Taking the “Library” out of Library School

This post is co-written by Hailley Fargo and Brenna Murphy, students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently announced that it may drop the “library” from the school’s name. Since 1981, we have been known as the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS); we would now be called the School of Information Sciences.

A 22-6 faculty vote in August approved the department to move forward and begin stakeholder consultation. The Dean and other members who drafted up the proposal met with students, in person and virtually, to go over the major points of the name change.

Photo from user Chris on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Photo from user Chris on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

The Dean began the consultation by stating that, in order to “evolve the school for the 21st century,” our department would have to grow in size and scale as well as scope in breadth. Our current name is not broad enough to cover all potential career paths, including a new Masters in Information Management, which is awaiting approval from the Illinois State Board of Education.   

Another reason for the name change is that for our particular college and context, the name change would increase visibility on campus and clarify our department’s identity. This confirmed identity would allow us to keep the autonomy we currently have. In past years, the idea of a merger was broached (for more information on that, see a previous HLS post from Nicole). A new name would make us more recognizable as a full fledged iSchool and (hopefully) prevent a merger idea from being brought to the table again.   

During the on-campus stakeholder meeting (which Hailley attended), the questions students brought to the table included, “Why does library have to be dropped?”  “What’s the risk in keeping it?” and “What will this change do to the incoming cohorts?” We were told that while library was being removed from the department name, the degree we receive, a Masters of Science in Library and Information Science, will not change. The meeting lasted about an hour and a half and in Hailley’s opinion, the crowd seemed a little less riled up by the end. Current students and alumni have until October 9th to submit feedback, which the committee will review and decide what the next steps will be.

Our two cents…

Brenna

My final opinion is: if you must. This whole argument comes down to the fact that library schools are evolving in order to stay relevant. For some schools this change has been characterized by a merger with other colleges and for other schools it has meant a new program name. We are not the first school to do this and we will not be the last (in fact, Illinois has changed names a whopping five times since it was founded). I appreciate that my school took the time to talk with stakeholders, though it seems the decision is already made.

I think Annoyed Librarian was spot on by saying “A library school by any other name would still be irrelevant to the concerns of actual librarians.” I know that when I apply for jobs, anyone in the library field will know that the School of Information Sciences = library school (though people outside the field might think I’m getting some sort of IT degree). Yeah, it kind of irks me that my library school won’t have “library” in the name, but I can live with it.

Hailley

During the on-campus meeting, I was struck by how many of my peers seemed to divorce “librarian” from “informational professional.” Regardless of where we end up, either in a traditional library setting, a special library setting, or a business corporation, our job is help people find, use, and create information. Earlier this year when explaining to undergraduates my graduate program, I said that library science falls under this bigger umbrella of “information.” Our purpose is to provide information to others and we do that in a wide variety of ways (and sometimes we attach the title of “librarian” to ourselves, which brings with it a set of stereotypes and culturally embedded ideas, for better or for worse).

As I dug deeper into this topic for this post, I was also struck by how ALA frames this tension between keeping library in the name of the department:

From ALA’s website:Program emphasis – In the 1990s several traditional library science schools began a transformation into more broadly-defined “information schools.” To the ire of some, the names of the schools even dropped the word “library” entirely. The result is a wide variety of schools, some more traditional and others much more geared towards a variety of information professions. The library world benefits from both, and you can, too. (final emphasis added)”

Additionally, since 2003, GSLIS has been a part of the iSchool consortium. Quoted below is their mission statement:

The iSchools are interested in the relationship between information, technology, and people. This is characterized by a commitment to learning and understanding the role of information in human endeavors. The iSchools take it as given that expertise in all forms of information is required for progress in science, business, education, and culture. This expertise must include understanding of the uses and users of information, as well as information technologies and their applications.

That’s what we do, right? I can’t think of a class I haven’t taken at GSLIS that does not revolve around users, information, and technology (expand the definition of technology beyond our usual limited view of simply digital items such as computers). For me, the name signals a change, yet not a decline in what our department does well. Sure, we might broaden and expand, but isn’t being inter-disciplinarily a strength of this field? Collaborations across knowledge bases (to me) seem to strengthen my personal practice and help to widen my view of the world.

What do others think of this proposed name change? Has your school gone through something similar?

6 replies

  1. San Jose State University’s program went through a similar change not too long ago. It used to be SLIS (School of Library & Info. Sciences) and now it’s the “iSchool.” I don’t see a problem with this; after all, there are numerous environments outside the traditional library setting where professionals apply skills learned from these programs and these are really only just started to be recognized. In fact, I think it’s great that the administrations of these schools are acknowledging (and at least at SJSU, are promoting to students) non-traditional job opportunities that exist for LIS professionals, as the library field can be over saturated with applicants. In a way it gives you more “mileage” for the MLS degree if you don’t restrict yourself strictly to library opportunities. In a way, these master’s programs are only opening doors, not closing them (or shutting out libraries entirely).

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  2. Library comes from the latin Liber – for book or relating to books. Information comes from Informare – which relates to the formation of the mind (teaching). I think it’s a perfect descriptor for what we do.

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  3. I’m not sure where I stand on this issue.

    On the one side, I’ve been regularly frustrated by my own program’s tendency to frame all our study in terms of public and academic librarianship. A lot of the most important conversations about preservation, organization, storage and access don’t really pertain to libraries in the physical sense. On the other side though, I fear an eventual rift between what I’ll call classical librarian studies and what we have learned to call information science. The two shouldn’t separate.

    I wonder if our real issue is the need to redefine the word “library” to include all the things we use it for. In broader terms, a library isn’t only a place people go to use books and other resources; it’s any structure—physical or digital—that stores information and organizes it for access. In those terms, Netflix has (or is?) a library. So does (or is) Audible. Flickr is a user-created and curated library. Come to that, each of us has a library of sorts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. And that, I suppose, is where we get uncomfortable. A lot of the areas where “information science” most readily applies could be called “libraries,” but they are really, really different in some fundamental ways. But those ways generally pertain to purpose and values, not functionality. And we non-profit champions could learn a lot from the organizational functionality of every for-profit example I just listed.

    Tricky subject. I’m so glad you both tackled it, Brenna and Hailley.

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