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Milena Dobreva

The Change in Library, Information and Archives

Library, information and archive studies are quite often seen as relics from the past, outdated in current society dominated by digital technologies and necessary only to provide further care for the books, manuscripts and archival documents of the past. For many, the idea of library and information professionals is still aligned to the famous 16-century painting 'The Librarian' by Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

However, library, information and archive studies are not only about books and old documents and how to handle them. Since their very beginning, library and archive sciences focused on the organisation and discovery of information, as well as on the aspects of serving the users. Currently, in the age of the knowledge society and innovation economy, this profession is actually not on the edge as some sort of a gatekeeper to historical knowledge, but right in the knowledge economy’s centre; all aspects related to generation of knowledge, its presentation, discovery and use, long-term preservation as well as the economic models behind all these activities are pivotal in the current information society. These activities are not only implemented in libraries and archives, but are essential within the education sector, and all industries – including those which are bound to innovation as well as those aiming to deliver better services, e.g. the touristic one.

This means that, instead of shrinking the understanding about old books and documents, current library, information and archive studies are actually expanding and developing to address handling analogue and digital information in the knowledge economy.

The change in the information sector can be followed when one looks at how the five laws of library science suggested by S.R. Ranganathan in 1931, had been expanded later. The five original laws are: Books are for use; Every reader has his (her) book; Every book has its reader; Save the time of the reader and The library is a growing organism.

Michael Gorman who served as a president of the American Library Association in 2005–2006, and Walt Crawford suggested five further laws in 1995: Libraries serve humanity; Respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated; Use technology intelligently to enhance service; Protect free access to knowledge and Honour the past and create the future.

Fifteen years after these additional laws were formulated, they are still valid. Understanding how to deal with all forms in which knowledge is published and communicated in analogue or digital format, is a key requirement for the modern information professional. Technologies develop and change over time, and a particular challenge for those who are offering professional training is not only to present an up-to-date picture of library, information and archive studies, but also to help the new generation of professionals manage future change.

What is the demand in Malta?

The obvious professional choices for those who have a library, information and archive studies qualification is to work in the library and archive sector. The current situation in Malta is alarming: there is a need for specialists with Master qualifications, but those pursuing such studies currently have to enrol in programmes overseas. Even looking at jobs only in the library and archival sectors, provides evidence that such specialists are needed (statistical data is hard to obtain since there are no statistics on job openings and qualifications of applicants). There were a number of job openings at the National Archives during the last two years.  In most cases the requirements included a Diploma in Archive and Records Management. There is also a long-standing debate on the role and qualification of school and college librarians which also shows that there are currently essential needs which are not met (see, for example, the recently published article in The Times of 15 January 2012 by Claudio Laferla, What vision for school libraries?)

And as it seems other industries in Malta which could benefit from the specialised knowledge of this type of specialist, still have to go some way to realise their importance.

Who prepares library, information and archive professionals in Malta?

The Universities preparing information professionals (globally, not only in Malta) these days, endeavour to equip the current generation not only with skills for the current information environment, but also to prepare graduates for the challenge of working in a dynamic domain under constant change. This topic was debated in the most prestigious library and information schools and a recent issue of CLIPUpdate, the journal of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the UK, discussed the challenges and opportunities for Library and Information Science education.

One of the major issues for such programmes is how to balance the digital aspects with the traditional disciplines about organisation and use of knowledge sources.

The University of Malta has offered a B.A. qualification in library, information and archival studies since 2005 and this year will mark the 20th anniversary from the launch of the first diploma programme in the library domain. The programme of studies has currently been expanded with new digital oriented modules such as the one on Digital Libraries, endorsed by the UNESCO Memory of the World Studies Committee.

To cater for Malta’s needs, it will also offer for the first time as from October 2012, a Masters course in Library, Information and Archive studies (by research).

It is exciting to be part of a programme which is so vibrant and has potential for development. And if Jorge Luis Borges said 'have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,' the modern paradise is definitely a different kind of a library, and the modern digital information professional is definitely not all about books.

Dr Milena Dobreva is a senior lecturer in the Department of Library, Information & Archive Studies, Faculty of Media & Knowledge Sciences, University of Malta.

The Librarian, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, c. 1562-1570
The Librarian, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, c. 1562-1570

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