Last week a good friend of mine and I were discussing our experiences in our respective MLIS programs. What struck me from this conversation was how little either of our MLIS programs had engaged with other fields of study or broader social issues outside of librarianship. Instead, we found ourselves talking about all of the skills and strategies we had learned to be successful librarians and information professionals, comparing what types of tracks we had taken and technical proficiencies we now had.
I was troubled by this conversation when I took a step back, and had to ask — is that all my MLIS program did? While MLIS programs certainly do prepare us to be librarians and information professionals (and rightly so), I think they do much more that we had forgotten.
Let me explain — When I joined the writers of Hack Library School, I was finishing up my MLIS at the University of Illinois, Urbana – Champaign. Now, I am situated in the unique position of not being a full-time librarian or information professional, but instead a full-time PhD student in Media Studies at Rutgers University. While I am not using my LIS education in professional contexts on a day-to-day basis, I have found I still use my background in LIS every day. My continued studies have pushed me to think more about the value of Information Science as a field, and in particular what it can bring to other areas of academic inquiry and how it continues to be relevant in our daily lives.
Through my entire LIS program, I had always bought into the value of information science as a way to train people in information professions, and as a way of studying the processes of information sharing, retrieving, consumption, and seeking. What I had not given much concentrated thought to was the ways in which information science can help answer broader questions or questions from other fields. While I do not take any LIS classes now, my program has put me in constant dialogue with people studying not just Media, but also Information Science and Communication. In my Media Studies classes, I continually return to LIS frameworks as a way to understand media, and discuss the ways that Information Science frameworks provide additional understanding to many of these broader conversations about society and culture. In my current work, which looks at conceptions of social media as “private” or “public” spaces, thinking about the ways information is produced and consumed in these spaces has been fundamental to my ability to answer questions about how people interact with social media and the ways they think about using those platforms. I have colleagues using Information Science to study everything from gender, public art, religion, film, and politics. The frameworks of the field can help us better understand these concepts and further enrich both academic inquiry and social engagement with these topics.
All of this is to say that Information Science is not only relevant to our lives as librarians and information professionals, but what my friend and I had forgotten is that the questions that it engages with can help us to better understand much broader societal concepts and help us to address social problems. Librarians and Information Professionals have a long history of activism, social engagement, and political involvement. So often our programs can focus in on the practical value of our LIS education and what it means for our professional lives, but forgets to highlight the broader value of our education. An LIS education does prepare you for a career, but it can also prepare you to participate in broader social and political discourse with a unique perspective. We can do this through various advocacy oriented groups like those at the ALA, but also through our daily conversations and through participating in online dialogues like those around the elections, sexual assault, and other social causes. Using your knowledge of the way information works, how it shapes knowledge, how to help people find information or how to share it can make information professionals powerful actors in civic and social life. And in our current social and political climate, it’s important to remember the value of our education in this broader context, and remind us of the continued relevance and importance of Information Science today.