Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Web 2.0 in U.S. LIS Schools: Are They Missing the Boat?

Noa Aharony asks whether library and information science schools in the United States are underestimating the opportunities offered by Web 2.0 applications.

Library and information science (LIS) programmes prepare students for performing traditional information tasks such as indexing, retrieval and library management [1][2][3]. The increased importance and centrality of information has moved LIS schools to offer new curricula that combine traditional librarianship and archiving with technological and social aspects of information. As the author has a considerable interest in both LIS education and in Web 2.0 applications, and because she found out that in her own country (Israel) only a limited emphasis is given to adapting Web 2.0 new technologies in LIS schools, she has decided to examine the situation in US LIS. This article presents a preliminary report on a survey of the accredited schools of library and information science in the United States, to determine the degree of adoption of courses on Web 2.0. Expanding the curriculum and integrating a course which focuses on Web 2.0 may improve the image of LIS, and more importantly, may enable learners to acquire a broader perspective in their attitude towards information studies, and to cope with rapid change in the information landscape. Adding Web 2.0 studies to the curriculum may also serve to improve the position of LIS programmes when competing for student attention against other programmes of study and career options.

Changes in the Information Landscape and Information Education

Aspects of information production, use, storage, and access are the main study areas in LIS programmes. These programmes provide traditional training while trying to accommodate the rapidly changing information landscape. Traditional roles of dealing with journals and books are becoming less prevalent in the careers open to information professionals, and new competencies, skills, and graduate-level education are becoming more sought after [4]. The traditional focus of LIS was on containers rather than on content: books, journals and so on. Barlow compared information to fine wine, 'We thought for many years that we were in the wine business. In fact, we were in the bottling business. And we don't know a dammed thing about wine'. [5]

Several researchers have argued that libraries will be only one part of the information society, and not necessarily the most important one. Librarians will become a small part of the growing body of information workers, since responding to the challenges of information management will require knowledge and skills from disciplines traditionally considered peripheral to LIS [6][7]. Furthermore, education for LIS should expand, beyond skills and technology, to include new cognitive, social and situational processes [8]. Cronin, Stiffler and Day examined the emergent market for information professionals and claimed that there was a low demand for people with a Master of Library Science degree, and a greater emphasis on subject knowledge and business ability [9]. They concluded that those LIS schools which offer other options to the traditional curricula are more successful in meeting the emergent market for information professionals.

The KALIPER Report [10] identified several trends that demonstrated active movement towards a change in the education of information professionals for libraries and other information environments. The first trend was the change that LIS underwent at the end of the twentieth century, from a library-focused model to an information-focused paradigm. Another trend referred to two related areas – increased user-centeredness and increased inter-disciplinarity. The third trend related to the increased investment by LIS programmes in Information and Communication Technology and its inclusion in their curricula.

The role of information in creating power and wealth is currently receiving more attention in various programmes such as: computer science, business/management schools, communications and schools of library and information science [11]. Graduates of these programmes enter careers in diverse areas such as business, industry, libraries and educational institutions [12]. It has become apparent that LIS training no longer automatically guarantees students the first pick of all employment opportunities in the field of information work [13]. Abell and Hall in their portrayal of the 'e-information' job market [14] claim that two types of e-information role seem to offer the greatest number of work opportunities: information architecture; and content management. While these roles are open to traditional information specialists, they are often offered to highly skilled people who do not hold formal information qualifications. Employers would like to have the best candidates from a wide range of backgrounds and the traditional information professionals compete with other workers from a variety of domains, such as computer science, business/management schools and communications.

LIS education and indeed the profession itself are facing new competition [7] and must acquire new knowledge to cope with it successfully. Indeed, examining various LIS school programmes during the past decade has revealed that many schools have introduced new courses into their curricula such as the social context of information technology, changes in use and user behaviour, human-machine interaction and information technology, information economics, communication skills, information policy and information brokering.

Web 2.0

People talk a lot about Web 2.0. What is this Web 2.0? Is it a revolutionary web? Is it another technology 'bubble'? Is it hype? Many associate it with terms such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds, social web, etc. and assert that Web 2.0 is a place where everyone can add or edit information. It is a web where digital tools allow users to create, change and publish dynamic content [15]. Tim Berners-Lee claims that Web 2.0 is not different from Web 1.0 as the goal of Web 1.0 was to connect people [16]. He adds that Web 2.0 is only jargon and nobody really knows what it means.

The term Web 2.0 was first coined and conceptualised by Tim O'Reilly and Dale Dougherty in 2004 to describe the terms and business models that survived the technology sector market crash in the 1990s [17]. The companies and services that survived were collaborative, interactive, dynamic and the line between the creation and consumption of content in these environments was blurred [18].

Web 2.0 Characteristics

One of the main characteristics of Web 2.0 is individual production and user-generated content (UGC). UGC refers to self-publishing, personal publishing and self-expression [19]. The second characteristic is its capacity for 'harnessing the power of the crowd.' A further characteristic is that of its architecture of participation and means that a service designation can improve and facilitate user participation. Another characteristic is network effect, an economic term used to describe the increase in value to existing users of a service, as more people start to use it [20][21]. The final characteristic is openness. It suggests working with open standards, using open source software, making use of free data, reusing data, and working in a spirit of open innovation [22].

Miller summarises and asserts that Web 2.0 enables data to be exposed and permits the building of virtual applications [23]. It is participative and presents the value of user-generated content. Web 2.0 is about sharing and about communication and it opens the 'long tail' which allows small groups of individuals to benefit from key pieces of the platform while fulfilling their own needs.

Web 2.0 and Library 2.0

The question which inevitably arises for us is: how does this concept of Web 2.0 relate to the library world? Notess claims that for some the term Library 2.0 means the incorporation of blogs, wikis, instant messaging, RSS, and social networking into library services [24]. For others it suggests involving users through interactive and collaborative activities such as adding tags, contributing comments and rating different library items. Maness asserts that Library 2.0 is a user-centered virtual community [18], and Farkas [25] says that Library 2.0 improves services to the users. Abram portrays the image of the new librarian, Librarian 2.0 [26]. These librarians understand the power of Web 2.0 opportunities, and investigate and ultimately adopt their tools. They use non-traditional cataloguing and classification and recognise the idea of the 'long tail'. Librarians 2.0 connect users to experts' discussions and to communities of practice; they develop social networks and encourage users to develop content and metadata. Librarians 2.0 understand the 'wisdom of crowds' and the new roles of the blogosphere and wikisphere. Maness [18] adds that Librarian 2.0 acts as a facilitator.

Web 2.0 is becoming an important and central topic in our information world, and more and more libraries worldwide are using its different applications. Some libraries use blogs which serve as excellent sources of information; a place where librarians can express their opinions on issues at hand [27]. Furthermore, libraries' blogs can market the libraries to a variety of potential users. In addition, librarians can use wikis or YouTube for the purpose of library instruction. They can also use wikis as a platform for book recommendations, cataloguing and tagging, all created by library users. Even OCLC has recently created a WorldCat application in Facebook (the most popular social network) where the user can search WorldCat databases, without entering the OCLC site. Based on what has been written so far, the present study set out to explore the extent to which courses dealing with Web 2.0 are taught in the accredited schools of library and information science in the United States.

Survey Results

A survey of 59 LIS programmes was conducted in July 2007 to determine whether American LIS schools offer courses on Web 2.0. All the programmes in this survey are accredited by the American Library Association. The researcher examined the 59 Web sites and the curricula of these accredited programmes, and also sent emails to get further information from respondents. In the mail the respondents were asked whether their programme offered a course on Web 2.0 and if so, they were asked to send syllabi.

Examination of 59 LIS schools Web sites indicated that only six (10%) programmes taught this subject. Out of these six, three schools (University of Western Ontario, University of Hawaii and North Carolina Central University) offer a course whose main focus is Web 2.0 and the other three schools (University of Michigan, University of Washington and Valdosta State University) offer courses which include several issues based on Web 2.0 concepts.

Only 12 schools (20%) answered the email. Of these, 6 programmes do not offer any course which deals with Web 2.0. As regards the other 6 programmes, one school (Florida State University) does not offer such a course, but plans to offer it in the near future. An examination of the other 5 programmes (University of Tennessee, University of Alberta, Louisiana State University, University of Michigan and University at Buffalo) shows that these programmes do not offer a specific course on Web 2.0 but include issues such as wikis, blogs, Flickr, collaborate favorites, social networks and instant messages in their IT courses and in other advanced technology courses. One school (University at Buffalo) plans to offer such a Web 2.0 course in the future.

Interpreting Findings

This preliminary survey indicates that LIS schools in the United States are not adequately prepared for the rapid changes in Web technology and use. It seems that the LIS programmes have not yet internalised the importance of the new, changing and dynamic innovations that are taking place in their environment. These programmes do not offer full courses that deal with the new concept of Web 2.0, and only a few of them include several issues which are based on Web 2.0 in their courses. The author would like to expand the scope of this survey and point to recent research which took place in Israel [28]. This research explored whether Israeli LIS students were familiar with the newest technological innovations, and whether they made use of the different Web 2.0 applications. The research findings show that the most popular Web 2.0 applications used by LIS students are wikis (89%), blogs (45%), followed by social networks (37%), flickr (20%), while the least popular is RSS (19%). From these results one may conclude that Israeli LIS students should be more exposed to Web 2.0 applications and their use.

Returning to the current survey of US schools, the results are susceptible to several interpretations: The first one is that perhaps LIS progammes do not attribute a lot of attention to Web 2.0 concepts and applications as they consider them a relatively unimportant topic and regard them as 'hype'. The second is that LIS programme planners may assume that the issue of Web 2.0 is too technical and should be taught in other departments such as computer science and not in schools of librarianship and information science. Another interpretation is that this situation reflects the fact that LIS programme designers are not open to change and innovation.

The crucial question is whether those LIS schools are not missing an opportunity to improve their professional image and standing. Integrating a Web 2.0 course into the curriculum would expose the students to the most updated innovations in ITC, and facilitate their encounter with the new information world. Furthermore, if LIS students are exposed to such innovations and master the most modern technologies, their professional image will be improved. They will be empowered and will convey this feeling to their users, who may appreciate their broad spectrum of knowledge as well as their technological skills. There is no doubt that the students of the present who are the librarians or information professionals of the future should know, master, and apply Web 2.0 principles and applications and should be able to convey them to their users. The best way to achieve these goals is to introduce them with the new concepts and new applications of Web 2.0. But, this is only the first step; these students should also practise and experience the new applications in order to assimilate them into their professional life. As the present survey indicates, Web 2.0 is only a part of a whole course, and obviously there is not enough time for students to practise, exercise and internalise the new topic.

Examination of the professional literature which focuses on Web 2.0 applications and their uses shows that other academic departments make use of Web 2.0. Educational researchers have studied learning environments which involve wikis, blogs, social networks and their implications on the learning process [29][30][31][32][33][34]. It seems that other disciplines recognise the benefits and importance of studying and applying Web 2.0 principles.


As mentioned earlier in this text, this is only a preliminary report. One should bear in mind that that the term Web 2.0 is very young and was coined only in 2004. Perhaps, LIS schools need more time to learn and to be exposed to this issue in order to decide whether or not they integrate this discipline into their curriculum. In addition to this, the findings are based on a thorough examination of the 59 Web sites of the accredited schools of library and information science in the United States, but on a limited number (20%) of responses which were received via the email. Furthermore, data were collected only from accredited LIS schools in the United States. Perhaps another study should not focus just on schools which are part of the accredited ALA group but include other LIS schools worldwide.


The author recommends that the different issues and applications of Web 2.0 be thoroughly taught as a separate course in the LIS curriculum and not as partial topics in another course. Expanding the curriculum will equip new generations of librarians with competencies and skills that fit a modern, dynamic and changing work environment. This course should include theoretical explanation as well as practical experience of the various applications of Web 2.0 such as: blogs, wikis, RSS, flickr, collaborative favorites, tagging and Folksonomies, instant messages, social networks etc.

It is important that novice librarians and information professionals recognise these applications and be able to apply them properly in their libraries and information centres in order to show their readers and users that they are still relevant and up to date in this changing, dynamic information world.


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Author Details

Dr. Noa Aharony
Department of Information Science
Bar-Ilan University

Email: aharonn1@mail.biu.ac.il
Web site: http://www.is.biu.ac.il/

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