Is library history a thing of the past?

I read with interest today Rob Westwood‘s article on Library History in the CILIP Gazette of 11-24th July. His argument is that library history should make a return to the curriculum in library schools as a "healthy understanding of our history can only lead to a healthy design for our future". In particular, he wanted to challenge the idea that we live in a time of excessive change by showing that the history of librarianship is riddled with such periods and that we are in a constant state of flux yet there is a thread of intrinsic values present throughout the history of libraries. Set in a historical context, new developments that seem to herald a "paradigm shift", seem less alarming.

I thought the idea of teaching today’s students the history of the profession was an interesting one.  Rob’s research showed that library history is largely not taught on modern information courses. Would learning about the wider context increase students’ understanding of the issues facing information professionals today? Would knowledge of the role that libraries and librarians have played in important social issues such as the war against censorship, the changing of formats, the rise of open access or the need for social inclusion (to quote a few of Rob’s examples) give students more confidence in their professional values?

Or would a library history module be seen as irrelevant, boring, simply something you have to learn because it’s on the course? Would time be better spent acquiring practical skills or knowledge of current practice?

6 comments to this post

  •  :  It's true that not many lecturers are interested in library history, so it would be difficult to get it as a fixed part of the curriculum. From my experience, there is a small number of students who want to do research in the topic, either at Masters or higher level, and they should be encouraged in this. I'd like to see the concept expanded to information history - to include the history of storage and retrieval of information and of IR systems. That too would help explain where we are today.
  •  :  I think that a broad understanding of library history might indeed help to provide LIS students with a bit of context about the profession. However, I can imagine a lot of very disgruntled people if they were made to take a whole module on library history. I don't know about LIS courses in general, but the master's course which I just finished had a fair amount of library history 'embedded' in optional modules called things like Information & Society. I'm glad to know a little bit about that stuff but I'm not sure I'd've wanted to do it in too much detail.
  •  :  In general I agree with comments from Charles and from Bronagh. A certain amount of library and information history will appear in modules such as Information and Society. I would certainly like to be able to put greater depth into IR courses so that students are aware of how systems developed into their current state. However in the original article Rob makes a plea without considering the environment in which we teach Masters LIS programmes. The curriculum is already crowded in a Masters programme. What does he advocate is left out to make way for library history? How might this relate to the twin targets of CILIP's Body of Professional Knowledge and internal validation procedures? Finally as Bronagh points out, and this is the view of recent student, a lot of students would NOT be enamoured by sitting through library history modules. I recall 36 years ago, having lectures about the 1850 Public Libraries Act and the development of public libraries. I cannot recall that it has had any impact on my career one way of the other.
  •  :  Dick makes a good point - it is difficult to fit everything into a masters course, particularly with the range of new technologies we need to cover. If students have a particular interest in library history then it could be a good subject for a final dissertation. My experience is that most of our students are keen to develop skills relevant to modern library/information work. I suspect this will become increasingly the case as the economy shrinks and jobs become harder to find.
  •  :  I am very thakful that i did my Phd on library history. At a time of de-professionalisation in nursing with health Care Assistants and classrom assistants taking classes without teacher training, it is clear that there is a national drive to dilute professional training. Studying the istory of my professional has increased my pride in my chosen field of work and it is clear that we can always learn from the past to appreciate what has been fought for and to find inspiration to progress. Library and information history could surely be an optional subject, particularly at undergraduate level (if there are any undergraduate courses left) and interested students enouraged to proced to higher education studies. Believe me it's worth it.
  •  :  Blogs are good for every one where we get lots of information for any topics nice job keep it up !!!

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