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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives, Volume 60, Issue 6
From its Ealing campus Thames Valley University (TVU) is currently one of the four centres of library and information professional education in London. All these centres offer courses that maintain accreditation with the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). Like two others (University College London (UCL) and London Metropolitan University (LMU)), TVU has promoted programmes since the late 1940s (City University started to offer courses in the late 1960s). TVU and LMU provided professional programmes at the outset for the Library Association, before gaining the academic autonomy to design courses and award CNAA degrees. UCL and City had these powers from the start. Further generalisation and unity has its limits since, in terms of education, research and professional activity, all have enjoyed a long enough history to show very diverse experiences and employed several generations of staff and educated many cohorts of students. Fuller histories would reveal diligent industry and a fascinating trail of events, initiatives and stories, as well as hopefully more success than less. These accounts have yet to be written!
The collection of papers gathered by the editor with the assistance of colleagues for this special issue in the series reflects the scope, interests and potential which the tradition “at Ealing” maintains today. Until the mid-1990s TVU (the successor of Ealing College of Higher Education and the even earlier Ealing Technical College) offered courses in library and information services, information management, publishing and business information technology substantially under the same roof of what in the 1980s had become the School of Library and Information Studies. This focus partially survived the transition to university status from 1992. But thereafter, within strong currents of institutional change and innovation various redeployments, mergers and links with other groups started to develop. In short, we followed the path of many of the old polytechnic schools, as “old” professional and vocational subjects were re-bundled, re-branded, and re-located in new organisational, curricular and pedagogical structures.
The detail and nature of the programmes taught over these years has changed in response to demand, to meet resourcing constraints and as part of the quality and audit processes which now characterise UK higher education. We will spare the detail, but can summarise to point out that a postgraduate programme in library and information management has been maintained throughout, firstly as a Diploma and latterly as a Masters. Its undergraduate professional equivalent has ceased, but the staff who taught on the former have been regrouped directly and indirectly to wider areas where information, computing, communications and business and management are all taught at undergraduate and masters levels. It is this evolution that is important in appreciating the range of interests and authors gathered up in this issue. We have become much less specialised as teachers and academics in what and where we teach. To compensate, our range is now suitably wide, and in a strong way keeps us fit and prepared to continue to engage in information professional education. In introducing the papers in this issue, a bit more of the evolutionary story can be told. It helps to form a text that has the makings of a coherent message and a capacity to engage with the problems and challenges of the field in the future. With the diversity and opportunity on hand there may be no natural narrative, but scope for useful observations and reflections.
Madden provides a profile of library and information services in professional associations. A specialised but quite numerous community, which has communication and information exchange at the core of its business. The study was undertaken as part of a Masters dissertation, and incidentally built on a part-time employment to integrate a collection of library material into one of the sampled organisations. This opportunity gave the investigator some real “insider” insight.
Issa-Salwe and Olden provide a paper, which takes one of the most modern communication technologies as its subject and studies it in a quite traditional and characteristic context. Issa-Salwe undertook the field research for a PhD. Olden was the main supervisor and he has written widely on African matters and more particularly on the Horn of Africa region and East Africa. The web site is the incipient digital archive: a pointed contrast to a later contribution by Williams and Armstrong, which uses historical sources and archives for their study of an earlier communication revolution.
The theme of knowledge management came to the professional curriculum in the mid-1990s and TVU programmes espoused this challenge. Roberts builds on some experience of teaching in this field to address a persistent and largely unsolved problem. How can we audit and account for knowledge content and activities in typical settings in practice? In the 1980s and 1990s the thrust of business information drew attention to the inventorying of data and information assets. This paper attempts to take forward some of this thinking on an exploratory level, noting the need to gain much more practical experience in this application.
McBirnie develops a discussion around the ideas of serendipity in information seeking and explores the similarities and contrasts found in jazz improvisation. Her contribution offers a review of the concept of serendipity in the literature, and describes the evolution of a pilot study to test a model, which represents the process. For work arising from a Masters dissertation it explores an area from which others might justifiably shy, but has revealed fertile terrain for some planned future research.
Isetta’s paper reflects on one of the most significant trends in medical and health librarianship and information management. Based on work for a masters dissertation he tries to track the evolution of the concept of evidence based practice, and to capture the views of practitioners in an NHS trust who espouse the concept as part of the role yet remain sceptical and distant.
Diversity and a reflection of the scholarly range, which is entirely appropriate in the university setting, is found in Williams and Armstrong’s paper on the “steamship mania” of 1824-1825. They argue strongly for such a paper appearing in this collection and it is a view completely supported by the guest editor. The history of communication is an advancing front and what we do know in the name of information and communication work will have its historiographical turn in due course. These two researchers benefit from the information management of the historical record. Contemporary digital archiving and digital curation is trying to hold the line for future generations of scholars. It is pleasing to note that John Armstrong is the last of a generation of Ealing historians and business historians who thrived in Ealing College days. To some extent the feeling for historical scholarship still survives (Olden is a case in-point) and it will be a poor university that loses this discipline and fails to support it resourcefully. Our other colleagues in the faculties of health and the arts who turn to historical study, as well as in the faculty of business, need encouragement!
Laurie and Roberts offer a paper that represents the kind of fusion and synergy that the information, computing and business/organisational world needs to maintain. A mutual and regular endeavour in teaching a module “Strategies and Systems” to information systems and business undergraduates forms the focus and provides the vehicle for a wider review. One can discern the message that information professional work developed from the librarianship and documentary tradition, combined with information systems and business strategic insight, can help to increase the knowledge profile and activity of organisations. We happily assume and accept that computing and computers will be on hand to play their essential role.
We draw the issue to a close by offering two papers united by the theme of small and medium enterprise. Radzeviciene developed a Masters dissertation around the theme of KM and the SME in Lithuania. With knowledge of the country, language and contacts, her paper opens a window on an emergent EU economy. In the years between the study (2006) and 2008 there is demonstrable progress in that economy, partially in response to the use of ICT but more significantly in the realisation that the mobilisation of human capital and entrepreneurship are vital. Enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and its place in business education is the theme of the paper by Munro and Cook. These two contributors are “near neighbours” in the new TVU Faculty of Business which is coming on stream. The University’s focus on teaching and learning as strategic themes makes sense in a new (post-1992) university, where although scholarly activity is vital, the formal level of research output is less than the norm. Notwithstanding, this level is being corrected and recalibrated across the institution.
It is fortunate that the School of Computing, which provides the base and cover for the information professional (IP) education, is establishing itself as a significant fund earner. For IP education this is a significant location as the area is increasingly imbricated with all the new ICT developments. But, equally significant is the context of the Faculty of Business, and this “business” (and organisational) theme is hopefully reflected in these papers. Information Professional activity is as diverse as the themes chosen by the writers of these papers gathered up here, and it should rightly encompass its core values of library and information management as much as those of history, education, teaching and learning (of information and more generally), business, computing and information systems. With this we look forward to a continuing debate and a progressive tradition.
Stephen A. Roberts