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Science & Technology Series: Expert Comment

Keeping the record in changing times

Dr Lyn Robinson and Professor David Bawden outline the current contemporary approach to Library & Information Science at City.
by City Press Office (General enquiries)

By Dr Lyn Robinson and Professor David Bawden 

Library & Information Science (LIS) is a well-established discipline, the main purpose of which, keeping the organised record of humankind's knowledge, remains unchanged, even in times of great technical and social upheaval. LIS is now contributing directly to solving some of the most difficult and key issues generated by the unprecedented adoption of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Research at City's Department of Library and Information Science (CityLIS) is addressing some of the challenges in this area.

Of over-riding concern are the ethical issues arising from new ICTs. CityLIS research is examining a number these, with a particular focus on privacy in digital environments. Alongside this is our focus on the need to promote understanding in a world awash with information. Here we are developing models for understanding to inform the design of information systems; investigating storytelling and narratives as a way of conveying knowledge in context; and researching ways of developing and promoting critical and multicultural information literacy to counter the phenomena of fake news and alternate facts.

Cultural heritage

Another issue is the emergence of new forms of document, as augmented, virtual, and simulated reality herald fully immersive experiences. Memory institutions such as libraries, archives and museums currently need to handle complex documents which demand updated documentation theory and practice. CityLIS is focusing on the place of these documents in the preservation of cultural heritage, through the documentation of performance. We have run two highly successful DocPerform symposia, bringing together artists, performers and curators to share expertise and develop solutions in this area. We are also examining the limits of the idea of 'document', looking at whether buildings and landscapes can be considered as documents, and what that means for information management in these contexts.

As the expanding infosphere, and social media in particular, enables a wide range of people to become creators of information as well as users, LIS needs to study the whole of the communication chain of recorded information, rather than just focusing on the use of published information as in the past. CityLIS is examining the new, and sophisticated, information behaviours which are emerging; for instance, among fans of cult media as an example of information in serious leisure, and among those who seek a Slow approach to information, analogous to the Slow Food movement, as an antidote to information overload.

In the world of academic and scholarly publishing, the move to open access has been widely promoted, publicised, and debated. We are now seeing much confusion and controversy, as proponents of green, gold, and platinum open access argue about the best way forward, researchers fall in and out of love with platforms like and ResearchGate, and the role of major publishers such as Elsevier in an open access landscape comes under scrutiny. CityLIS is taking part in an AHRC-funded project to examine the relation between theory and practice in developing open access, in the hope of recommending rational and sustainable solutions.

Technical and social change

None of the problems accompanying the transformation of our analogue world into a digitally driven society will be solved by 'quick fixes', whether technical or managerial; they need serious long-term analysis if they are to have lasting impact. As Luciano Floridi -  Professor of Information Philosophy and Ethics at the Oxford Internet Institute, and whose philosophy of information influences much of our CityLIS work - comments, the more serious and urgent the problem, the more it needs a long-term theory-based solution. At CityLIS, we follow this approach, grounding our research in philosophy and in theory, so as to find solutions to pressing information problems on a solid rational basis. We believe that this approach keeps the LIS discipline relevant to making the human record available, and will do so through all the technical and social changes to come.

For more information on the DocPerform symposia, please visit this weblink.

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