The Panda Syndrome: An Ecology of LIS Education

The Panda Syndrome:
An Ecology of LIS Education

Nancy A. Van House, Professor
School of Information Management and Systems
102 South Hall #4600
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-4600

Stuart A. Sutton, Director
School of Library and Information Science
San Jose State University

To be published in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science. A shorter version of this paper was delivered at the January 1996 meeting of the Association for Library and Information Science Education.

March 11, 1996



The fundamental changes that are shaping the future environment of LIS educational programs are explored in the context of two overlapping ecosystems, the rapidly changing information universe in which the LIS profession operates and the university settings in which the LIS educational programs are housed. We use ecological theory -- biological, organizational, and professional -- and the sociological theory of Pierre Bourdieu to describe the radical nature of the change facing LIS education and to identify adaptive strategies. We warn that survival of LIS education does not necessarily mean the survival of current programs, and certainly not in their current forms. We warn that the increasing value of information is bringing other professions into the information field, and changing the boundaries and rules of competition. We suggest that LIS education needs to further substitute an information-centered focus for its traditional institutional focus. Finally, we suggest that the habitus or system of dispositions of LIS, derived from libraries and the public sector, may disadvantage LIS in its competition with professions and their associated educational programs that are more accustomed to competition for domain. Because habitus consists of largely-unexamined assumptions and interpretations, an awareness of it is the essential first step to determining whether it is conducive to the survival of a profession's knowledge basis, values, and practices.


I. Introduction

Within the library and information studies (LIS) community, a broad consensus has emerged that the information world is undergoing fundamental change, and that both the LIS profession and education for LIS must respond. However, the responses needed are far from clear. It is the premise of this paper that LIS is engaged in a struggle with other professions and academic disciplines both for jurisdiction over the information functions that have traditionally been the problem domain of LIS and of the emerging information functions brought about by changes in technology and society. The primary reasons for this struggle are twofold: first, changes in computing and telecommunications, and second, the increasing strategic importance of information in our economy and in society more generally.

This paper discusses two theoretical bases for understanding these changes and for identifying possible responses. One is ecological theory, which explains the strategies that allow species to survive environmental change [1]. It has also been applied to populations of organizations [2] and to the population of professions to describe the competition for professional jurisdiction [3]. The second theoretical base is the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, which is concerned with the struggles for material and symbolic power within society.

In this paper we will explore the uses of these theoretical bases in identifying potentially adaptive behavior for LIS educational programs in this changing environment. Our perspective is that a system of professional education can purposefully adapt, and that an understanding of environmental change and the strategies by which its components can enhance their survival is therefore useful.

Our focus is on LIS education, not the LIS profession; and at the masters', not doctoral, level. LIS educational programs prepare students for a variety of professions, and they vary in their focus on traditional LIS versus less-traditional contexts. The possible adaptive responses of LIS education and the profession are closely related, but not identical, with decoupling themselves as one possible strategy.

We begin with an exploration of the fundamental changes that are shaping the future environment of both the LIS profession and LIS educational programs. We briefly examine two overlapping ecosystems: (1) the rapidly changing information universe in which the LIS profession operates, and (2) the university settings in which the LIS educational programs are housed. We include a short discussion of the factors shaping the "information problem" and the dimensions of professional practice. We then describe and apply the ecological and sociological theories that provide a basis for identifying adaptive responses.

II. The Changing Environment of LIS Education

Professional education programs operate within several different environments simultaneously, each with different challenges and criteria for survival. We review briefly changes in the LIS profession and the larger information environment, and in higher education.

A. The LIS Profession

According to Abbott, "the tasks of professions are human problems amenable to expert service." [4] LIS' domain is the information problem --the drive within individuals to make sense of their situation, for which they use information [5]; and mediation (human or otherwise) between an individual with an information need and the information store or external memory, primarily that stored through human artifice in records of some sort [6]. This problem is grounded in an experiential event between a user seeking information to satisfy a cognitive need and a potentially vast information store containing possible solutions to that need; that is, this is a cognitive process, and the uses and relevance of the information is situational [7]. While information professionals, libraries, and other information organizations may perform other functions as well, the information problem is central and thus defines the profession's domain.

The nature and extent of the domain of the LIS profession and of LIS education, and the changes facing them, are currently the subject of considerable discussion [8]. Rather than get sidetracked into a prolonged discussion of this topic, we will acknowledge that this is one that merits --and is receiving elsewhere -- extensive discussion, and make only a few key observations here.

Professional responses to the "information problem" by LIS have been richly varied along a continuum from the diagnosis of individual user problems and the provision of resources from which potential solution might be derived to the design and implementation of new information systems and organizational schemes. The LIS profession has developed an array of service models and tools to address the "information problem" as it has framed it. In general, these models and tools have been grounded in a knowledge base consisting of an understanding of the following areas:

This knowledge base has been applied in libraries along four dimensions [9]:

The traditional focus of LIS practice and education on the library as an enterprise and an institution largely remains the controlling factor in defining its arena of professional practice both in the eyes of both the profession's members and the public. This is true despite the broad potential application of its knowledge base in a range of contexts beyond the library (e.g., business and government) a trend in LIS education toward expanding its market to other information functions and organizations, and the decline in library jobs, especially those in the public and quasi-public sectors such as public and university libraries.

B. The Information Environment

The LIS profession's focus on libraries has been challenged by a fundamental shift from a Ptolomaic information universe with the library at its center to a dynamic, Copernican universe with information at its center and with libraries playing a significant, but not necessarily central, role [10]. Katzer frames the issues of the Copernican shift best when he states [11]:

At all levels of society, policy makers and laypeople alike are becoming more aware of what it means to live in the information age. It is clear to many that :

Much of the discussion about this change has focused on technology-driven factors including: (1) the fusion of computing and telecommunications, producing a geographically distributed environment for creating, storing, manipulating, and sharing information; (2) the fusion of media into a unified stream of bits giving rise to the need for information design for multi- and hypermedia and new ways of interacting and assimilating information; (3) increased abundance and complexity of information through globally accessible networks and multi- and hypermedia information structures; and (4) the emergence of what John Seely Brown of Xerox PARC calls social, as opposed to personal, computing in which global networks coupled with advanced computing technologies will facilitate learning communities of geographically-dispersed people and information resources. [13]

Another critically important environmental change is the increase in the value of information as a strategic commodity. Its acquisition and control are a source of power between and within organizations [14]. The magnitude, scope, and growth of the information economy are well documented [15]. Information activities are becoming more important within organizations of all kinds. Increases in productivity depend on information applied to production, consumption, distribution, and trade, particularly as the complexity or productivity of the economy increases [16].

Information's role in creating power and wealth is attracting the attention of powerful new players, including other professions such as computer science (which is suddenly interested in "digital libraries") and business administration. Both the professional and educational components of LIS are facing new competition.

However, the focus of these other players' interest is markedly different. The traditional focus of LIS has not been on information at all but rather on its containers -- books, journals, maps, images, and so on. It acquires, describes, stores, and disseminates them without much concern for how their intellectual content is used. John Perry Barlow, in his Plenary Session remarks at the 1994 ASIS Mid-Year meeting, compared information to fine wine: "We thought for many years that we were in the wine business. In fact, we were in the bottling business. And we don't know a damned thing about wine." [17]

The changes brought about by developments in the information environment are double-edged for LIS. New means of information storage, manipulation, retrieval, and dissemination offer opportunities that LIS might well claim as its own. However, these same developments threaten major changes in the roles of libraries, the LIS profession, and LIS education as other professions move into this area of professional practice. The argument that we make below is that LIS is unprepared for this competition.

C. Higher Education

Survival of LIS educational programs consists of continued existence and acquisition of adequate resources within the university. Public support for higher education is competing with growing mandated public programs for a static or declining tax base. This is a structural problem that will not be resolved simply by an improvement in the economy [18]. As a result, major changes in higher education are in the offing [19] which will almost certainly require further cost containment and programmatic reductions [20]. At the same time, new developments, especially in the sciences, are creating a demand for new fields and academic units.

Re-allocation of declining resources in a system unaccustomed to change will result in increasing competition among academic units for university resources. Whatever the reasons for past closures of LIS programs [21], they occurred in a much less competitive university environment than today's.

The bases of competition among academic units vary across universities, and include the ability to attract students, research funds, prestige, and public and corporate support. Professional educational programs' ability to attract students depends, to a large degree, on whether their graduates find jobs. In the university setting, the competition among professions for jobs affects the competition for university resources among the educational programs that feed into those professions.

Professions differ in the extent to which educational programs control entry into their profession ranks and the labor market. Medical schools have a monopoly on the education of physicians; journalism schools have no such monopoly. LIS education's monopoly has taken the form of requirements for American Library Association-accredited degrees, which generally apply to librarian positions, especially in the public sector. The new information jobs rarely have such requirements.

LIS education programs compete among themselves. Students often have a choice of universities. They base their decision on a number of factors, including convenience, program quality, length, cost, and expected effect on employment and salary. The growth of distance education, while outside the scope of this paper, may reduce the geographical barriers to competition among programs and may have an important influence on the future of LIS education.

In summary, LIS educational programs are operating in a turbulent environment in which they find themselves in competition with other professions and educational programs, and with at least a potential shift in the kinds of employers and jobs available to LIS graduates. Increasing competition among academic units within the university may be supplemented by competition across LIS programs.

Arguments can be made about all of these issues: what are the likely changes in the LIS profession, the information environment, and the university; whether the market for librarians will grow or contract; whether universities will increase or decrease resources for LIS programs; which other professions will compete with LIS; and whether they will succeed. The point here is not to predict the future, but to underscore the uncertainty, turbulence, and competitiveness of the environment.

III. Theories of Adaption and Change

In the balance of this paper we focus on the competition among professions and therefore among professional education programs for jurisdiction over professional domains. We develop two theoretical bases for understanding this competition and the possible responses of LIS education. Both deal with competition among professions for jurisdiction, but each highlights different aspects of the competition. One looks at the competition among professions from the perspective of ecology. The other is based on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and looks at competition for power and rewards among groups. In the following section, we explore the application of these theories to LIS education.

A. Ecology

Ecological theory describes changes in populations brought about by evolution and natural selection. The focus is on populations, not individuals, and on the dynamics of the relationship between populations and environment. Ecological models have been applied to plants and animals, of course, but also to organizations [22] and to professions [23].

1. Ecology in General

Ecological theory says that survival of a population depends on its fit with its environment, more specifically, with its niche, defined by Wilson [24] as:

[A] vague but useful term in ecology, meaning the place occupied by a species in its ecosystem: where it lives, what it eats, its foraging route, the season of its activity, and so on. In a more abstract sense, a niche is a potential place or role within a given ecosystem into which a species may or may not have evolved [25].

The larger, more varied, and more flexible a population, the greater its ability to spread to new niches. Species with narrow ecological niches and/or an inability to change risk extinction as their niches disappear. Pandas are threatened, for example, because their food needs are inflexible and their food source, bamboo, is disappearing. If pandas were to eat a variety of foods and live in a variety of climates, more of them would have survived.

Biological evolution follows three major patterns: vertical evolution, speciation, and epigenetic processes or horizontal evolution. In vertical evolution, the entire species changes over time. In speciation, the original species splits into more than one descendant species, each adapted to a different niche. Speciation includes vertical evolution, but not vice versa. Horizontal evolution is less common in biology than in organizations: it is an interaction among systems or across populations that result in changes in populations [26]. On a simple level, this could mean hybridization: a new species takes on some of the characteristics of more than one ancestor species. A more complex form of epigenetic processes occurs when the interaction among populations results in entirely new actions or characteristics, such as among organizations that adopt one another's winning characteristics or strategies -- for example, the decision by Apple to design their computers to accommodate MS-DOS formatted media.

Evolutionary convergence occurs when species of different origins converge on the same ecological niche through adaptive radiation, that is, is the evolution of one species into several with diverse ways of life. Several species radiating simultaneously may bump up against one another in the same niche. In nature, generally one species will eventually dominate and force out the competition, according to Wilson, by means of confrontation or insinuation. In confrontation, one species better survives the dangers of and challenges from competitors for that niche. Insinuation is the ability to penetrate sparsely-occupied areas quickly and decisively. A species gets there first and becomes entrenched.

In summary, as its niche changes, a population must change to survive. A population may change as a whole or it may split into differentiated populations. Multiple species may converge on the same niche, with one eventually forcing out the others. A species' ability to survive is enhanced by characteristics that allow it to triumph in such a competition, including having many members, and being varied, flexible in its requirements, and resistant to threats such as disease and competitors.

2. Organizational Ecology

Organizational ecology is concerned with how populations of organizations change as a result of niche changes, and the factors that allow some organizations to thrive and not others. Hannan and Freeman say that an ecological analysis of organizations is appropriate when organizations change slowly and with difficulty, and face changeable, uncertain environments [27]. Populations of organizations change as the result of turnover among relatively inflexible organizations. Individual organizations will be created, thrive or fail to thrive, and die and be replaced by organizations better suited to the changing niche.

Plants and animals, of course, are not purposeful in their evolution. Change is random, and then proves to be more or less adaptive. Organizations, since they consist of human members, may be purposeful. Organizational ecologists differ in their estimates of the ability of individual actors to understand complex systems, foresee change, predict the effects of change strategies, and implement those strategies in a timely fashion (including convincing other organizational members). Not all organizational ecologists believe that organizations can adapt purposefully [28]

3. Ecology of Professions

Abbott (1988) posits that the set of professions that operate within a society compete for jurisdiction over tasks [29]. "Each profession is bound to a set of tasks by ties of jurisdiction... Since none of these links is absolute or permanent, the professions make up an interacting system, an ecology." [30]

Abbott's own analysis does not draw heavily on ecological theory, but his assertion that professions make up an ecological system suggests that ecological theory can offer further insight into the development of professions. In the discussion below we enhance Abbott's model with concepts from ecological theory and organizational ecology.

In Abbott's analysis, "the tasks of professions are human problems amenable to expert service." [31] Some problems remain fixed in one profession's hands, he says, but many shift around continually. According to Abbott, professional problems have objective components determined by natural or technological imperatives and, therefore, resistant to changes in professional jurisdiction, and subjective components, culturally defined and, therefore, liable to redefinition. The practice of medicine, for example, requires specific medical knowledge, the objective component. Which tasks are performed by which practitioners, however, has a subjective component; tasks may shift, such as from doctor to nurse practitioner. The greater the subjective component, the more easily a problem will shift among professional domains. Tasks can be mapped from one profession to another according to their similarity, and closely-related tasks may shift among professions.

According to Abbott, the environmental changes that drive professional evolution include the development of new problems and new knowledge systems, and therefore of new tools and treatments for those problems. A profession may work to retain jurisdiction over its problems, to extend or change its jurisdiction to newly-created problems, or to preempt the jurisdiction of other professions. The system of professions is an endless jockeying for control over professional niches which grow, contract, and shift. Professional membership increases or decreases; professional rewards (salary, power, status) wax and wane; professions are created, grow, transmute, and disappear. Niche changes, adaptive radiation, and ecological convergence are thus features of the ecology of professions. Convergence is especially likely when the rewards (money, prestige, power) of a problem area or professional niche are great, attracting attention from many professions.

Professions can evolve by means of vertical evolution with or without speciation: the entire profession can change, or the profession may split into more than one specialization or even into new professions. Hybridization or horizontal evolution is possible as well: professions may interact or copy one another's successful strategies.

Who determines which profession has jurisdiction over a problem? According to Abbott, jurisdictional claims are sanctioned in the legal system, public opinion, and the workplace. For example, the legal system requires a license to practice; the public seems to have shifted the jurisdiction for many mental health problems from psychiatrists to psychologists and more recently to social workers; and many employers require librarians to have ALA-accredited degrees.

Professions compete for jurisdiction on a number of bases. Abbott stresses the cognitive: "Knowledge is the currency of the competition." [32]. A profession's strongest claim of jurisdiction over a problem is that its knowledge system is effective in the task domain. Not all professional problems are soluble, however, and a lack of solutions contributes to multiple claims to an area. Crime, for example, is addressed by many professions, none of which has demonstrated that its treatments control the problem. Many professional problems may be solved through the application of a variety of tools and services, opening the door for competitive solutions from a number of professions.

According to Abbott, professions base their arguments for cognitive jurisdiction over new problem areas primarily on the processes of reduction or abstraction. Reduction shows some new problem to be reducible to one already within the profession's jurisdiction. For example, if mental depression has a physiological cause, then it is reducible to physiology, which is already within medicine's domain. The invention of more effective antidepressant drugs has strengthened medicine's claim to having the solution to and therefore domain over this problem.

Abstraction is a more powerful argument, in which the profession shows that the abstract knowledge that underlies its work is applicable to the new domain. For example: we are faced with the tremendous task of organizing information on the Internet. It is probably absurd to make a reductionist argument for the Dewey Decimal Classification scheme; however, a credible argument could be made that the abstracted knowledge base of Dewey--classification theory --can be used to structure new, appropriate tools. Thus, the tools and service models of a profession are instantiations of its knowledge base designed for specific environments; e.g., the Dewey Decimal Classification scheme is an instantiation of classification theory applied specifically to provide a structured means for meaningfully parking information-bearing objects in libraries.

Abbott's analysis also casts light on the debate heard in most professional schools --the balance between theory and practice. A student focusing solely on theory (or the abstract knowledge base) lacks the skills and the tools to practice the profession; however, Abbott warns that craft-based knowledge lacks abstraction. An exclusive focus on the tools and service models leaves the student with no ability to extend the underlying knowledge base to new niches. In times of rapid change in niches, a grounding in the knowledge base, not simply the tools and skills, is most likely to provide safe passage to the new environment.

In summary, professions compete for existing and newly emerging niches or problem jurisdictions. Adaptive radiation may result in several professions converging simultaneously on a desirable problem area. A primary basis on which the competition takes place is the professions' knowledge bases as professions demonstrate, via abstraction and reduction, their cognitive claims to an area. The judges in this competition are the law, the public, and employers.

B. Bourdieu's "Fields"

Another theoretical basis for understanding competition among professions is Bourdieu's analysis of "fields," which he defines as social spaces, networks of relations among people and institutions [33]. The fields that he has analyzed in his own empirical work include higher education and the arts [34]. For the present analysis, institutionally-focused LIS can be considered a field or a sub-field operating within a larger field of existing and emerging information professions.

According to Bourdieu, individuals and groups compete for various kinds of capital. In addition to the capital recognized by society, such as money, power, and recognition, fields often have their own capital. In the arts, for example, values are often the inverse of society at large: popular success may be viewed with disdain as a sign that the artist is not "serious."

Where organizational ecology's prevailing metaphor is biological, Bourdieu's is that of the sporting game. According to Bourdieu, individuals and groups compete for dominance within a field. They compete, not only to succeed in terms of the defined field and the prevailing standards, but to determine the rules, the standards by which success is defined, the currency of the competition, the players, and even the boundaries of the playing field. The group in control will seek to define the field in ways that will continue their dominance; the challengers will seek changes to their own advantage. Bourdieu's fields are dynamic, and his major interest is in this dynamism.

A key concept in Bourdieu's analysis is that of habitus, a system of dispositions determined by past experience, particularly by one's class, education, and profession. Habitus functions as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions. Habitus is the means by which a field perpetuates itself through the voluntary actions of its members. It gives the appearance of rationality and intentionality to behavior that is less than fully-conscious. How individuals interpret a situation and the actions that they consider possible are unconsciously constrained by their habitus. Action guided by habitus has the appearance of rationality but is based not so much on reason as on socially-constituted dispositions.

Habitus can also be described as the sense of the game, "the practical mastery of the logic or the immanent necessity of a game -- a mastery acquired by experience of the game, and one which works outside conscious control and discourse." [35] It gives participants a "permanent capacity for invention, indispensable if one is to adapt to indefinitely varied and never completely identical situations." [36]

Newcomers are handicapped in a competition in which they lack the subtle understanding that comes with habitus. Knowing the rules is only the beginning of a sense of the game. Someone who learns baseball late in life, for example, may never learn when to put on a hit and run.

In summary, according to Bourdieu, groups compete for dominion within fields and even for the definition of the field and the rules of competition. Their choice of strategies and tactics is substantially determined by their habitus, a set of dispositions determined by past experience that determine how they interpret the situation, which choices they will make, and even which choices they see as possible.

Bourdieu's analysis is much more complex than what can be summarized here. What is important to this exploration is how his approach can help to explain the competition among professions and to extend Abbott's analysis. The competition is not only to win jurisdiction over tasks or problems but to define the problems, the boundaries of the field, the rules by which the competition takes place, and the capital that determines winners and losers. The competitors' interpretation of events and their choice of actions is largely constrained by their habitus. Professions perpetuate themselves by shaping their members' habitus. In a dynamic environment in which professions compete against one another, some professions may be disadvantaged by a constraining habitus or by a lack of a "feel for the game." And the game itself is dynamic; competitors who believe that the rules are fixed are further disadvantaged.


The argument to this point is that LIS education is operating in an extremely dynamic and highly competitive environment. The growing importance of information, developments in information technology and the information environment, and LIS' own efforts at adaptive radiation have created an ecological convergence between LIS and other professions and professional education programs both in LIS' traditional niche (e.g., "digital libraries") and new niches (e.g., information management). The information field is undergoing radical change, and LIS is not the only profession seeking to claim jurisdiction. Historical claims of jurisdiction are of limited value in the face of such competition.

The question is what LIS education must do to survive, and perhaps even prosper. First we need to define survival. In nature, of course, individuals do not survive indefinitely, nor do species; species evolve or disappear. The survival of a population is defined as the continuation of its genetic material. The analogy for professional education is for its knowledge base, tools, approaches, practices, and values to continue in some form. For LIS education, then, the question is not how to preserve current programs, but to ensure the survival of this "genetic material," LIS' contribution to society.

Organizational ecology describes population change as turnover among relatively inflexible organizations replaced by others better suited to the changing niche. The interests of LIS education and the LIS profession will probably not be met by preserving the existing LIS education programs, but rather by a weeding out of and turnover among programs. The educational programs, and the professionals who depend on them, need to ask what kinds of programs can and should survive or be created.

For an individual program to survive, it must diagnose its situation, determine a useful set of strategies, and convince its members, parent organization, accrediting agencies, and other stakeholders that change is necessary and that its chosen strategy is viable, and then implement this change, all in a timely fashion.

A. Choice of Niche

Current ALA-accredited programs vary in the exact niche they seek to fill, but all have the education of librarians for libraries as a key function. Libraries are a source of students, of employment for graduates, and of political support on campus and in the larger community. The present analysis suggests that a struggle to maintain this traditional niche, or any single niche, will likely, over the long term, ensure the extinction of LIS education. Short run survival may be enhanced by caution, but long-run survival of any population requires continual change and adaptation. Reliance on any single niche, old or new, ties a population's future to the persistence of that one niche -- as pandas are learning.

The future of libraries is the subject of extensive debate. Here we will simply say that this is an important issue to which LIS educational programs need to be sensitive. If libraries prove less adaptable than is required for their survival, then LIS education needs to be prepared to abandon them. A fight to the death is not a wise survival strategy. Evolutionary wisdom consists of knowing which changes to resist and which to embrace.

However, for a population to entirely abandon a niche in which it is successful for one in which its future is uncertain would not be wise, either. Adaptive radiation is probably most successful as a series of testing forays from a secure base, so that the population can take risks without being wiped out, and be established in a new niche before its home niche disappears or is given up. Therefore, survival is most likely to be ensured by a strategy that combines adaptation to changes in the current niche with radiation into new niches. As long as libraries exist, therefore, it would appear useful for LIS education to continue to educate professionals for them. Of course, rapid or discontinuous changes in the current niche may not allow this luxury.

LIS educational programs must argue for cognitive domain on the bases of both the value of their abstracted knowledge base and the reduction of the new problems to those already in the repertoire of the profession. Much LIS education is, in practice, library-centered with other niches seen as add-ons. Our premise is that LIS education should be information-centered (abstraction) with a variety of institutional foci (reduction). Arguments that are too closely tied to current institutions (e.g., libraries) and tools (e.g., LCSH) lack the appropriate degree of abstraction. Arguments based on too vague a depiction of LIS' professional domain are likewise weak because they lack the specificity that shows the unique contribution of this field.

We would add to abstraction and reduction as means of adaptive radiation a third factor, the creation of new knowledge. Abbott presents the development of new knowledge as largely extrinsic; we see the creation of new knowledge as a key survival strategy in the competition among professions. The earlier discussion about the knowledge base and dimensions of practice of LIS can be a basis for LIS' adaptive radiation by means of abstraction, reduction, and creation of new knowledge.

Arguments based on abstraction, reduction, and the creation of new knowledge have to be grounded in a demonstrated ability to solve problems. LIS must claim jurisdiction by actively applying its knowledge base in tool-making, tool use, agency, and the design and management of information organizations and functions.

Adaptive radiation requires pioneering moves into new niches. Some will be successful, and some not. The individuals who take those risks, of course, may suffer, but the population benefits from the successes. The population therefore needs both to take risks and, where possible, to be insulated from damage from unsuccessful forays so that the remaining population can generate other experiments.

B. Changes in the Species

Two common adaptive responses by species are speciation and hybridization. For LIS education programs, speciation can take two forms: of programs and of graduates. Programs are developing in different directions with new specialties and with differing approaches to education. Some have termed this issue divergence [37]. A more extreme speciation would be for a program to abandon ALA accreditation. The current differences among programs, as great as they may be, are more like variability within species than out-and-out speciation. If more, and more prominent, LIS education programs were to fail, speciation could accelerate as schools would seek to distance themselves in the eyes of their universities from a failing field of study.

Speciation of graduates has been undertaken by such programs as those at the University of Pittsburgh and Drexel University which have added other degrees to the MLS. Differentiated graduates are more specifically adapted to specialized professional domains.

Speciation in LIS education could have several benefits. It helps the parent species to move into new niches. The curriculum could be better tailored to specific student and employer needs. Degree differentiation signals to employers the possession of specific knowledge and strengthens a program's cognitive claims to an area. And it may also help to isolate failed experiments from the larger population, as when new degree programs fail to catch on but other degree programs in the same school remain undamaged.

Another possible strategy is hybridization or epigenetic evolution, that is, adopting the characteristics of successful competitors, melding them with one's own key characteristics as a way of bringing about intentional evolution. Botanists breed hybrids to wed the best characteristics of different species. Hybridization in professional education brings in new skills and knowledge bases. Abbott describes professions as fairly self-contained. Bourdieu describes a fluid system in which the boundaries shift and any strategy that increases the capital accumulated by any one group is likely to be adopted by someone somewhere along the line. In professional practice, we see the results of such hybridization in the form of new, innovative information systems being built by multi-disciplinary teams. Some intentional shifting of the boundaries of LIS to draw on such fields as computing, telecommunications, cognitive science, communications, and others concerned with the "information problem" has strengthened the knowledge base and thus the jurisdictional claims of LIS. Methods of hybridization have included interdisciplinary faculties and joint appointments, cooperative research ventures, joint degrees, and cross-listing of courses.

C. Other Changes in LIS Programs

Survival in a competitive environment is enhanced by size, diversity, and flexibility. LIS education programs are few (57 ALA- accredited programs in the United States and Canada) and small (average faculty size is approximately 11) [38]. By serving a larger and more diverse market, LIS education programs could grow and diversify, increasing their ability to survive individually and collectively.

A small set of educational programs lacks room for variety and experimentation. Interaction among programs is less rich. A small faculty is limited in its interaction with, and its ability to accumulate power in, the university and professional communities. Limited turnover reduces the opportunity to bring in new expertise. The number and variety of classes offered is limited. Small student bodies likewise lack variety. And, in the competition for attention and legitimacy in the eyes of the public and employers, a small profession and a small set of education programs are seriously disadvantaged by limited visibility, flexibility, and talent.

Increased cooperation with other fields or academic disciplines places several requirements on LIS. An important one is quality. Within the university, quality is key to both competition and cooperation. Units wish to ally themselves with strength, not weakness. Alliances require that all the participants bring value to the interaction. LIS programs must first be perceived as being of good quality in terms of the specific values or capital of their individual universities, and, second, must be able to bring a clearly-articulated, unique knowledge base to joint teaching and research. As with the argument for professional domain, this requires that the field be articulated at an appropriate level of abstraction and not be overly craft- or institutionally-based. For examples, many academic units are now concerned with developing discipline-based digital information; not many see this as a "library" problem.

Rapid change and adapatability require flexibility. LIS education programs need to be able to experiment with programs, courses, and specialties, and to abandon unsuccessful attempts and move on. This requires flexibility with faculties and courses. Possible strategies include increased use of part-time instructors and innovative delivery mechanisms; and flexibility in student admissions, schedules, and the like.

D. Barriers to Change

Bourdieu's analysis highlights the limiting power of habitus and the disadvantages of professions not accustomed to competition. The first step in changing one's habitus, especially in the face of changes in one's field, is to become aware of one's own habitus, and to realize that one's competitors may not share one's assumptions about the rules of the game and the capital that is valued; interpretation of the situation; and assessment of possible strategies. To compete, LIS education and the profession have to be more cognizant of their own and their competitors' habitus and the dynamics of this changing, enlarged field, and decide whether and when it is useful and appropriate to act more like the competition.

Several factors work against the ability of LIS educational programs to respond. First, professions and professional organizations often have a stake in the status quo. Bourdieu points out that those who have succeeded in the past resist changes that may undermine their power, and will use their power to block such changes for a while, but will not succeed indefinitely. Because of the large numbers of librarians employed in public, academic, and school libraries and their heavy representation in professional associations like the American Library Association, the LIS habitus is largely shaped by these institutions. Professionals with differing views tend not to be active in associations that do not represent their viewpoint. The growing part of the LIS profession employed in the private sector, in special libraries and information centers and in private sector organizations that produce information products and services tends not to be active in such organizations as ALA.

Second, the accreditation process, aimed at ensuring quality, may work against innovation and discourage experimentation. Third, sunk costs create inertia. Professionals and faculty have social networks, reputations, and other investments which may have questionable utility in a different environment.

Finally, professional values may need critical reassessment. Public service and information as a public good are fundamental values of public and not-for-profit libraries. The idea of information as commodity and the norms and values of the private sector appear to many current LIS professionals to be inherently at odds with the profession's traditional values. Yet much of the innovation in information services and products is taking place in the for-profit sector. Libraries and LIS professionals need to neither abandon these principles, nor defend them uncritically. If the information world is to be increasingly rich with for-profit, fee-based information services and products, as well as free and low cost ones, LIS professionals must ask what role they wish to take in these new technologies, services, products, and institutions.


This paper has discussed the changes in the environment of LIS education and used ecological theory and the sociological theory of Pierre Bourdieu to suggest possible responses. Many of the recommendations of this paper, such adaptive radiation into new niches (new information functions), speciation (differentiation among graduates and/or programs), hybridization (interdisciplinarity), and increasing the size and diversity of programs are not new, at least on the surface. Many of the strategies suggested are being adopted, to varying degrees, but LIS programs.

What this paper contributes is the following. First, we develop a conceptual base for generating choosing among strategies and for explaining why some of the strategies being adopted might be useful (or not). Second, we warn that survival of LIS education does not necessarily mean the survival of current programs, and certainly does not mean their survival in their current forms. It means survival of the knowledge base, approaches, values, practices, and tools which must be applied to new problem areas.

Third, we warn that the field is changing: the boundaries, players, capital, and rules of competition are all in flux. Other professions and academic disciplines are moving into the information field in response to its growing importance and potential for the accumulation of capital -- money, power, and prestige. LIS risks being outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and rendered marginal.

Fourth, we suggest that LIS education needs to (further) decouple itself from libraries. Currently, much of the discussion around LIS education is less of an abstraction of its knowledge base than a simple extension of its core institutional focus, libraries. Arguing that new problem areas and institutions are much like libraries is not a powerful argument for domain in competition with professions that are larger, more flexible, have more public visibility and perhaps credibility, and are more competitive. Abstraction, reduction, and the creation of new knowledge to address new information problems are necessary for LIS to adaptively radiate into new areas.

Fifth, we emphasize that the argument for jurisdiction must be based on demonstrated ability to solve information problems. Many professions are at work building new information tools in the form of computer-based systems. Many are concerned with methods of managing and delivering information, and not just traditional information containers. LIS' most powerful argument for jurisdiction will be to use its knowledge base to develop better tools and better solutions.

Finally, we suggest that the habitus of LIS, derived from libraries and the public sector, may disadvantage LIS in its competition with professions and educational programs that are more accustomed to competition for domain. Because habitus consists of largely-unexamined assumptions and interpretations, an awareness of it is the essential first step to determining whether it is appropriate to current circumstances.

Much of the current discussion in LIS professional and educational communities acknowledges the need for change, but the magnitude and direction of the change remains at best uncertain. The tacit position taken is often that little change is required; instead what is needed are better arguments about the value of LIS. This position reveals a naiveté about both the magnitude of social change occurring and the process by which professions evolve. It is only by actively and forcefully demonstrating its ability to solve problems, and not simply critiquing the solutions offered by others or reiterating its historic claim to jurisdiction, that a profession claims jurisdiction in the eyes of the public and employers.

The purpose of this paper is to emphasize the continuing uncertainty faced by LIS educational programs, and the responses that are likely to be adaptive. The purpose also, however, is to place this discussion in a larger context of changes in the environment and the theoretical bases for choosing among adaptive strategies. Without a rapid response and fundamental change, LIS education is likely to go the way of the pandas: cute, well-loved, coddled, and nearing extinction.



1. Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1992).

2. Michael T. Hannan and John Freeman, Organizational Ecology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989).

3. Andrew Delay Abbott, The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

4. Ibid., 35.

5. Brenda Dervin, "An Overview of Sense-Making Research: Concepts, Methods, and Results to Date" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Dallas, Tex., 1983).

6. Howard D. White, Marcia J. Bates, and Patrick Wilson. For Information Specialists: Interpretations of Reference and Bibliographic Work (Norwood, N. J.: Ablex Publishing Corp., 1992).

7. Linda Schamber, Michael B. Eisenberg, and Michael S. Nilan. "A Re-examination of Relevance: Toward a Dynamic, Situational Definition," Information Processing and Management 26, no. 6 (1990): 755-776.

8. For example, J. Michael Pemberton and Christine R. Nugent, "Information Studies: Emergent Field, Convergent Curriculum," Journal of Education for Library and Information Science Education 36, no.2 (1995): 126-138.

9. Stuart A. Sutton. "Core Competencies for the Information Professions and the Evolution of Skill Sets," Education Libraries 18, no. 3 (1995): 6-11.

10. Leigh S. Estabrook, "Library and Information Resources Management: Some Questions and Contradictions," Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 27, no. 1 (1986): 3-11.

11. Jeffrey Katzer. "Developing and Maintaining Interdisciplinary Relationships" in Information Science: the Interdisciplinary Context, eds. J. M. Pemberton and A. E. Prentice (New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1990), 84-89.

12. Ibid, 85.

13. John Seely Brown, "Themes for the 21st century: Where are we going?" (speech presented at the mid-year meeting of the American Society for Information Science, Portland, Ore., May 1994)

14. Jeffrey Pfeffer, "Barriers to the Advance of Organizational Science: Paradigm Development as a Dependent Variable," Academy of Management Review 18, no. 4 (1993): 599-620.

15. For example, see Marc Uri Porat, The Information Economy: Definition and Measurement, 2 vols. (Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Commerce, 1977); Heather E. Hudson and Louis Leung, "The Growth of the Information Sector" in Measuring the Information Society, ed. Frederick Williams (Newbury Park, Cal.: Sage, 1988), 35-54.

16. Manuel Castells, "The Informational Economy and the New International Division of Labor" in The New Global Economy in the Information Age: Reflections on Our Changing World by Martin Carnoy et al. (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State, 1993), 15-43.

17. John Perry Barlow, "Themes for the 21st century: Where are we going?" (speech presented at the mid-year meeting of the American Society for Information Science, Portland, Ore., May 1994).

18. Joan Huber, "Institutional Perspectives on Sociology," American Journal of Sociology 101, no. 1 (1995): 194-216.

19. Donald Kennedy, "Making Choices in the Research University," Daedalus 122, no. 4 (1993): 127-156.

20. Kirk L. Knutsen, Beyond Business as Usual: a Framework and Options for Improving Quality and Containing Costs in California Higher Education (California Research Bureau Occasional Paper, 1993); Robert Zemsky and William F. Massy, "Cost Containment: Committing to a New Economic Reality," Change 22, no. 6 (1990): 16-22.

21. Marion Paris, Library School Closings: Four Case Studies (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1988); Tefko Saracevic, "Closing of Library Schools in North America: What Role Accreditation?" Libr 44, no. 3 (1994): 190-200; Karen F. Ceppos, "Innovation and Survival in Schools of Library and Information Science," Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 33, no. 4 (1992): 277-283.

22. Hannan and Freeman, Organizational Ecology

23. Andrew Delay Abbott, The System of Professions

24. Wilson, The Diversity of Life

25. Ibid., 403.

26. Sandra Braman, "The Autopoietic State: Communication and Democratic Potential in the Net," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 45, no. 6 (1994): 358-368.

27. Hannan and Freeman, Organizational Ecology

28. Ibid.

29. Abbott, The System of Professions

30. Ibid., 33.

31. Ibid., 35.

32. Ibid., 102.

33. Pierre Bourdieu, In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology, trans. Matthew Adamson (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1990); Pierre Bourdieu and Loic J. D. Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

34. Pierre Bourdieu, Homo Academicus, trans. Peter Colliens (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1984); Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, edited and introduced by Randal Johnson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

35. Bourdieu, In Other Words, 61.

36. Ibid., 63.

37. For example, Thomas J. Galvin, "Convergence or Divergence in Education for the Information Professions: An Opinion Paper," Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science 21, no. 6 (1995): 7-14.

38. Timothy W. Sineath, ed., Library and Information Science: Education Statistical Report (Raleigh, N.C.: Association for Library and Information Science Education, 1995).