Hard though it may be to imagine today, there was a time when you couldn’t just grab a laptop or smartphone anytime you needed to do some research. Way back in those analog days, you might have to seek out a librarian to find your answer. For most of human history, libraries served as the primary repositories of information.
Libraries may seem like an outdated concept today but they are in fact anything but. As our access to enormous caches of information continues to grow, so too does the need for professionals who can guide us through the often-daunting search for information. That’s where library and information science comes in.
This article answers the question what is library and information science and also discusses:
Library services and library and information science (LIS) have evolved tremendously as new technologies enter the overall information architecture, expanding the number of skills that an LIS professional needs. The public may think of library collections as consisting largely of books, but they are so much more. Professional librarians need to be skilled stewards of—yes, books, but also—magazines, newspapers, microfiche, microfilm, and various kinds of audiovisual material, including DVDs, CDs and even, sometimes, VHS and audiocassettes.
Maintaining outdated resources—does anyone remember Betamax?—is just one of the many responsibilities librarians assume. After all, information doesn’t expire just because the information technology that accesses it has. That’s one of the many reasons libraries are, and will continue to be, invaluable.
That makes librarianship invaluable as well. The librarian is the conduit between the individual and the information they seek, whether the topic be the most casual hobby or the most critical field of study.
And that’s not all librarians do. They also facilitate literacy through reading programs for both younger and older people. They provide open access to materials that might otherwise remain unavailable to the public. In short, librarians deliver and cultivate information literacy, a critical foundation of any advanced society.
Given the branching out of libraries to include computer services and increasing amounts of digitized material, library and information science has only become more challenging. Universities commit entire departments—and in many instances, entire schools—to the study of information services and information studies. Librarians require specialized skills and knowledge to manage the modern library’s many information systems. Developing these skills typically requires a degree program (more on that later).
The LIS field encompasses many different types of librarians and other information professionals. The following section describes some of them and the competencies they require.
According to the American Library Association (ALA), there are four types of libraries:
Most librarians need a postsecondary degree of some type. Some jobs are open to candidates with a bachelor’s degree, but most upper-level roles (i.e., in management and leadership) require at least a master’s degree.
Most LIS degree programs are graduate-level, but some schools do offer bachelor’s degrees in the field. Most are called either a Bachelor in Library Science or a Bachelor in Information Science.
Most high-responsibility (and well-paying) library jobs require a master’s degree in library and information science (MLIS). Modern LIS programs, such as the graduate program at the University of Washington Information School, cover traditional skills like cataloging, archiving, preservation, and reader assistance as well as modern skills in managing digital libraries. Many include an equality and social justice component. As you consider programs, look for ALA accreditation; many employers prefer or require degrees from ALA-accredited institutions.
If you want to take your commitment to library and information science to the next level, you may need a doctoral degree. PhDs in LIS don’t simply assist in research projects—they frequently spearhead them. If you’re looking for a career at the cutting edge of research methodology, a PhD may be the right degree for you.
Presumably, you already know whether this sort of career path is for you. If you love literature, if you love knowledge, if you love learning new things, and, most importantly, if you love helping other people in their own quests to gather information, then a career in libraries seems a natural fit. And if you want to build an enduring and rewarding career with steady advancement, you’ll likely need a graduate degree in library and information science.
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org