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Liveblogging CAIS 2008: LIS and Other Knowledge Domains: Interdisciplinarity of LIS Scholars’ Publications June 7, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in events@UBC.
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Marina Pluzhenskaya, Mount Saint Vincent University (Halifax, NS)

[Please note: These are merely my notes on the presentation, taken live while the presentation was in progress and edited for sense afterwards. They are not a verbatim transcription of the presentation, and any errors are mine. Please contact the researcher directly for more information on his work. — JRD]

Introductory remarks from the Moderator: Her PhD is from the University of Illinois. Her teaching at Mount Saint Vincent has so far encompassed Management Information Systems.

Notes on the presentation:

Interdisciplinarity is a very popular topic right now for researchers. It’s not new; but disciplines go through different stages. sometimes they want to “socialize”, sometimes they want to reflect in themselves. Since the late 1960s we have been going through a stage of introspection.

Researchers often talk thinking they are talking about the same thing, so I’d like to start with a definition. Berger writes that a discipline is a ‘specific body of teachable knowledge’ (Berger, 1972). I’d like to talk about the difference between multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. There is some confusion about this. The majority of authors agree that interdisciplinarity implies a connection between the disciplines.

So why examine LIS interdisciplinarity? We have noted that many presenters here have used or made connections with other disciplines. Sometimes researchers aren’t aware of that fact, but LIS is very, very interdisciplinary. I’d like to present a study to demonstrate what I’m talking about. I’ll start from the beginning.

“A Fairy Tale:

Once upon a time there lived a beautiful maiden named Librairan-Ship. She met a Price Charm-IS and they fell in love. Many times their love has been tried, but, finally, they got married (some LIS scholars called it “perfect marriage”). So they lived happily ever after, right? No — wrong.”

You have heard people talk about the “L-word”, “iSchools”, etc. I’m not judging anything. There were massive discussions in the 1980s about what AND means. Postings on JESSE still include ongoing discussions on the issue of disciplinary self-identification.

Is disciplinary identity important? Yes, because when there are ongoing discussions about the meaning of a discipline, it means that something needs to be clarified about the discipline.

Librarians are known as multidisciplinarians — they have to deal with all knowledge domains. Information science is also interdisciplinary: information is a basic notion; information is ubiquitous. Quoting Capurro and Hjorland, 2003: “Tracing the influence of this term and the very complex net of disciplines connected with it is indeed difficult.”

LIS schools are/were interdisciplinary. Library schools didn’t have PhD’s in the beginning; but as the discipline evolved, they realized that they had to teach management, education, literature, and now there are other, newly relevant disciplines: psychology, philosophy, and communication.

There are many disparate opinions of LIS as a discipline: They include ‘LIS is a meta-discipline’, ‘LIS is an interdisciplinary field of study with strong epistemic connections and other knowledge domains’, ‘LIS lacks its own methodology’, ‘LIS disintegrates as a discipline’, ‘LIS is an importer rather than exporter’, and even ‘It is not a discipline or field of study’.

I have looked at educational units, curricula, publications, etc. to try to determine the extent and character of interdisciplinarity in LIS.

First, I looked at LIS schools’ faculty members: 736 have advanced degrees, in 56 ALA-accredited schools. 463 of them held degrees in LIS (63%). Some have masters’ degrees in LIS and PhDs in other disciplines. The majority of schools have more than 80% of their faculty with PhD’s. What are their knowledge domains? The majority came to LIS from arts and humanities, education, and social sciences. Computer science comes in fourth.

So it looks multidisciplinary. Is it interdisciplinary? The next step is analyzing publishing, because publishing is sometimes the most visible scholary activity. I used citation analysis, via Web of Knowledge, because it crosses disciplines and it’s familiar to LIS scholars.

Limitations: It’s difficult to define the discipline of individual articles. So instead of trying to find a way to come up with perfect sampling, I decided to analyze the publications of all 736 scholars at all library schools. We also know there are many reasons for citing, including self-citing and negative citations. But it doesn’t matter, because in this research, if someone in one discipline cites someone in another disciplines, that’s good enough for my purposes, it means they have some significance that is recognized.

This study covered 11 years, starting in 1995, because that is where things began to change significantly within the LIS discipline.

Stage 1:

Studied all full-time LIS faculty members, 1995-1005.

Stage 2:

Journal Library & Information Science Research, 1994-2004. I traced the disciplines of all the citations.


What disciplines is LIS connected with? What disciplines are cited by LIS, and what disciplines cite LIS? What are the advantages and shortcomings of the process of identifying those connections through citations?

The professions, social sciences, multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary studies, education, communication, and, surprisingly, the basic sciences. The connection between basic sciences and LIS is not very obvious.

The ratio for citations from LIS to other professions, vs. from other professions to LIS, is 8:1 for LIS disciplines, but for references, the ratio is 6:5, very close. LIS cites other disciplines much more frequently than other disciplines cite LIS: it is not reciprocal.

The disciplines most cited by LIS authors [in order of most to least cited] are sociology, education, psychology, medicine, computer science, interdisciplinary, management, government, marketing, and communication. The disciplines which cite LIS most often [in order of most to least citing] are education, psychology, medicine, computer science, marketing, interdisciplinary, communication, and sociology.

So apparently LIS has connections with other disciplines. LIS attracts researchers from a variety of disciplines and there is cross-citing between LIS and other disciplines. Interestingly, LIS cites sociology most often, but sociology borrows from LIS the least. That is interesting and we don’t know why that happens.

LIS is still basically an ‘importer’ of other disciplines’ research. There are connections between disciplines that cite one another, but the limited scope of this study makes it difficult to draw conclusions.

What is the Significance?

LIS professionals are supposed to understand what’s going on with all disciplines. We are supposed to help researchers and educators from every knowledge domain, so we must understand those connections. I believe creating knowledge is important, and we need to understand the cognitive commonalities among the disciplines. LIS schools, as professional schools, must be open to all new trends, so we need to understand what is going on in other knowledge domains that are related to LIS.

Further Research

I would like to add more research, and some subjective data. I’ve been interviewing faculty members for several months now.

Question from the Audience: I found this quite interesting. I’m curious about the table that showed that in 1998 LISR publishing ‘something’ that was of great interest to other disciplines.

Answer: To answer that question, I will have to talk to the authors. Sometimes another discipline will read an LIS publication because they look into it thinking that they might find something interesting in relation to their work, and they discover a wealth of information that is productive for them. Sometimes they know someone within the LIS profession, and that influences them to look into a particular publication.

Question from the Audience: Did you look into indexing of LIS literature, to see whether other disciplines have access to our literature, because LIS is considered a specialized field?

Answer: That is true of many disciplines. When we say “researchers”, they are very, very different — just as students have different learning styles, researchers have research styles. They approach things from their own perspective. Some feel comfortable within their core discipline and they continue to read in depth in their own discipline. Others are more task-oriented, and they might be willing to cross borders more frequently. Some of them are aware that they’re crossing those boundaries, others don’t think this matters.

Question from the Audience: Is it a size issue? How many LIS programs are doing active research, vs. education PhD’s doing active research?

Answer: There are layers and layers of interdisciplinarity. There are gaps between the disciplines. During the period of time I studied, I could not find any publications for some very bright researchers, because they were close to their retirement and not publishing anything further. There are times when we produce knowledge, and there are times when we absorb knowledge. This is not just a problem of interdisciplinarity. The disciplines are interconnected, and sometimes it’s just “pure business”. It’s hard to tell.

Question from the Moderator: Are you planning to see if scholars are searching in the relatively new federated search engines that search across indexes? It might influence their results, especially things like Google Scholar.

Answer: As I’ve interviewed people, I’ve asked them how they decided someone’s research was relevant. Sometimes the brightest researchers in the sciences start thinking, for instance, about education, and they turn into “undergrad students” because their knoweldge of something like educational psychology is very basic.

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