Library and Information Science | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Library and Information Science

Library and Information Science, which encompasses all aspects of information management and library operations, is an organized graduate course of studies taught at the university level and producing practitioners with a recognized professional qualification.

Library and Information Science

Library and Information Science, which encompasses all aspects of information management and library operations, is an organized graduate course of studies taught at the university level and producing practitioners with a recognized professional qualification. In the early decades of the 20th century, the language of the discipline reflected its location within libraries. Most Canadian librarians acquired their knowledge from experience; those with formal training usually were graduates of library schools in the US. Beginning in 1904, when McGill University conducted a 3-week library summer school, instructional programs became available in Canada. These were mainly intermittent, short courses, until 1927 when McGill offered a full-year professional course of studies at the undergraduate level. The University of Toronto established a School of Library Science in 1928. In 1931 and 1936, respectively, the McGill and Toronto library schools established postgraduate programs that were accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). In the 1930s other library schools were established at the University of Ottawa, the École de bibliothécaires in Montréal and Mt St Vincent in Halifax. These 3 programs were never accredited and eventually went out of existence.

McGill and Toronto continued to dominate Canadian library education, but in the period of expansion during the 1960s the need for librarians was greater than they could meet, and new graduate library schools were established at the University of British Columbia (1961), Université de Montréal (1961) and the University of Alberta (1968). In general these institutions offered the Bachelor of Library Science (BLS), but since the BLS could be taken only by those already holding an undergraduate degree, it was equated with the Master of Library Science (MLS) awarded in the US. Programs at all of the above Canadian schools were, and continue to be, accredited by the ALA.

In the early 1970s, Canadian library schools made a notable departure from the US pattern. Because of expanding professional knowledge, the growing need for specialization and the continuing need for generalist preparation, Canadian library schools doubled the length of their programs and awarded an MLS instead of the BLS. McGill had already instituted the 2-year MLS in 1964; by 1972, Toronto, Montréal and UBC followed suit, and Alberta did so in 1976. From their inception the library schools at the University of Western Ontario (1967) and Dalhousie University (1969) offered only the MLS degree. Canadian library and information science education programs hence are generally longer than most of those in the US and other countries.

Other noteworthy developments of the 1970s were the inception of doctoral programs (Toronto and Western Ontario), the erection of impressive physical facilities (Toronto) and a rapid increase in enrolment.

During the 1980s, the traditional view of the nature and scope of library science came under review. Library science had been equated with the work done in and by libraries. The core elements were materials selection and acquisition; cataloguing, classification and subject analysis of these materials; services to readers; and such necessary background aspects as the role of the library in society. Though these subjects remained important, the identification of library science with libraries (as institutions) was beginning to evolve. The growing use of information technology to support traditional library activities led most programs to add the word "information" to the name of the program and the consequent degree, so that "library" and "information" both appeared in the degrees granted by Montréal (1981), McGill and Western (1986), and Dalhousie (1988). In 1988, U of T recognized the transition by awarding 2 degrees, the Master of Library Science and the Master of Information Science.

Library science was concerned with all aspects of library operation, and more broadly with the entire information-transfer process, whether the medium for such transfer be graphic records or electronically transmitted data. With the inclusion by 1988 of the term "information science" in the names of all 7 former library schools, all were giving considerable attention to information technology, electronic storage and retrieval, and information and communications theory. The graduates of Canadian library and information science programs schools were therefore increasingly likely to see themselves as "information professionals" rather than as librarians. Though the majority still worked in public, academic or special libraries, other graduates took jobs in such non-traditional settings as editing, publishing or research enterprises, law offices and records management, and set up their own companies. In effect, any position that called for advanced skills in the selection, organization and retrieval of information materials, for knowledge of telecommunications and computer technology and for the ability to create databases was suitable for library- and information-science graduates. In keeping with this convergence of the information disciplines, UBC (1981) and Montréal (1983) offer credentials in archival studies.

The 1990s saw this evolution continue under the growing influence of the Internet. In 1994, U of T dropped the word "library" from its Faculty of Information Studies, which began in 1995 to award the Master of Information Studies (MISt) in 3 areas of specialization: archival studies, information systems, and library and information science. In 1998, Western's graduate program in Library and Information Science was incorporated within the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, in recognition of interdisciplinarity within the information disciplines. While library and information science programs continue to offer courses on traditional topics such as public libraries and the history of the book, the changes in the profession are reflected in course titles such as "Marketing Information Services," "Information Systems and Technology" and "Multimedia Systems." Web page creation and information literacy skills are the new basics. Consistent with other disciplines, Canadian library and information science programs have also initiated new programming in support of continuing education; for example, McGill has offered a graduate diploma in Library and Information Studies since 1996, in support of formal continuing education. Dalhousie hosts regular public lectures for the community. As the second largest French language library school in the world, U de Montréal plays a substantial role in international education. Toronto has a Continuing Education Program that includes Web-based courses, certificate programs, and an evolving knowledge management program. In addition to the graduate library-school programs, undergraduate courses in librarianship are offered by the faculties of education of many Canadian universities. These courses are intended for the training of teacher-librarians, a term reflecting the view that the librarian in the school should be primarily an educator, a partner with the classroom instructor in the effective use of learning materials. As well, the 1980s saw increasing use of library technicians in school libraries, with core competencies defined in the CLA's Qualifications for Library Technicians Working in School Systems (1984).

On the nonprofessional level, library technician training programs are well developed in Canada. Beginning at the University of Winnipeg (1962), such programs are now offered in 23 institutions. In the 4 western provinces, the parent institutions are colleges and technical institutes; in Ontario, colleges and Lakehead University, which has 1- and 2-year library and information studies diploma programs; and in Québec, the Collèges d'enseignement général et professionel (CEGEPs), Concordia University and John Abbott College. Library technician training programs in the Atlantic provinces exist at Nova Scotia Community College, MUN's School of Continuing Education and the University of New Brunswick Library Assistant Program. In general, the library technician training programs are 2-year programs, and half of that period is devoted to courses in library work. Apart from Québec, most programs follow the well-designed Guidelines for the Training of Library Technicians (1982) issued by the Canadian Library Association. The CLA has also sponsored surveys of the programs and developed a self-study guide to encourage the maintenance of high standards. Here too, Canada has taken a vanguard position in library and information science education.

External Links

Donate to The Canadian Encyclopedia this Giving Tuesday!

A donation to The Canadian Encyclopedia today will have an even greater impact due to a generous matching gift from an anonymous donor. Starting November 28 until December 5, 2023, all donations will be matched up to $10,000! All donations above $3 will receive a tax receipt. Thank you for your support of The Canadian Encyclopedia, a project of Historica Canada.