Academic journal article LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal

Being Interdisciplinary: A Look into the Background and Experiences of iSchool Faculty Members

Academic journal article LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal

Being Interdisciplinary: A Look into the Background and Experiences of iSchool Faculty Members

Article excerpt


This two-stage study provides an in-depth examination of iSchool's interdisciplinary approach in education and research via the lens of iSchool faculty members' background and experiences. At the first stage, a content analysis of faculty online profiles was conducted to examine faculty members' rank, PhD field, teaching and research descriptions. At the second stage, a survey study was conducted to investigate faculty's interdisciplinary experiences in teaching and research.

Findings show that iSchool faculty members have diverse backgrounds and are actively engaged in various interdisciplinary activities. Their interdisciplinary research is mostly motivated by the nature of research problems, and they consider the gaps of knowledge/experience/vocabulary/disciplinary norms among team members the most frequently encountered challenge. In addition, various factors that contribute to the success of interdisciplinary teaching and education are identified.

This study deepens the understanding of how faculty members work across disciplines in their teaching and research, and yields insights on how to help them overcome challenges and employ effective strategies to accomplish their interdisciplinary objectives. Both educators and researchers can learn from this study how to successfully fuse different disciplines in the study of "information" and create an interdisciplinary environment that truly fosters collaborative research and education.

Keywords: iSchool, interdisciplinary education, interdisciplinary research


Library and Information Science (LIS) education is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, particularly through the iSchool movement. Seeking to address the relationship between information, technology, and people, iSchools represent the emergence of an international information school community involving both renaming current programs and creating new programs (Dillon, 2012). An iSchool "provides the venue that enables scholars from a variety of contributing disciplines to leverage their individual insights, perspectives, and interests, informed by a rich, 'transdisciplinary' community" (Larsen, 2010, p. 3021).

Although the iSchool community's origins can be traced to a small group of U.S. schools that offered ALA-accredited degrees, it has now grown into an international community, including not only former LIS schools, but also schools from other fields such as computer science, and even new academic units created especially for the study of information (Dillon, 2012). As of September 2013, the iSchool Caucus has 52 members, covering a diverse range of programs, mainly from the U.S. but including schools in Australia, the UK, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, and Singapore. Among the 52 programs, 22 are accredited by the American Library Association (ALA), and all of these ALA-accredited programs are located in the US and Canada. An analysis of the iSchool names revealed that "information" was the dominating word in the names of the schools, as indicated in Figure 1. A variety of other words were also present in the school names, depending on the schools' focuses and directions.

Dillon (2012) identified three distinctive characteristics of iSchools. First, iSchools' curricula have departed from the agency-focused model of information, which is commonly adopted by traditional LIS schools. Traditional LIS curricula are more focused on services and functions within specific areas of information. In this educational orientation, the emphasis is on roles and responsibilities for professionals, and technology is usually considered more as supportive or supplementary to the skills and practices of the profession. iSchool's curricular approach treats information in more contextual terms, such as through the social, cultural or individual dynamics of creation and use, often coupled with deeper computational content within the coursework. …

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