Knowledge in the Twenty-First Century: The role of the Library and Information Science


0. Introduction

In this post I present my contribution to the III International Seminar on LIS Education and Research (LIS-ER).

First, my PresentationLIS-ER_2015-codina-EN | Next: the text that (more or less) guided my speech.

1. One problem = one Opportunity?

  • When the organizers of this Congress gave me the opportunity to participate in it, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try to present an idea in favour of the social recognition of Library and Information Science.
  • The purpose of my intervention is to present a simple proposal for what might be a way to explain what kind of values Library and Information Science provides to our society. Values that can be understood by society as a whole.
  • I think that this values can be summarized as follows: our discipline can have an important role, and I actually think it has, in reducing social inequalities.
  • At least in our country, but I think it is an international problem, our field of study and career suffer from a certain misunderstanding: apparently, nobody, except us, understands what we do.
  • And, I fear, that we are also faced with some underestimation: it seems that society does not give much importance to what we do.

2. Universal Access to all Knowledge

  • Surely, many of us will agree that one way to explain what we do is saying that we decisively help the diffusion of knowledge.
  • I believe that promoting universal access to knowledge is behind many of the best efforts of our field, both professionally and academically.
  • The idea of universal access to knowledge certainly is behind things as important as diverse, like the “public reading” (“lectura pública”), OPAC, university libraries, information literacy, information architecture, thesauri and taxonomies, etc.
  • Specially, in these moments, I think that there is a very important initiative: the Open Access movement.
  • I think that Open Access might be the most important factor of change in the universal access to knowledge in the XXI century.
  • Therefore, I think that the movement for Open Access is a clear and modern example of the commitment of our discipline in favour of universal access to knowledge.

3 Reducing inequality

  • The point is that, until now, when we said that our field promotes the dissemination of knowledge, we did not go further. As if by saying this, it was all said and no more explanations were necessary.
  • This is the simple idea that I wanted to bring here today: probably, we must go further and maintain the idea that the dissemination of knowledge is a main factor to reducing inequalities.
  • The work of which I have taken this idea and title for my speech is entitled The Capital in the XXI Century and its author is Thomas Piketty.
  • Do not worry: I will not explain this important work. But, it seems to me very important to present at least three paragraphs of his work.

04 Quotes from Piketty:

  •  “The main forces for convergence [reduction of inequalities] are the diffusion of knowledge and investment in training and skills” (…)
  • Knowledge and skill diffusion is the key to overall productivity growth as well as the reduction of inequality both within and between countries”
  • “Over a long period of time, the main force in favour of greater equality has been the diffusion of knowledge and skills”.

5. One possible agenda for Information systems studies

  • Now I will present four things, not very homogeneous and that must not be presented in this particular order, but that I think could be part of the agenda of the Library and Information Science for the coming years (the list is, inevitably, affected by my personal bias):
    • The aforementioned movement of Open Access. The LIS can study the implications and consequences of this movement like no other discipline can. Furthermore, only the LIS can provide essential management tools such as metadata and cataloguing and preservation systems.
    • The Digital Humanities, highly involved with new metadata development and with the “new” cultural repositories such as Europeana and others that are emerging internationally.
    • New features to support competitive research by our excellent university libraries. Our university libraries are becoming, more and more, an irreplaceable actor in research capacity of our academic researchers
    • Finally, we need, greatly, the constant analysis and monitoring of search engines on the web. We can think for example in the important role that Google currently has on the way in which people interpret reality. Our specialists and scholars have an irreplaceable role in information literacy and the study, analysis and criticism of the search engines.

6 Conclusions

  1. The vision of the economists Piketty can be useful to help LIS put in value our business and to present to society the deep meaning of our role in it.
  2. The “classic” developments of LIS, as university libraries, can be interpreted as a means of fighting inequality and therefore as a means of promoting social cohesion and to promote more integrated and harmonious societies.
  3. Also, new developments related to the dissemination of knowledge, as the Digital Humanities, academic repositories and the semantic web can be greatly benefited from the Information Science

7. Research Questions

  1. Major challenges remain. For example, there is one aspect that I would like to mention: if we dream of a future world where Open Access is the natural form of publishing scientific content, can we imagine an Open Access movement, but in relation to the bibliographical databases?
  2. How do products such as Web of Science or Scopus fit in a possible future dominated by publications Open Access?
  3. Is it feasible to have a majority of academic journals as Open Access, with closed (commercial) databases
  4. Finally, and perhaps most important to me: can we think of future lines of research that attempt to merge aspects of the economy of equality with Information Science?