Although the study of library science may be traditionally associated with librarianship, the field intersects with many other disciplines and affects many areas of daily life. Students studying for an advanced degree in library and information science at the University are at the forefront of digitization-related changes in the field and exploring its role in advocating for marginalized communities.
Maria Bonn, director of the MS/LIS program at the University, says the essence of library science is the skills and expertise that are used to organize and provide access to information.
“That’s everything from putting books on shelves with labels on them, and those labels might mean something, to archiving Twitter streams and providing access to them, to taking care of museum collections,” Bonn said.
Within the field of library science, there has been an increase in careers related to data analytics and curation. Librarians have always cataloged or described things, but now there is a high demand for people with skills in creating and managing metadata, or data that describes other data.
Library and information science has also been reshaped by digital technology and networked communication, and there is a new emphasis on collaborative skills and project management.
“I think there’s a stereotype of the librarian working quietly away in the backroom, cataloging his or her books, but now it’s a much more connected profession,” Bonn said.
Jaihyun Park, doctoral candidate in LIS, says the use of computational tools in library science can make it easier for people to process information on digital platforms.
“It takes a lot of time and a lot of human effort to consume and digest the information inside a book,” Park said.
Using computational tools like text mining can help pull the most important information from resources and improve results when searching through online databases.
“Understanding the language of people is really crucial in terms of diminishing the gaps between what users need and how the database or search engine understands,” Park said. “That’s the place where computational tools and library science overlap.”
Park sees the role of libraries as distributing credible information and fighting back against misinformation.
The quality of being interdisciplinary also characterizes library and information science. Park has a background in political science, and he studies the language of politicians and people involved in the conflict to see if that language overlaps and to reduce cognitive dissonance.
“Library and information science only seems like talking about libraries, archives and data centers, but it can be applied to every field,” Park said. “Depending on what you’re interested in and how you want to organize that information, I think that’s a possibility where I see library and information science can be expanded.”
Institute of Museum and Library Services, which provides grant funding, has recently focused on indigenous communities and funding tribal libraries. These libraries can serve as both places to preserve a community’s history as well as places that provide access to technology and training on how to use that technology.
Jean Kanengoni, doctoral candidate in LIS, studies library and information services provision in marginalized communities and how best to serve those communities.
In communities where people may lack electricity in their homes, for example, public libraries provide access to computers and training on how to use them.
Kanengoni says librarians need to talk to the community and identify community leaders to determine what information they want or need.
“When we have those conversations, we can provide not only the right information but in the mode that is required,” Kanengoni said.
Some communities with oral traditions may need information in an audio/visual format rather than in a book.
Kanengoni says libraries can improve by assessing the impact they have on communities. For example, in a community without running water, libraries can provide information on how to have clean water.
Clair Irwin, doctoral candidate in LIS, studies how libraries can promote representation and equity for people with disabilities.
Irwin says there is an assumption that people with disabilities are only the patrons of libraries, which creates a power imbalance between people working in the library and people using the library, and librarianship struggles with disability representation. Having someone with diabetes working in a library would improve the keywords used in library catalogs, which would improve information access.
“People with diabetes, especially Type 1, have to do so much self-advocacy and so much information behavior on our own while also being treated like we don’t know anything about medicine,” Irwin said.
People with disabilities have to have many different types of information literacy. They have to understand how to navigate the health care system and apply for patient assistance programs, among other things.
Irwin says the best way to change a field is from within. “While it may be a little counterintuitive at first blush, why somebody interested in researching disability and diabetes would do so in an information science program, I think it’s quite a natural fit.”
Irwin is also a health care activist and wants to see libraries advocating for marginalized and vulnerable people.
“That’s what I see the purpose of libraries in the 21st-century being, is an equitable force to bring about positive change,” Irwin said.