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The People Factor in LIS

Some big names within the LIS blogosphere have lately been talking up LIS schooling, which is a matter close to my heart. When Karin Dalziel posited the question that every LIS student should gain a comprehensive knowledge (or at least an understanding) of programming and Meredith Farkas countered that only a baseline is required since the MLIS/MLS leads to so many different fields and career paths, I asked myself why management and leadership hasn’t been cited more often as an essential part of the LIS curriculum.

I know that any post on LIS education will reflect the writer’s own schooling: my own LIS programme has informed my belief that organizational theory and leadership is essential to the information professional and his or her degree. Accordingly, I believe that the fact that an LIS graduate can enter so many different fields validates Meredith’s argument that LIS graduates must be professional jacks-of-all-trades in an info-rich society. Although Karin’s argument that programming is a vital skill in our tech-savvy culture is valid and should not be overlooked, I believe that we can’t underestimate the need to teach professional librarians how to manage people and spaces and how to formulate budgets, policy frameworks, and mission statements. You can add my voice to the chorus of individuals who demand that management and leadership theory must take a larger share of the LIS curriculum. In a workplaces where non-professional librarians are able, if not expected to complete tasks once assigned to the professional librarian, LIS professionals should distinguish themselves by their ability to not merely work with information, but to lead the information environment.

I don’t mean to situate these thoughts into a typical professional/non-professional dichotomy so much as I mean to highlight what our capabilities could be if organizational behaviour and change management were rooted in the LIS curriculum. We work in environments today where non-professionals can do many of our tasks. These tasks include cataloguing, reference work, and yes, programming. However, as LIS professionals, we have an obligation to ourselves and to our colleagues to not only understand these tasks but to also to efficiently bring together the people who perform them in order to meet and exceed our information organizations’ goals. Even though library and information science may focus on the management of information resources, at its core is the management of the people who use and maintain these resources. All of our information – our books, our manuscripts, our databases, our records – become nothing more than zeroes and ones or scribbled lines on paper if we eliminate the individual from the equation. If anything, LIS professionals must be specialists in the management of people and their interaction with information itself.

One might suggest that I’m splitting hairs by focusing on information and people as opposed to just information, but I see it as a different perspective that affects how we perceive our profession and ourselves. The LIS professional should not necessarily be adept at building a website or database since the organization can hire or contract the services of some one who has a complete undergraduate training in such a field. Rather, LIS professionals much be adept at organizing, managing, and leading people to make the entire LIS environment a better place. We must not only be able to converse with the individuals who are specialists in their tasks, but also the end-users of our physical and virtual spaces, our fundraisers, governors and directors. LIS professionals require first-rate people skills to rally an information organization’s stakeholders and yield effective change.

I don’t think that library and information science is centered on the website, database, or catalogue. Rather, ours is a field focused on the network of individuals who interact with information. Some of us work on the back-end of a system to ensure it is well-maintained while others help users navigate these systems to find the information they are looking for. Still others are in constant communication with governors and directors to ensure that funds are used appropriately to ensure that the information organization’s goals are efficiently met, if not exceeded. Should not an MLIS education demand its students to be able to interact on all points of this network? Obviously, my view is that it should, and that this ability to lead should be the emphasis of the MLIS degree.

So let the MLIS student learn how to program. And give the MLIS student an opportunity to take advanced study in this area, or any other area such as records management, information literacy, or business intelligence. But let the core knowledge of an LIS education be management and leadership methods tailored the information organization. LIS professionals do not merely manage information; they also lead teams of people who work with information. Whether we are sitting on a biweekly acquisitions committee, a quarterly space committee, or an annual budget committee or review to a Board of Governors, we require the people skills necessary to advance the aims of the our organization. Our profession’s value to society is limited if we can only communicate to ourselves.