Everything Old Is New Again: The Evolution of Library and Information Science Education from LIS to iField
Bonnici, Laurie J, Subramaniam, Manimegalai M, Burnett, Kathleen, Journal of Education for Library and Information Science
This article reports the results of research to determine whether the iSchools project, an undertaking of twenty-two institutional caucus members, represents a deliberate split from the discipline of LIS as previously constructed, a conflict in approach to traditional LIS education, or an ingestion of traditional disciplinary content into a new iField. A variety of data sources were analyzed employing the concepts from Abbott's (2001) Chaos of Disciplines for patterns of fractal distinction, fractal distinction in time, fractal differentiation and mechanism. A qualitative emergent research design employing inductive reasoning was used. As viewed through the theoretical lens of the Chaos of Disciplines, LIS has disciplinary breadth (interstitial), is self-replicating in method (fractally distinct), and has progressed through a method of rediscovery (fractal distinction in time). The majority of the schools that have embraced the iSchool movement exhibit the fractal cycle mechanism in their philosophical stance, but the mechanism of progression from LIS to iField is an inverted fractal cycle, moving from specific to broad over time.
Keywords: iSchools, disciplinary identity, LIS education, emergent research design
The disciplinary identity of LIS has been contested since its origins in 19th century librarianship training programs (Burnett & Bonnici, 2006). Inter-professional and interdepartmental competition, jurisdictional disputes - first between library science and information science, and more recently between LIS and computer science over the emergence of information technology as a discipline - have problematized the establishment of a lasting disciplinary identity.
Over the past few decades, shifts in the professional marketplace, globalization, and a rapidly changing technological landscape have further complicated the disciplinary identity formation process. A caucus of 22 iSchools, 14 of which are also members of the ALISE and offer master's degree programs accredited by the ALA has held conferences annually since September 2005 (see ASIS&T Bul- letin, April/May 2006 for reports on this conference). The caucus announced the intention to establish a new iField (iSchools Caucus, n.d.), with the explicit goal of coming to grips with the "elusive identity [that] poses a challenge for the I-School movement" (King, 2006). The iSchools Caucus created the term iField to capture this elusive identity, and defined it as:
an academic field of study and a professional career field that deals with all the issues, opportunities, and challenges we face in our emerging Information Age. . . . The iField addresses this fundamental issue: how do we harness that incredible flow of information for the betterment of society, rather than get swamped by it? (iSchools Caucus, n.d.)
The iField is characterized on the iSchools Caucus' website as "unique," "at the heart of everything," and society's "key to success" (iSchools Caucus, n.d.). These claims make it clear that the caucus perceives the iField as distinct from the contemporary construction of the discipline of LIS. Will the caucus split from LIS entirely to create a new field? Will it attempt to convince the majority group to recognize its minority position as a viable subfield within LIS? Or, will the caucus ingest the prevailing majority position within the new iField? To answer these questions, the researchers adopted the theoretical framework developed by Abbott (2001) and applied in The Chaos of Disciplines to the analysis of the discipline of sociology during a similar period of change. Course names and descriptions, new faculty position announcements, postings to the Jesse listserv, content from iSchools website, and abstracts and papers from the 2006 and 2008 annual iSchools conferences were analyzed for patterns of interstitial character, fractal distinctions, and fractal distinctions over time. The results were compared to Abbott's analysis of the field of sociology. …