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

The multicultural, interdisciplinary record of humanity: library and information science

Whilst the cuts to public libraries within the UK have attracted significant column inches in recent years, as a discipline, library and information science is not often in the news. Whilst stemming from the ancient, socio-political stance that preservation of, and access to, the record is ‘a good thing’, historically, this has been rather taken for granted. Library and information science is not an outstandingly popular subject in the UK, and salaries for information professionals are modest. A colleague of mine pointed out that he would love for school children to say ‘when I grow up, I want to be a librarian’, but LIS clings stubbornly to its reputation as a subject with limitations.

I am prompted to comment now, as we are living in somewhat extraordinary times. Where it seems there is a real chance that facts have become what we read on a state controlled social media. Where Orwell’s 1984 has sold out on Amazon, and yet prejudice, hatred and willful consumption of disinformation has never been greater. My Twitter dashboard is filled with anxiety and political commentary pretty much overnight, in response to the US Executive Order on immigration.

So I would like to take a moment to mention our work in Library & Information Science at City, University of London. Our London Library School, CityLIS, has grown from the first course to be offered in Information Science, in 1961. We have always welcomed those interested in any aspect of the information communication chain, irrespective of personal background or academic discipline. CityLIS is an international, interdisciplinary cohort, which collectively supports and works towards the understanding of information and documentation, from micro-blogging, through physical and digital books, papers, journals, creative outputs and commentary in any format, to high-level analysis. We work towards the preservation of, access to, and understanding of humanity’s record.

Library and information science skills are essential not only for those who aspire to work in a library, or information office. They form the bedrock of understanding to those pursuing an academic career, to those working in the media, to those promoting humanitarian causes, to those teaching, to those in the caring professions, to those in the creative industries, to those working in businesses, to those with leisure interests. Library and information science skills are essential to everyone who inhabits civilized society.

Library and information science is a broad field of study, which focuses on the topic of information, and which draws from a plethora of approaches, including those of computer science, human computer interaction, media studies, cultural studies, psychology, linguistics, education, history and philosophy.

The communication of information is the heart and soul of our information society.

The mechanisms and instantiations of our record are continually evolving in response to technology, politics, socio-cultural mores, and economics. At CityLIS we also emphasize ethics. We base our understanding and development of processes of the information communication chain on history and philosophy, especially the work of Karl Popper, Luciano Floridi and the developing approach of the Turing Institute.

CityLIS promotes library and information science as an important, independent discipline, which supports progress in all other disciplines. We welcome students and colleagues who wish to work for an open, rational and educated society.


CityLIS by #citylis: montage by @lynrobinson cc-by


Connected Education: CILIP / CityLIS Employers Forum 2/11/16


Slide from CILIP presentation. Photo by @lynrobinson cc-by

The question of content for a Masters course in Library or Information Science is often considered from an academic perspective. In the UK, academic courses are regulated by the QAA, with the exact syllabus usually based on the recommendation of the Programme or Course Director, backed up by a teaching team and course advisory committee, the latter comprising students, new professionals, employers and other members of the profession. Significant changes to the syllabus may take over a year to plan, according to local quality assurance procedures.

Courses approved by the professional bodies in the UK (CILIP), US (ALA) and Australia (ALIA) all address the core content of library and information science, whilst each exhibits their unique strengths according to the interests and expertise of their academic staff and research students. In the UK, CILIP approved courses are informed by the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base, PKSB, which provides a connection between the world of work, and that of academia.

In order to further connect our academic understanding of LIS knowledge and skills with that of employers, and also with providers of vocational learning and continual professional development, CityLIS hosted a half-day Employers’ Forum in conjunction with CILIP, on November 2nd 2016.

The Programme and panel members can be seen on our (historic) Eventbrite site.

The Forum provided space for a discussion on how to provide coherent, whole career support for library and information science professionals, in order to create the workforce needed for the future.

The event brought together leaders, employers and heads of service from across all sectors, for what proved to be a lively and constructive conversation between all parties: employers, learning providers and CILIP. This was arguably the first opportunity a comprehensive mix of stakeholders in LIS education had been brought together, and the positive atmosphere has encouraged us to think of ways to continue the conversation, to promote library and information science as a meaningful and exciting career choice.

The free, informal event featured a mix of panel discussion, presentations, workshop activities and group feedback. Conversations focused on what skills were either missing or in need of further development within the LIS workforce, and the role of academic, professional, vocational qualifications, and continuing professional development (CPD), in shaping the future workforce.

Nick Poole, CEO CILIP commented on findings from recent workforce studies:

  • Need to have due regard for the heritage of the profession and its accumulated knowledge-base
  • LIS profession must lead positive change; it is too often seen as resistant to change
  • Need to respect each individual’s motivation for joining the profession
  • Few information professionals aspire to lead their organisation
  • Importance of information literacy and critical thinking
  • Importance of personal and professional ethics
  • Bridge between theory and practice in professional education
  • ‘skills’ is too narrow, think about competencies and attitudes

More general observations from the Forum, were that major implications for the workforce came from converging technologies demanding cross-disciplinary skills, and disruptive internet developments. David Stewart (Director, Health Libraries North) emphasised that librarians must become business-critical instruments of informed decision making.

A minority of the group, around 7 out of 70, felt that formal education was not effective in preparing students for the demands of the workplace. The same number however, conceded that they did not know what contemporary Library and Information courses offered, as they had not been in contact with academic education providers in recent times.

The topics identified by employers as important included: data literacy, information risk, evidence-based practice, teaching skills, workplace experience during education, budgeting and finance, metadata, RDA (although some responders suggested cataloguing should be removed from courses), creativity and innovation, and critical thinking.

Mindful of my well known advocay for the value of library and information science as an academic discipline, both for personal education and development as well as for providing a foundation for workplace skills, I contributed that whilst the demands of employers were broad, the amount of material and experience which could be fitted into the one year masters in either library or information science was limited. Most of the topics collectively suggested above are already covered by Library Schools, although the amount of time spent on each aspect might differ. One of the challenges faced by LIS course providers is how to render the broad spectrum of LIS subjects into a series of lectures, demonstrations and practical sessions that can be delivered and assessed within an academic framework, and which offers the student the best preparation for the workplace, and life(!).

The core LIS curriculum is shrink-resistant, and the information communication chain offers us little that is ‘optional’ to the information professional. Cataloguing is perhaps the only significant topic for which continued relevance has been debated in the literature, but it is also a practical skill that attracts fierce advocates. Digital culture and digital society have extended the knowledge and skills to be negotiated by information professionals to include a realm of digital literacies from data to ethics. At the same time, our analogue world still holds attention and demands we respect legacy systems and schemas. All this leaves little room for emphasising subjects peripheral to LIS such as marketing, finance, teaching, leadership, management and business. That is not to say these are not important, but that they may be better taught outside the main academic LIS curriculum. Indeed, these latter subjects are all domains in their own right, and would arguably be better served by specialist coverage, either on a further academic course, or via CPD.

Employers demand workforce ready employees, but it is unrealistic to expect that those who have just completed a formal qualification will also have had time to acquire organisation specific know-how, and to be adept at the interpretation of theory for specific practice. Even those with work experience may find new situations challenging at first, and then there is the continual change to working practices wrought by technology.

It has become fashionable to criticise academic, thinking skills and to emphasise the value of low-level practical ability over a headful of knowledge and facts that may never be used. This argument rests on the short-term economic gain that comes from employing non-professional staff. This is commonplace within the library sector, especially with the emphasis on encouraging volunteers to run public library services. Whilst this promotes the idea that information work is a low-level skill, the skills gap in information handling and technologies is often reported.

Those with an aptitude for lifelong-learning, and critical thinking are better placed to adapt, analyse, innovate and lead. These skills and abilities are those nurtured by a masters course, perhaps uniquely. Leadership, business acumen, teaching, marketing and other broad talents requested by employers, all stem from the attitudes, values and knowledge base instilled by the masters in LIS.

The economics however, are sometimes insurmountable, and the rising cost of a masters course means that many who want to study, and who would benefit from so doing, are unable to.

There is quite obviously scope for both academic nurturing and workplace experience however, and part-time study offers one way to address this. Shadowing, mentoring and secondments are also ways in which formal study can be integrated with work experience.

Academic study of any kind should not be seen as one-off achievement. There is always more to learn. It would seem sensible that formal academic study, workplace experience and CPD should be considered symbiotically, rather than a choice of one or the other.

Having said all this, there is also a case for vocational training and development for those for whom academic study may simply not appeal, or may not be feasible.

A collective effort to provide a comprehensive, connected approach to LIS education would benefit all of us within the domain, and help to attract, retain and develop a vibrant and successful workforce.

There is more information available now than at any other time in history, and it should be our priority as a sector to emphasise and facilitate the exciting possibilities and careers within this field, for those with either business or more altruistic ambitions.


Forum participants were asked to imagine the skills needed for the workforce in 2030 .. Photo by @lynrobinson cc-by


CILIP will use the outcomes from the event to inform current work on the Public Library Skills Strategy, and their wider work on a UK-wide Information Skills Strategy.

CityLIS is collaborating with colleagues from the health sector to encourage a connected approach to LIS education at all levels, and a further meeting with other LIS education providers, to address the development needs of healthcare knowledge workers, is planned.

This event was sponsored by Demco Interiors.