Trends, challenges and opportunities for LIS education

An interview with Carol Tenopir, Chancellor’s Professor, School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee

By Akhilesh K.S. Yadav - March 23, 2018  6 mins

Carol Tenopir is a Chancellor's Professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her areas of teaching and research include information access and retrieval, electronic publishing and the information industry. She is the author of five books, has published more than 200 journal articles, and is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences.

In the 2016-2017 academic year Carol served as the Fulbright-Nokia Distinguished Chair in Information and Communication Technologies at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, Finland. For more on Carol’s extensive contributions to library and information science (LIS) as a researcher, teacher and active community member, see her profile on Library Connect.

Let’s start with your early experiences. How did your LIS career begin?

I started my LIS career with a private consulting company that provided information systems and services to clients, mostly corporations. I then became an automation and systems librarian at the University of Hawaii. Both of those experiences, in very different environments, helped me decide that what I most enjoyed doing — research, online searching and teaching — would be best done as an LIS educator. After I took time off to get my PhD at the University of Illinois, I was lucky enough to get a professor position at the University of Hawaii’s LIS program, where I was until 1994, when I became a professor at the University of Tennessee. I have been involved with the “e” side of information from the beginning, starting in the mid-1970s as the main online searcher at the company I was working for, and then as teacher, critic, observer and researcher.

During the 28 years that you wrote Library Journal’s Online Databases column, what changes did you see in databases and how people use them?

It is hard to imagine now, but in those early days the ultimate users of the information didn’t actually conduct their own searches. Online databases were only for specialists who searched for information on behalf of their clients. Putting hardware, software and information sources in the hands of everyone had a remarkable and profound change. People expect instant, low-cost or free online access to whatever they need or want, whenever they want it. Service providers and systems have to work to meet those continually escalating expectations. Roles within the library — including educators, licensing negotiators, digital library builders, research partners, and systems integrators — have become more important.

Given researchers are now largely accessing the information they need from their desktops, how has the scope of library services changed? 

Libraries do not have a monopoly on providing access to information anymore, so they need to emphasize their value as providers of unique (digitized) content and as service providers, rather than as providers of published information that can be found elsewhere. That means an emphasis on locating, digitizing (perhaps), and preserving the unique content of their institution or region; information and data literacy education; integration of information content from a variety of sources; and personalized information and data services to their researchers and institutions that provide unique value to individuals and institutions. Many libraries now provide a link between the scholarship created by their researchers and the need of their institutions to demonstrate the value and impact of that scholarship, so assessment is an increasingly important role of libraries.

What recent trends have you seen in education and research that affect library and information science at the global level?

Libraries have changed, and education has changed to try to respond to those changes, if not driving them. Programs offer more specializations now, including areas such as research data management, user experience testing, assessment, digital library development, embedded librarianship, digital scholarship/digital humanities, web design and digital archives, along with more traditional specialities such as children’s and youth services, information organization, and information retrieval. LIS professionals today need the conceptual generic basics, but they also need specialized knowledge and skills. Globally, LIS education is reaching out to a wide variety of faculty specializations. Research in LIS has also changed to recognize a wide variety of methods (qualitative as well as quantitative) with more focus on the human factor in information rather than just the mechanical or system side.

How will open science influence LIS education?

LIS education needs to address how open science issues, including open access and open data, affect scholarship, scholars and, ultimately, science and society. For example, there is the human side that involves helping researchers learn about and participate in the process, while recognizing their concerns. Librarians also need the technical skills to provide metadata services, manage institutional repositories and assist with research data management to further the open science practices at their institutions. Researchers are faced with funding and governmental regulations requiring deposition of data and articles in repositories. Information science professionals can help this happen by providing either repositories or links to repositories and helping researchers with the processes needed to deposit. Preservation is an important part of this as well. And the need for education about high-quality sources never goes away.

What challenges do LIS educators, students and researchers face today?

I see two major challenges: 1) anticipating future trends to provide education that will be relevant; and 2) deciding what specialities make sense for them to focus their energies on. Other challenges derive from those. These include keeping curriculum forward thinking and relevant, while not abandoning the traditional aspects; marketing their programs to reach a diverse group of students; working with potential employers to make sure their students are ready for jobs and will be hired, etc. A combination of class-room education and experiential learning is important.

Where do you see the LIS profession in 10-15 years?

I envision a continued basic curriculum that emphasizes organization, preservation, retrieval and services to individuals, along with the growth of specializations that can be quite focused and offered collaboratively using technology — in other words, more diversity in what students are prepared for. And, of course, continued use of a variety of leading-edge technologies for learning and for content. User Experience and assessment will underpin much of the professional work.

Would you like to convey any message to young LIS professionals?

This is an exciting time to be an LIS professional! Libraries and information services are changing, but libraries and librarians are needed more than ever to help people connect with high-quality information and to participate in the process of sharing and archiving their information and data. You are involved in changing services, conceptions of collections, and the image of the librarian.

Being connected with constituents — providing the services and collections they need — is more important than ever. At the same time, we should remember the important role of libraries in making sure that things are accessible far into the future. We are working for the past, present and future all at the same time.


Akhilesh K.S. Yadav
Written by

Akhilesh K.S. Yadav

Written by

Akhilesh K.S. Yadav

Assistant Professor, Centre for Library and Information Management Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India

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