Digital Librarianship: Where IS, IT & Librarianship Meet

The job I found is a Web Content Strategist at the University of Michigan, and I was struck by two things looking at it: 1) this job is awfully similar to my current job (digital marketing specialist) and 2) could contribute to the deprofessionalization of our industry, as the “librarian” piece of this position is optional and requires more work, including professional engagement, research, and professional development.

I like my current job and am good at it, so I actually don’t plan to move on to something else when I’m done. So when people ask me why I’m in library school, I emphasize the “information studies” piece of my degree and talk about the coursework I’ve done that’s relevant: digital tools and trends (which included SEO and social media), information architecture, digitization, tagging and categorization, writing for the web, management, usability and user experience, and so on. It’s a great fit for my career goals. But it’s not 100% librarianship, and I’m not sure what that says about SLIS or the skills I’ve built through the coursework (I’ve also taken lit classes and reference, and those were more my “fun” classes than something professionally applicable.)

It’s also not 100% IT work, and I do find these articles’ emphasis on unifying IT and IS, rather than interrelated disciplines that compliment each other. In the comments on Tammy’s piece, Hsikai makes the great point that IT is more about the systems and IS is about bringing those systems to the user, which is a useful distinction. Do we really want to expect digital librarians to develop apps? I mean, that’s a good skill to have, but it also seems like a bit of overkill in a library job. Someone who can explain to a developer what an app should look like and what users expect to achieve, however, seems like a better fit for an information studies professional.

Both articles reference programming as a sought-after tech skill in ads, but I’m not as concerned about not learning them in SLIS. Software skills can be delivered through training and experience. Deeper-level thinking about processes, content organization, and how users find what they need requires learning, and the engagement we get from information studies encourages that more than on-the-job training. But what does concern me is that content management, metadata (which is basically SEO), usability, and project management are asked for, but not taught as much. To me, those skills are the core of information studies, and I’m rather concerned that content management–a bedrock tool–is listed in 48% of job ads and represents only 11% of technical courses.

Digital librarianship does kind of fall in this weird venn diagram between IS, IT, and straight-up librarian skills. I don’t know that we can rely on job ads to help us figure out exactly how to balance all of these things together. Maybe what makes a digital librarian a librarian is that extra piece encouraged in the UM ad: deeper engagement, research, professional development, and service.

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One response to “Digital Librarianship: Where IS, IT & Librarianship Meet

  1. I’d like to thank you for that title. Even though we’ve been discussing it all semester, you’ve finally given me the right phrasing for the answer to the “what will you do with your MLS” question. A career melding IS, IT, and information architecture is currently as succinct as I could possibly be.

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