LIS Education: Crossing the Frontiers

The proliferation and velocity of information compelled many countries, both developed and developing, to review the LIS education and focus on changes and realignments over the past two decades. Several universities in South Africa started with a change in the names of the departments such as Departments of Library Science/ Library Studies or Librarianship are known as Departments of Library and Information Science/ Studies. To reflect some incorporated disciplines in the name, the University in Namibia chose Department of Information and Communication Studies, the University of Johannesburg termed its department into Department of Information and Knowledge Management. Moreover, LIS is not confined to the traditional faculty of Humanities or Social Sciences; faculties or schools such as the Centre for Higher Education Development at the University of Cape Town, the Faculty of Management at the University of Johannesburg or the School of Information Technology (with Computer Science) and Informatics (Information Systems) offer LIS programmes equally.

Distance education in LIS is considered irrelevant as the main focus is on education and training for library workers whereby the University of Technology and Polytechnics in South Africa offers vocational education and training qualification. The programme includes subjects such as knowledge management, multimedia, records management, information technology and publishing, and also an increased integration of diverse subjects in order to cater for emerging markets. Information and knowledge management modules that include topics, such as personal information management, tools and techniques of information and knowledge management, strategy formulation and implementation, information and knowledge audits and information consultancy form part of the LIS programme too.

In view to adopt a different learning focus, the Universities of Johannesburg and Stellenbosch have switched from traditional LIS programmes to Information and Knowledge Management. Hence, they offer programmes termed as, for example, BA in Information Science and BCom in Information and Knowledge Management. These aim to train students in the ever-changing electronic environment, provide intellectual competencies and practical skills while applying information and knowledge management principles and prepare them to use information as an important resource in the decision-making process.

The Department of Information Science at the University of Stellenbosch further crossed the line by changing the courses in information science to socio-informatics. The latter could be described as a subject that deals with the relationship and interface between information needs and practices, knowledge of economy and society and knowledge dynamics on computer technology. The programme focuses on theoretical aspects and the practical needs of information specialists and knowledge workers.

The following further shows significant changes in LIS education in several African universities:

  • The University of Zululand offers BA Information Science which includes modules to equip students with skills of basic computer repairs for uninterrupted use of computers and further trouble shooting skills.
  •  Multimedia topics are compulsory modules in the IS programme at the University of Pretoria and media publishing studies form part of the LIS programme at the Moi University.
  •  The Department of Information and Communication Studies at the University of Namibia offer LIS degrees with specialized programmes in media studies.
  • At the University of Botswana, the Department of Library and Information Studies offer various information science topics such as Information and knowledge management, information retrieval, system analysis and design, web management, databases, decision support systems, electronic commerce, networks, etc.

The above changes and challenges in LIS education have received  the support of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA). The association recognizes the Continuing Education and Professional Development (CEPD) of professionals essential to keep their practices current and relevant, enhance and upgrade skills and encourage the promotion of service standards and acceptable good practice. Through the policy of life-long learning, the faculty members, in addition, are required to keep themselves up to date with developments to ensure quality teaching and research. Furthermore, there exists a general system of external examiners and regular external evaluations for quality control to ensure teaching and research of acceptable quality.

Likewise, in the developed countries, the LIS programs are under constant scrutiny with the view to prepare students for the future, in a world where there is an avalanche of information and continuous change in the workplace. The University of California, Northridge and Valdosta State University in Georgia developed successful programmes with more focus on information science while keeping the established library science studies.  This hybrid approach aims to provide a stronger foundation in the library career while the multidisciplinary focus, in addition, provides opportunities for other career paths.

The acquisition of skills, mainly soft skills, such as analytical ability and communications skills, customer service skills, business and marketing skills, flexibility and adaptability are more valued by employers than traditional technical skills. LIS programs train to locate, filter and evaluate information where librarians are the first and foremost educators of information and information sources. Thus, the curriculum has additional elements such as internships, networking, mentoring and leadership skills in order to equip the students in the changing industry. The American Library Association (ALA) follows this transition closely and ensures the accreditation standards are also developed to meet the varying needs of the discipline.

However, during the accreditation process, many issues are addressed.  The topics of curriculum, quality, and skill sets for the LIS field, the student-to-faculty ratio for appropriate teaching and advising, assessments, placement services and, above all, the viable teaching and learning environment for students are given much consideration. Much emphasis is laid upon comprehensive assessment, systematic curricular review and alignment of syllabi and the need for managed growth and class sizes. The quality of faculty and quality students, and adequate resources to create and maintain a quality programme are measured and, furthermore, studies and surveys are regularly carried out to help develop an ideal LIS programme. Thus, the ALA standards state that the curriculum should integrate the theory, application, and use of technology and that it must be reviewed and evaluated by a variety of stakeholders, including students, faculty, and potential employers.

To sum up, it could be said that there has been a gradual and definite conversion where a multidisciplinary approach and research-based focus form part of the LIS education overseas. In the local context, contrarily, the LIS education has undergone minimal change. With only a modification in the name, the topics of the curricula of LIS have remained more or less the same along with unchanged teaching methods. The inadequacy of relevant and current subjects, in addition to the lack of life-long learning practices of the educators and faculty for the past two decades renders the programme obsolete compared to LIS education offered at the international level. Moreover, the professed associations generated to oversee the developments in LIS remain unvoiced through out the years. The situation is undeniably critical and enormous development is needed to bring LIS education to equal stage in Mauritius.

REFERENCES

Chow, Anthony S, Ph.D.,2011. Changing times and requirements: Implications for LIS Education. Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal. Vol. 21(1).

Ocholla, D. and Bothma, T. Trends, challenges and opportunities of LIS education and training in Eastern and Southern Africa. University of Zululand, University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Lalita Chumun

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Report on Public Libraries in Africa (1962)

This old report on the Regional Seminar on The Development of Public Libraries in Africa held in Nigeria from 10-12 September 1962, may be of interest to those who would like to have a global view of the development of  librarianship in Africa. The report focuses particularly on the training of library staff. Mention is made of Mauritius also. A comment made on courses offered is worth our reflection and it reads as follows  “…From all this, it will be seen that the general pattern of training is uneven, and the most successful ventures have been in those countries where library schools have been established. The attachment of such schools to universities, as in South Africa, has given the profession a standing commensurate with other professions and with appropriate salaries. As library services expand in emergent countries, training policies will follow local needs rather than being dependent on outside sources…” This comment invites our critical analysis in the light of new developments taking place in libraries, specially in the digital era. To read the full report, click here …Public Libs in Africa.

P.Hauroo

21st Century Skills & Libraries

There is presently much debate going on about what skills are required by students, workers and citizens  to enable them to participate fully in the educational, social, economic and cultural  activities in the emerging digital age.  Fast broadband and Internet connection (gradually replacing the slow dial-up access using 56 kbps modems) will drive our  information society to the next phase of development which is likely to drastically change the current information/knowledge-based economy.  In democratic set ups like America, Great Britain and many other countries, there is a growing awareness about this “21st century skills”. Many government authorities have adopted explicit policies and attempt to ensure that all their citizens have adequate opportunities to access and effectively use ICTs in their daily lives.  In the US, association like The Partnership for 21st Century Skills which is supported by the U. S. Department of Education and which is promoting the goals of No Child Left Behind programme,   aims to define and incorporate into learning the skills that are necessary for every student’s success in the 21st Century. Another association, the NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education) mentions that  “media literacy is finally on Congress radar.” A bill introduced in the Senate provides that  “Students need to go beyond just learning today’s academic context to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, communications skills, creativity and innovation skills, collaboration skills, contextual learning skills, and information and media literacy skills.”

The European Commission (EC) too views that “Europeans young and old could miss out on the benefits of today’s high-tech information society unless more is done to make them ‘media literate’ enough to access, analyse and evaluate images, sounds and texts and use traditional and new media to communicate and create media content.” [Read more at http://www.sofiaecho.com/2009/08/20/772502_european-commission-urges-new-media-literacy.The EC recommendation on media literacy may be accessed at: http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/media_literacy/index_en.htm ]

Information Literacy and Librarians

Professional library associations like the American Library Association (ALA) and the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) have for years developed information literacy programmes.  As per the definition of ALIA, information literacy is “the ability to recognise the need for information and to identify, locate, access, evaluate and effectively use the information to address and help resolve personal, job related or broader social issues and problems.”

It is clear that the term ’21st century skills‘ includes information literacy skills, digital literacy skills, media literacy skills, information and communication skills, critical thinking and problem-solving skills and  interpersonal and self-directional skills. To succeed in the 21st century, one should  have all these  21st century skills.

Role of libraries

Research papers have concluded that libraries and librarians can play a critical role both in making their users information literate and bridge the digital divide that exists at local, regional or national levels. Libraries can provide digitized full-text content, provide free access to computers and Internet and become national portals of digital information resources. In the changed environment, the librarian’s role have to shift from that of information locator (custodian role) to that of an information evaluator and instructor in the use and evaluation of information sources.

Libraries in local context

In the local context, unfortunately there are still some big libraries which are entirely dependent on print media. Automation of libraries is still a dream while  employees are often seen performing all library house-keeping jobs manually. With regards to ICTs, the attitudes of some librarians having charge of  important libraries are really frustrating. As soon as they hear about computers or computer-related technologies in the LIS field, their first reflex is that such things are the realm of computer technicians, systems analysts, database managers, not for librarians or library people. Such behaviours on behalf of those at the head of institutions are detrimental to the library profession in general. They forget that technology permeates all branches of learning, all disciplines and every sphere of our life. Lawyers, engineers, medical practitioners, people of all walks of life need ICTs in their daily personal and professional lives. If  librarians and library employees are themselves not fully conversant with ICTs, it is difficult to see them having a role in the information literacy programmes. They may not be of any assistance in bridging the digital gap.

Library people have time and again complained about lack of training to develop ICT skills in employees. They wrongly believe that the onus of training falls entirely on their employers. In a climate of cataclysmic change, no one is guaranteed a job for a life time. Those who train themselves by constantly updating their skills and become multi-skilled and who are engaged in life long learning are those who have greater chance of employability in such changing workplaces. In the past, employers made it a duty to train their employees but nowadays this responsibility is given less importance. In difficult economic situations, they downsize their personnel and redeploy those who suit the new market requirements. Others are easily laid off as they become redundant due to lack of new skills to fit the new organisation. In the local context, our librarians and information workers need to give a serious thought about the exigencies of the 21st century and the skills required to meet all the forthcoming challenges.

P. Hauroo

References:

1. Wallis, Jake: Digital Directions: Cyberspace, Information Literacy and the Information Society. Library Review. Vol. 54 No. 4, 2005

2. Aqili, S. V and Moghaddam, A.I: Bridging the Digital Divide – The Role of Librarians and Information Professionals in the Third Millenium. The Electronic Library. Vol. 26 No. 2, 2008.

Library Education in Mauritius: A Bird’s Eye View

In this article, an attempt has been made to trace back the brief history of libraries, librarians and library education in Mauritius. An overview of the various undergraduate LIS courses offered by tertiary education institutions since 1981, coupled with relevant statistics have been presented. Some recommendations have also been formulated at the end. For the full-text version, please Click here…Library Education in Mauritius…

Ibrahim Ramjaun