VLE forums), CityLIS has had an active online presence since 2009, when a couple of individual staff members took faltering steps into the, as then, unexplored realms of Tweeting and blogging. Initially the collective digital persona of CityLIS was enacted through posts on our individual blogs, and via Twitter updates tagged with #CityLIS. The twitter tag allowed others to contribute to the CityLIS collective persona, as searching for the tag returned a feed composed of posts from multiple authors.

Eight years later, we have established a standalone digital identity for CityLIS, via our account @CityLIS on Twitter and our CityLIS News blog. Both accounts take input from our members, and so portray a collective, online profile.

From September 2017, individual Twitter accounts, and a personal, professional blog will be mandatory for all new CityLIS members. We recognise that communication skills beyond the academic assignment are essential. Employers tell us that communication skills, and social-media ‘savvy’ are key among the abilities which are sought after in today’s workplace. Some of our cohort already engage with onlife at a broader level; media sharing is perhaps the most significant activity, and it is clear that our resource sharing and recommendations already include books, articles, images, videos, podcasts; the digital genie is not going back into its virtual bottle. We have thought about an Instagram account, as images feeds are undoubtably significant, but each additional facet to our digital identity, however popular or helpful, requires additonal time, and this is one of the main challenges to establishing and maintaining online presence.

The concept of onlife, however, does not exclude the material world that we inhabit, and it is important for our physical and emotional wellbeing, and professional success to blend and connect our digital personas with our analogue existence.

To this end, I would like to outline some of the innovative approaches we are taking at CityLIS to encourage knowledge creation, understanding, and sharing, alongside relationship building, with each other, with academic and professional colleagues and with the wider community. These approaches are designed to enhance both our individual and collective, digital and analogue identities.

For the past 5 years, all CityLIS members have been encouraged to set-up a Twitter account, which they can use to follow our well-known course and departmental hashtag #CityLIS. This tag has proved so popular, that other LIS departments have set up their own, for example #ucllis and #aberlis.

Students and staff are strongly encouraged to tweet, but this is not assessed in any way. Those who choose not to share resources and conversation via Twitter are asked to connect by checking what others are posting. The Tweet feed serves as an excellent way to communicate amongst our masters students, and it has proved to be a way to keep in contact with our alumni, and the wider community. Although other social media platforms, such as LinkedIn and Facebook are used by some students, these tend to be used by partial cohorts, a particular student year for example, and have not been as successful in gathering everyone together as Twitter. As mentioned above, we now also have a collective @CityLIS Twitter account, run by the course team. We monitor Tweets tagged with #CityLIS and retweet them from our account, alongside original announcements and resources. This provides a wide-ranging and varied feed, reflecting the wider interests of our students, staff, researchers, friends and alumni. The Twitter feed is useful for potential students, in that they can join in the conversation before they arrive at enrolment.

We also make use of Twitter Lists, as a way of curating and sharing LIS-related collections of accounts.

All members of CityLIS are asked to set up their own blog, suitable for professional, reflective writing and for some modules, formative assessment. Apart from posts set for assessment, frequency of blogging is at the discretion of the individual. We all benefit from reading each other’s thoughts and ideas, and from experiencing different styles and levels of writing.

Personal blogs also serve as portfolios for students to take away with them once they have left the course, and in some cases the written reflections and essays can help in providing evidence of skills for job applications.

A selection of student posts is chosen for cross-posting to our collective CityLIS News blog. These can be found catagorized under ‘Student Perspectives’. They serve as an historic record of our students’ thoughts and work, and also as a window into the activities and interests of our masters students, which is useful for potential course members, and for anyone interested in contemporary writing in library & information science (LIS).

In January 2017, we introduced a new category on the CityLIS blog; CityLISWrites. In this category we publish some of the best, or most interesting student essays, which were submitted as assignments in the previous term. Much of the high quality work completed for assignments by our students lies forgotten once it has been graded. Our innovative approach encourages students to develop their essays once feedback has been received, and to share and comment on each other’s writing. This broadens understanding of essay topics, and experience of writing styles and approaches. A glance at our blog statistics shows the essay posts attract a lot of views. We are confident that sharing our work at this level enhances our digital identity.

Use of Creative Commons licences, and the existence of the Turnitin system make plagiarism from the essays unlikely, whilst citation of and engagement with student work becomes more likely. We will see what happens in time. The essays are published as stand-alone blog posts, with the permission of the authors. Grading and comments are not included. Essays to be published are chosen by the course team, from those with a grade of 60% or above. This approach works well for items of unique work, and it is accepted that not all modules or courses would produce assignment work suitable for sharing.

The face-to-face
CityLIS has a strong focus on face-to-face teaching and social interaction. Students need to attend the scheduled classes in order to gain the maximum benefit from the course, as not everything can be rendered as a digital document to be shared on our e-learning system.

In addition to our scheduled classes, we arrange a variety of optional, professional visits for our students, and we run a series of discussions around professional issues that are open to everyone, whether associated with the univesity or not. This latter series of events is  referred to as ‘AfterHours’.

We run three Open Evenings each year, at which potential masters students can find out about LIS as a discipline, what it is like to study with us, and what sort of careers the course could lead to. These popular events are attended by staff, current students and alumni, and we often have guests from the univeristy library, mentoring service, from recruitment specialists, and our professional body CILIP.

Potential CityLIS students are also welcome to attend a scheduled class of interest, if they would like to find out what attending a university course might be like, before committing to studying.

Details of all CityLIS events, and selected scheduled classes can be found on the  Events listing on our blog. Events are also promoted using Twitter. We successfully use our digital profile to enhance our physical identity.

Open Access Repository: Humanities Commons
Our newest venture goes beyond collecting and sharing our student blog posts and essays, and aims to facilitate sharing of our significant research papers, data, dissertations, theses and presentations. Whilst staff and research students are able to use the City Repository, the Humanities Commons network provides us with the opportunity to create a core collection of our combined intellectual output, including that from masters students, alumni and affiliated colleagues. The Humanities Commons offers an open access repository, and as such makes it easy for documents of all kinds to be shared. The concept of open access is a key factor for change in scholarly communication processes, with the aim of making research findings and review free to access at the point of use, and to use or develop, via the internet. The non-profit Humanities Commons network is open to all, and anyone can register in order to establish a profile, upload their work, join groups and engage in further professional communication activities. All outputs uploaded to the repository are given a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), that serves as ‘a permalink, citation source, and assertion of authorship all in one’.

We have established a group, CityLIS, on the Humanities Commons, which any student, staff member, alumni or honorary members can join, once they have registered with Humanities Commons. Members can associate their uploaded files, with the CityLIS group, so that their work is included in our collection. The collection is visible to everyone, whether a member of our group or not. The group function also allows us to communicate with each other via a discussion forum, to schedule events, to link to a website and to work collaboratively on documents.

This initiative, for us, is a work in progress, and we are encouraging our cohort to both sign up to Humanities Commons, and to join our group. We are especially keen for our alumni to share dissertations that were awarded a mark of 60% or above, and for our PhD students to upload their completed theses. In time we hope to add other significant publications, so that the collection extends and enhances our digital identity and reputation.

The success of this new facet to our CityLIS digital identity, one of a collective repository, remains to be seen. It will depend on how willing our cohort is to share their work, and to spend some time understanding how the network functions, and exploring ways in which it can be used. At the time of writing, March 2017, we have 9 members and 5 shared documents.

New communication technologies and services appear almost daily, and it is inevitable that our current solutions and practices in respect of our CityLIS digital identity will have to evolve with hardware, software, social and professional trends. There is a need to be constantly aware of how onlife works, and to understand which are the most effective and sustainable pathways through the infosphere. This takes time and resources.

Our digital identity utilizes services external to the university. This is risky, in that we have no control over the future of the services, nor even over whether they continue to exist, or not. Nonetheless, we believe establishing our digital profile in the wider networked environment is essential, if we are to be present in the spaces where knowledge creation, sharing, organisation and development takes place. Onlife diffuses the borders between our personal and professional activities, and whilst this requires diligence in navigation, we cannot be left out of the conversation.

Digital engagement requires understanding of coding, file formats, backup procedures, citation styles, copyright, attribution and permissions, and design, all of which can be complex to learn and to practice. Digital identities require a high level of digital literacy, and are consequently demanding of time and effort in addition to that required for learning, teaching and research. In academia, the responsibility for collective digital identity is often added in to individual workloads, without recognition or additional resources.

Finally, the blurring of boundaries in the infosphere allows for anti-social behaviour that is difficult to control. Keeping our digital identities safe from hacking or other abuse is yet another concern. As in real life, identities on the internet are not always trustworthy.

Measuring Success
The possibilities offered by digital scholarly communication are exciting and liberating, offering innovative ways to work which we believe will be more efficient, effective, enlightening and enjoyable. The combined activities described above allow us to extend the reach of our course beyond the classroom, and to create a greater sense of involvement and belonging. The need to create a community of learning, achievement, support and enjoyment around our course is vital in today’s world, where personal goals and relationships are all too easily ignored in favour of organisational quantification and metrics. Virtual communities can, and should, have meaning in real life.

The transition to onlife, advancing our reputation and identity by blending our online and offline personas is essential. Measuring the success of this move is difficult to do precisely however.

Twitter, blogging and repository platforms will readily provide basic descriptive statistics and analytics which can show digital engagement over time, in terms of members, followers, views, downloads, comments, citations and retweets. Correlating these measurements with organisational aims and objectives is harder, and this is something which we have yet to explore. Furthermore, it is also difficult to measure  whether we are increasing our sense of belonging and feeling of community. To undertake these measurements with any coherence requires resources.

Onlife does not provide us with a blueprint for success, and much is still uncertain. What is certain is that the activities which I have described here are a work in progress, and comments and suggestions are welcome.

Another certainty is that time only goes in one direction. Forwards then.


@CityLIS on Twitter.
CityLIS News
CityLIS on Humanities Commons