Today and Yesterday – in the Service of Curiosity

For a long time, the Swedish School of Library and Information Science was the only academic institution in Sweden that offered academic degrees for future librarians. It is also where most of the country’s research in the field of library and information science has been carried out. We meet two researchers who, between them, have experienced every step of the way from the very first to the most current research at the School.

We have arranged to meet at the library of the university to compare the present and the past and try to describe the spirit and direction of the research at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science. Louise Limberg is senior professor of library and information science at the University of Borås. She was the first person to obtain a PhD in the field after completing her doctoral studies in Gothenburg and Borås. Pieta Eklund is a PhD student and librarian and is about halfway through her thesis project.

‘I worked as a teacher at the School already in the 1980s, but began working on my doctorate when the PhD programme started,’ says Limberg. ‘Back then, everything was new and there was some sort of pioneer spirit in the air. It was very exciting and we felt like we broke new ground every day. We had very little money and spent a lot of time seeking research funding. From the early 1990s to 2010, the PhD programme was carried out in close collaboration between the University of Gothenburg and the University of Borås, since only Gothenburg had the right to award the degrees.’

History of the Swedish School of Library and Information Science
The Swedish School of Library and Information Science is created as Sweden's only institution for comprehensive training of librarians. Prior to this, the training was provided in the form of courses and short programmes since the 1920s, for example under the auspices of the Swedish National Board of Education in Solna.

The first chair in library and information science is established. Since the University of Borås still did not have the authority to award doctorates, the professorship was tied to the University of Gothenburg.

The first course in the PhD programme starts at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science.

The first PhD students are admitted.

The first doctoral thesis is presented by Birger Hjørland after having been admitted as a PhD student with an almost finished thesis manuscript.

The Swedish School of Library and Information Science receives a major donation from the Swedish Library Association, enabling it to fund additional doctoral studentships.

Louise Limberg presents her doctoral thesis as the first student to complete the entire PhD programme at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science.

University of Borås gains the right to establish its own chairs and recruits four professors in library and information science in 2000.

It becomes possible for Swedish university colleges to award doctoral degrees, and University of Borås is immediately granted such rights in several subject areas, including library and information science.

One initial challenge was to ensure that the research was of sufficiently high quality and to establish regulatory frameworks, criteria and a structure for the different parts of the work. The admission criteria soon became stricter and routines for student supervision were developed.

‘We started requiring two supervisors per PhD student at an early point,’ says Limberg. ‘We also introduced something we call "green reading", which is a routine we still use. Green reading means that two senior researchers who have not been involved in a PhD student’s work are asked to read and then give a red or green light for the thesis. This is done when the thesis is almost finished and has been presented at a final seminar, after which some adjustments are made. The public defence of the thesis can only be arranged after it has received a green light.’

A Broad Academic Discipline

According to Limberg, it is difficult to describe the direction of the early research at the School in general terms.

‘Some research projects were clearly professionally oriented, while others were more conceptually based.’

Library and information science is a broad academic discipline that touches on several other subject areas, such as sociology, education, cultural policy and literature. This was evident in the first thesis projects, which focused for example on classification, evaluation of library work and students’ information seeking.

‘And today the discipline has grown even wider, because of the ongoing digitisation and the fact that, today, almost anything can be included in the field of information. We study Twitter and other social media, librarianship as an occupation, how students assess internet sources, e-books as well as cloud services in organisations. There are endless opportunities for development.’

They talk animatedly about how to create a sense of cohesion and team spirit among the researchers and help them gain insight into each other's work.

‘Our research seminars are very important in that respect,’ says Limberg. ‘They are held once a week and enable researchers at different levels to come together and present and discuss texts. It’s a very central part of our research environment.’

‘The seminars can help the participants develop their ability to both present their own research and give feedback on somebody else’s,’ says Eklund. ‘They also give them an opportunity to follow the development of the field and what other researchers are doing. Other than that, PhD students spend a lot of time alone. One of the biggest challenges is to find ways to keep the group of PhD students together, since they’re all doing their own things in different areas.’

Study Programmes Based on Own Research

Today, library science programmes are offered at many Swedish higher education institutions, and doctoral degrees are offered at the universities in Lund, Uppsala, Umeå and Borås. However, the Swedish School of Library and Information Science at the University of Borås remains in a class of its own when it comes to research. So far, 39 doctoral degrees in library and information science have been awarded (until 2010 in cooperation with the University of Gothenburg since that is when the University of Borås became eligible to award its own doctorates), and another 20 or so are in the pipeline. At the other universities, the number of doctoral students and researchers in the field is not nearly as large.

‘One advantage of our size and relatively long research tradition is that we have a lot of our own research to build on in our courses,’ says Claes Lennartsson, head of the Section of Library and Information Science. Since we have teachers who also conduct research in many different areas, our study programmes are firmly rooted in research. Our research covers a wide range, also in an international perspective.

Thus, library and information science is a broad and interdisciplinary field. This is something that is taken advantage of at the School, both by developing research in several different areas and by collaborating with other departments and disciplines at the University of Borås and elsewhere.

The School is for example involved in the LinCS project, which is a broad, ten-year research programme funded by the Swedish Research Council and carried out in cooperation with the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers. The project is focused around learning and digital media.

‘At present, we are also engaged in several research and education collaborations in the field of informatics, computer science and education,’ says Claes Lennartsson. ‘And we offer the interdisciplinary Web Content Manager and Designer programme within the main field of information architecture, as well as a course titled Media and Information Literacy in Education. Since 2007, we offer the international Master's programme Digital Library and Information Services, which is continuously developed based on the latest development of new knowledge in several research projects.’

Writing a Book about the History of Library Science

The research environment at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science has been developed by a group of people who have worked hard and focused together over the years.

‘But at this point, we are so established that the pioneer spirit doesn’t exist anymore,’ says Limberg. ‘I thought about this and realised that the people who study or do research at the School today are not aware of the background and history of the field. Therefore, I have started writing a book about the history of the field in Sweden. I’m writing it with Lena Skoglund, who has worked as a teacher here, too. We hope to finish the book in 2017.’

‘I can’t really tell that the field is fairly new.’ says Eklund. ‘What I find in my research more than anything else is that librarians are curious and want to develop and that it has been that way at least since the late 1800s. This is interesting and something that seems to continue today.’

Written by: Lena M Fredriksson
Photo: Peter Andersson 
Translations: Debbia Axlid