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?