Librarians move into the reference section

August 22, 1997

In the second of our series, we look at what students can expect from some fast-growing and fast-changing subjects

Computer technology is transforming librarianship, shifting much of it from undergraduate to postgraduate level, writes Kam Patel.

Tom Wilson, head of the information studies department at Sheffield University, said: "Developments in information technology have resulted in a shift away from producing librarians in the conventional sense. The emphasis for some time has been on producing information specialists who can use new technologies to provide information services in organisations of all kinds."

About 20 years ago the Library Association decided that people wanting professional status would have to undergo postgraduate studies and there has been a consequent growth at this level, he said.

In 1996-97 there were 2,400 undergraduates studying librarianship and IT, 1,500 postgraduates and 220 research students - an increase in postgraduates of nearly 28 per cent since 1993-94. According to Professor Wilson, preliminary figures for this year suggest there has again been a drop in applications for undergraduate courses, but that postgraduate applications are holding steady.

The expansion of the postgraduate sector is partly due to the popularity of conversion courses. Professor Wilson said: "A good honours graduate in humanities, for instance, might have difficulty in finding a job but can take a conversion course in information studies and have a much better chance."

There are 16 main UK institutions offering courses. In the recent research assessment exercise two were given 5-star ratings: University of Sheffield's information studies department and City University's information sciences department. Loughborough University secured a 5 while Strathclyde University was awarded a 4. All other departments were 3b or lower.

Most departments will not undergo teaching quality assessment until 2000 but two, at the University of Aberystwyth and at the University of Strathclyde, have gone through the exercise. Both received an "excellent" rating.

The discipline's wide-ranging nature, focusing on information content rather than on computational systems, means many job opportunities in areas such as patent departments or design information retrieval systems.

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