August Member Spotlight
In each issue of Inside ASIS&T, we ask a different member questions about their perspectives, advice, and experiences in the field of information science and technology. If you'd like to be a featured member, send an email to Pamela Yonker at email@example.com.
Bhakti Gala, PhD
School of Library and Information Science
Central University of Gujarat
What skills does one need to be successful in the field of Information Science?
There are five major skill set requirements for Information Science professionals. In developing countries, where there is still a strong focus on traditional technical skills like cataloguing, classification, and indexing, there is a rising need of knowledge of digital tools available for executing these specific tasks. Furthermore, skilful use of both proprietary and open-source integrated library management software and digital library software are demanded by most library recruiters. Online and offline searching skills of information sources in the open internet domain and information embedded within databases are a must for succeeding in the field. The ability to critically evaluate information especially in the digital domain has become an essential skill in the current environment. Additionally, strong communication skills, both oral and written have always been indispensable for making an impact. At last, marketing skills for capturing every single opportunity to provide and market services while adapting to the changing user requirements using newly developing technologies are essential skills to make Information Science an indispensable part of the communities they serve.
What skills and knowledge are over-emphasized or under-emphasized in preparation for the study and/or practice of Information Science?
The evolving needs of the community that the libraries’ serve, strongly influence the professional skills included in educating the future information science professionals. In the South Asia region, the focus of LIS education is still on traditional skills, due to the digital divide. In a rapidly changing environment moving towards digital spaces, resources and services, the syllabus needs to include the teaching of digital tools and technologies. At the same we need to realise that professionals might have to work in hybrid environments with many limitations. LIS curricula need to strike a balance between technology and the core principles of Information Science based on the writings of S R Ranganathan, and other experts in the field. Communication skills are highly under-emphasized, with many not considering it as a part of Information Science education. Training for conducting research is another area which requires more attention.
In your opinion, what are the major hurdles that inhibit people from pursuing the study of Information Science?
The negative image of the profession discourages most people from choosing to opt for this course. It is perceived as a profession with low salaries with work in dusty and old buildings. This is further accentuated by many misconceptions surrounding the LIS discipline. Librarians are identified as people who ‘move books’ around! I have witnessed major surprises on students faces when they are exposed to the different facets of the course. Lack of awareness about the existence of this course prevents students from pursuing it. This course is rarely the first choice for most students. We have not advocated our profession as an integral component of the society. Further, main-stream media has played a critical role in influencing the young generation. Main-stream media has created stereotypes around libraries which influence prospective students.
What parts of Information Science give you the most joy and enable you to continue this work?
As a full-time faculty, my experiences of working in different types of libraries have added value to my teaching. As this program invites students from multidisciplinary educations with diverse expectations from the program, I am always delighted to observe these converging together in the world of Information Science. I am intrigued by the endless opportunities and applications of core library science principles to the modern-day applications of Information Science. The impact and relevance of the basic tenets of the field to the world of discovery and access in the digital domain, the pursuit of access to information for all, using digital tools for the preservation and dissemination of cultural heritage materials are areas which I explore through my research and motivate the doctoral students under me to explore. In the South Asia region, these issues require innovative methods of research and teaching to be able to achieve, as the established outcomes of the western world may not always be applicable to the uniqueness of the multilingual, multicultural, digitally challenged social fabric of the region.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted how you interpret and see your work?
COVID-19 has brought to the forefront issues of equitable access to information content for all. This has implications for all the stakeholders-the educators, librarians, publishers, and software vendors. The education sector in India has experienced one of the longest closures. Schools, colleges, and universities have remained closed since last 16 months, with a gradual opening being witnessed in some parts of the country only recently. Public libraries and the national library reopened partially last year, only to be shut down once again during the brutal second wave of the epidemic experienced in the country. In this scenario, the most damaging impact has been to students from rural and economically weaker sections. As an educator it has been a challenge for me to teach students who are accessing the classes remotely through their mobile phones with poor internet connectivity. Teaching proprietary software not complaint with android OS was not possible. During the normal course of offline teaching, students (as most students only have a mobile phone) had access to the digital laboratory providing them with an opportunity to experiment and master different technologies. The closure of libraries also affected not only my research activities, but that of the doctoral scholars under my guidance, as data collection got affected and alternative ways had to be explored. COVID-19 has further widened the gap between the have and have-nots as emphasized by the digital divide. While the challenges were many, we also got opportunities to participate in virtual webinars and conferences without the constraints of travelling across borders.
Have you recently witnessed any noticeable shifts within the greater Information Science community?
Traditionally, I used to see students from the social sciences and humanities primarily as the admission seekers to this course. I now see students from applied sciences and technological degrees especially computer science opting for this course. The younger generation passing out of these courses are also opting for additional training or dual degrees in computer science and/or computer applications. The syllabi have also undergone major revisions with ICT components applicable to each specialized LIS task being added especially in newer areas such as research data management, knowledge of programming skills, application of AI and assistive technologies. We have shifted all the long- established components of the library to the digital domain. This has had an impact on every aspect of the work we do. Open access resources and open source software are dominating the information landscape.