School of Information Management & Systems
 Previously School of Library & Information Studies

 Michael Buckland,  Professor.

 "Liberal arts" and schools of LIS.

Michael K. Buckland.   The "liberal arts" of Library and Information Science and the research university environment. In: Second International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science: Integration in Perspective, 1996. Proceedings. Ed: P. Ingwersen, N. O. Pors. Copenhagen: Royal School of Librarianship, 1996, pp. 75-84.   Go to full text.

Outline:   Each different conception of LIS can be expected to have its advantages, disadvantages, and consequences, good and bad. The conception adopted by the famous Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago can be seen in retrospect as having had both positive and negative long-term consequences.
"Liberal arts" means a focus on what in interesting and enlightening, rather than on professional education, on Chemistry rather than on Chemical Engineering, and on Sociology rather than on Social Work.
We examine a "liberal arts" conception of Library and Information Science in relation to the research university environment.
Teaching what would be technically useful for professionals can establish the identity of a school of LIS as being useful, but what does the teaching of useful professional technical skills do for it as an academic department?
Change and Challenge in Library and Information Science Education, by M. F. Stieg (American Library Association, 1992) provides a conception of LIS (primarily library science) that emphasizes the teaching of professional and technical skills, but ordinary academic inquiry is absent. Any school of LIS that followed the conception of LIS of this book ought not to stay in a university.
Exclusive emphasis on what is professionally useful tends excludes the rest of the campus. For two examples of courses but are LIS courses, are open to anyone and are not professional education are Information systems and Access to American cultural heritages.
Exclusive emphasis on what is professionally useful discourages interest in the field of LIS itself, in the nature of information and information technology, and in the intellectual history of LIS -- because there are always more apparently useful agenda to work on instead.
If your university president asked for a book that was a general introduction to the scope and nature of LIS, what would you provide? Not many have been published since Pierce Butler's thin polemic Introduction to Library Science of 1933.
If society is being transformed as we move into an "Information Age", then these developments are important. They deserve of attention and they should be of interest to large numbers of students. It needs an academic department whose central concern is the study of information and the production, distribution, and utilization of information in society. What better for this undertaking than a school of LIS?
Imagine that the President of a university believed that we are moving into an Information Society and mandated that an existing LIS school should transform itself to undertake this role, with one condition: It would discontinue professional education. Would a liberal arts department of LIS be possible?
Any view of LIS is incomplete and lacking in coherence if it could not include a liberal arts program. The real reason not to create a "liberal arts" department of LIS is that an even more powerful option at hand: A conception of LIS in which professional education in LIS is positioned within a liberal arts conception of LIS.
Go to Development of Information Management or to Buckland's home-page. Rev. July 22, 1997.