Library Science

From New World Encyclopedia

Library science is an interdisciplinary science incorporating the humanities, law and applied science to study topics related to libraries, the collection, organization, preservation and dissemination of information resources, and the political economy of information. Historically, library science has also included Archival science. "The distinction between a library and an archive is relatively modern."[1] This includes how information resources are organized to serve the needs of select user groups, how people interact with classification systems and technology, how information is acquired, evaluated and applied by people in and outside of libraries as well as cross-culturally, how people are trained and educated for careers in libraries, the ethics that guide library service and organization, the legal status of libraries and information resources, and the applied science of computer technology used in documentation and records management. Academic courses in library science typically include Collection management, Information Systems and Technology, Cataloging and classification, Preservation, Reference, Statistics and Management. Library science is constantly evolving, incorporating new topics like Database Management, Information Architecture and Knowledge Management, for example.

There is no generally agreed distinction between library science, library and information science, and librarianship. To a certain extent they can be considered equivalent terms, perhaps adopted to increase the "science" aspect, or improve the popular image of librarians.

The term library and information science (LIS) is sometimes used; most librarians consider it as only a terminological variation, intended to emphasize the scientific and technical foundations of the subject, and its relationship with information science. LIS should not be confused with information theory, the mathematical study of the concept of information, or information science, a field related to computer science and cognitive science.


Library and information science, it may be argued, began with the first effort to organize a collection of information and provide access to that information.

Early history

At Ugarit in Syria excavations have revealed a palace library, temple library, and two private libraries which date back to around 1200 B.C.E., containing diplomatic texts as well as poetry and other literary forms. In the seventh century, King Ashurbanipal of Assyria assembled what is considered "the first systematically collected library" at Nineveh; previous collections functioned more as passive archives. The legendary Library of Alexandria is perhaps the best known example of an early library, flourishing in the third century B.C.E. and possibly inspired by Demetrius Phalereus.

Ancient information retrieval

One of the curators of the imperial library in the Han Dynasty is believed to have been the first to establish a library classification system and the first book notation system. At this time the library catalog was written on scrolls of fine silk and stored in silk bags.

Jefferson's method

Thomas Jefferson, whose library at Monticello consisted of thousands of books, devised a classification system inspired by the Baconian method which grouped books more or less by subject rather than alphabetically, as it was previously done. Jefferson's collection became the nucleus of the first national collection of the United States when it was transferred to Congress after a fire destroyed the Congressional Library during the War of 1812. The Jefferson collection was the start of what we now know as the Library of Congress.

Twentieth century

The term "library science" first appeared in the early 1930s, in the title of S. R. Ranganathan's The Five Laws of Library Science, published in 1931, and in the title of Lee Pierce Butler's 1933 book, An introduction to library science (University of Chicago Press). Butler's new approach advocated research using quantitative methods and ideas in the social sciences with the aim of using librarianship to address society's information needs. This research agenda went against the more procedure-based approach of "library economy," which was mostly confined to practical problems in the administration of libraries. While Ranganathan's approach was philosophical it was tied more to the day-to-day business of running a library.

In more recent years, with the growth of digital technology, the field has been greatly influenced by information science concepts. Although a basic understanding is critical to both library research and practical work, the area of information science has remained largely distinct both in training and in research interests.

Training in librarianship

Most professional library jobs require a professional post-baccalaureate degree in library science, or one of its equivalent terms, library and information science as a basic credential. In the United States and Canada the certification usually comes from a Master's degree granted by an ALA (American Library Association) accredited institution, so even non-scholarly librarians have an originally academic background. In the United Kingdom, however, there have been moves to broaden the entry requirements to professional library posts, such that qualifications in, or experience of, a number of other disciplines have become more acceptable.


Subdisciplines of library science include the study of:

  • Human Information Behaviors (information-seeking, search strategies, and use)
  • Knowledge Organization (which includes bibliographies, cataloging, classification, indexing and abstracting, metadata, semantic and syntactic analysis (controlled vocabularies, etc.))
  • Digital libraries
  • Collection development
  • Preservation
  • Public reference and other services
  • Scholarly communication (includes bibliometrics, informetrics, scientometrics, webmetrics)

Types of library science professionals

  • Librarian
  • Archivist
  • Cataloger
  • Computer, Data, and Information Systems professionals
  • Curator
  • Indexers
  • Information architect
  • Information broker
  • Metadata Architects
  • Metadata Managers
  • Preservation Administrators and Conservators

Librarians in different types of libraries


The study of librarianship for public libraries covers issues such as cataloging, collection development for a diverse community, information literacy, community standards, public services-focused librarianship, serving a diverse community of adults, children, and teens, Intellectual freedom, Censorship and legal and budgeting issues.


The study of school librarianship covers library services for children in schools up until (but not including) university. In some regions, the local government may have stricter standards for the education and certification of school librarians (who are often considered a special case of teacher), than for other librarians, and the educational program will include those local standards. School librarianship may also include issues of intellectual freedom; pedagogy; and how to build a cooperative curriculum with the teaching staff.


The study of academic librarianship covers library services for colleges and universities. Issues of special importance to the field may include copyright; technology, digital libraries, and digital repositories; academic freedom; open access to scholarly works; as well as specialized knowledge of subject areas important to the institution and the relevant reference works.

Some academic librarians are considered faculty, and hold similar academic ranks as professors, while others are not. In either case, the minimal qualification is a Master's degree in Library Studies or Library Science, and, in some cases, a Master's degree in another field.


The study of archives covers the training of archivists, librarians specially trained to maintain and build archives of records intended for historical preservation. Special issues include physical preservation of materials and mass deacidification; specialist catalogs; solo work; access; and appraisal. Many archivists are also trained historians specializing in the period covered by the archive.


Special librarians include almost any other form of librarianship, including those who serve in medical libraries (and hospitals or medical schools), corporations, news agency libraries, or other special collections. The issues at these libraries will be specific to the industries they inhabit, but may include solo work; corporate financing; specialized collection development; and extensive self-promotion to potential patrons.


Preservation librarians most often work in academic libraries. Their focus is on the management of preservation activities that seek to maintain access to content within books, manuscripts, archival materials, and other library resources. Examples of activities managed by preservation librarians include binding, conservation, digital and analog reformatting, digital preservation, and environmental monitoring.

Theory and practice

Many practicing librarians do not contribute to LIS scholarship but focus on daily operations of their own library systems. Other practicing librarians, particularly in academic libraries, do perform original scholarly LIS research and contribute to the academic end of the field.

On this basis, it has sometimes been proposed that LIS is distinct from librarianship, in a way analogous to the difference between medicine and doctoring. In this view, librarianship, the application of library science, would comprise the practical services rendered by librarians in their day-to-day attempts to meet the needs of library patrons.

Other uses of these terms do not make the distinction and treat them as synonyms.

Current issues in LIS

  • Education for librarianship
  • Information policy
  • Information communication technologies (ICT's)
  • Information literacy
  • Information commons
  • Information Society
  • Equity of Access
  • Sustainability and ICT's
  • Children's Internet Protection Act
  • Censorship
  • Information explosion
  • Information literacy
  • Government Information
  • Decreased funding for established libraries
  • Copyright
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Intellectual freedom
  • Digital divide
  • Open access
  • Patriot Act
  • Public lending right
  • Slow fires
  • Serials crisis
  • Current digital/scanning technologies
  • Remote access

See also


  1. Michael H. Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World, 4th ed. (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow, 1995), 3.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

A large number of fine books are available in this field. Select introductory texts are:

  • Bopp, Richard E., and Linda C. Smith. Reference and Information Services: An Introduction. Library and information science text series. Englewood, Colo: Libraries Unlimited, 2001. ISBN 1563086247
  • Dority, G. Kim. Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited, 2006. ISBN 159158180X
  • Eberhart, George M. The Whole Library Handbook 4: Current Data, Professional Advice, and Curiosa About Libraries and Library Services. Chicago: American Library Association, 2006. ISBN 0838909159
  • Rubin, Richard. Foundations of Library and Information Science. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1998. ISBN 1555703097
  • Stueart, Robert D., and Barbara B. Moran. Library and Information Center Management. Library and information science text series. Englewood, Colo: Libraries Unlimited, 1998.
  • Taylor, Arlene G. The Organization of Information. Library and information science text series. Englewood, Colo: Libraries Unlimited, 1999. ISBN 1563084937

External links

All links retrieved October 25, 2022.


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