The journey of the University of Zadar’s Department of Information Sciences to iSchool recognition reflects the challenging requirements for an academic institution to attain that status. The department was accredited in 2014, with undergraduate and graduate programs evolving from the Department of Librarianship, accredited since 2005. The department co-publishes a scientific journal, organizes professional conferences, operates a joint graduate program with other universities, promotes active involvement in international professional organizations and encourages collaboration with universities around the world to promote student exchange studies. Admission requirements, curricula and professional competencies follow recommendations for all levels of study, with special focus at the doctoral level on supporting Croatia’s written heritage. Having demonstrated institutional dedication to the field of information sciences and support of robust academic study, the department’s sole remaining obstacle for full recognition as an iSchool is stable research funding.
information science education
The Challenge and Obstacles of Becoming an iSchool: The Case of Zadar, Croatia
by Tatjana Aparac-Jelušić
My interest in bringing the Department of Information Sciences, University in Zadar, Croatia, to the iSchool community dates back to 2007 when I was invited to attend an iSchool caucus meeting as observer. At that time I was developing two library and information science (LIS) departments in my country almost in parallel: in Osijek (established in 1998) and in Zadar (established in 2004). Quite naturally I followed all developments in the educational arena related to the information science field with a goal of finding the best possible paths for the future of both departments.
I was aware that the number of U.S.-based iSchool members had grown rapidly and that it took several years for the first European department to join in. Both of my departments were too small and in statu nascendi, so it was quite normal to wait for some time. Meanwhile, the Department of Information Sciences in Osijek has grown to 17 staff members, almost 300 students and three research projects, although a Ph.D. program has not been approved by the University Senate. Thus, one of the important entry requirements was not been fulfilled.
In Zadar, the Department of Information managed to recruit 16 staff members in only five years. It has grown to accommodate some 250 full and part-time students, but we have decided to wait to apply as an iSchool until most of our young assistants have received their Ph.D. degrees and been promoted to scientific positions. We have also succeeded in securing funding for two research projects and an accreditation for the Ph.D. program – Knowledge Society and Information Transfer – which enrolled its first generation of students in 2008/2009. Today the department in Zadar has three professors, two associate and six assistant professors, two post-doctoral students and two assistants who are about to defend their Ph.D. research.
About the Department in Zadar
The Department of Information Sciences in Zadar (in further text: the department) was founded in 2004 as the third LIS/IS university department in Croatia. Besides the already mentioned Department of Information Sciences in Osijek, there is the Department of Information Sciences in Zagreb, the oldest and the largest among them. The department was named the Department of Librarianship in 2004, continuing the name of an accredited pre-Bologna program, but the name was changed to the present one in 2011 to reflect the expansion of the program to the wider area of information sciences, particularly digital humanities, modern archives and publishing. The department is a constitutive unit of the integrated University of Zadar, so that administrative and other services are supported by the university administration.
The department’s mission is to educate students in the field of information sciences at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels with the purpose of advancing their mastery of the following competencies:
- Building and managing collections containing documents and information in all forms
- Organizing information
- Designing and providing information services
- Researching and analyzing information needs, problems and phenomena
- Organizing and managing information institutions and networks
- Participating in educational processes, cultural projects and scientific research
- Training for lifelong learning
In the field of scientific work, the department carries out research projects that influence the development of theoretical thought and affect changes in the practice of information institutions.
The vision of the department is to strive to develop international cooperation and to further cooperation with relevant national institutions and organizations in the same or related fields. It aims to strengthen its scientific work and teaching activities in order to become a leading university department in the field of information sciences in this part of Europe. Particular emphasis is placed on the development of theoretical thinking in the field as well as the heritage programs, user studies, publishing and applied technology in collection management, information institutions and networks.
The department co-publishes scientific journal Libellarium and organizes scientific and professional conferences, the best known being Libraries in the Digital Age (LIDA). Furthermore, since the beginning of the Ph.D. program the department has successfully organized six summer schools and started two new conferences (PubMet and E-Publishing).
The department offers courses following the Bologna process: that is, undergraduate, graduate (full time and part time) and doctoral degrees, all in information sciences. For one academic year the graduate program was also offered to 50 students from ex-Yugoslav countries together with the University of Ljubljana and the Institute for Information Science in Maribor with a goal of enabling librarians in those countries who use the Slovenian software Cobiss to get a relevant degree and extend their practical skills and knowledge through a university-based, graduate program.
In addition, a joint graduate program between Zadar, Osijek and, initially, the University of Parma, Italy (accredited in 2008) in Written Heritage in the Digital Environment was arranged, thanks to financial support from the Croatian National Science Foundation. It enrolled its first generation of students in academic year 2008/2009 and has been held in collaboration with the Osijek for three generations of students.
Undergraduate university study in information sciences (accredited in 2014) is a modification of the program of undergraduate study in library science (accredited in 2005), and it responds to the changes brought on by the increase in the number of teaching staff in the department as well as by labor market needs. The program details are as follows:
- Duration of the study: six semesters
- Admission requirements: secondary school diploma of general orientation or secondary commercial school and successful completion of a state exam
- Academic title acquired upon finishing the study program: baccalaureus in information sciences
The new program was based on the development strategy of the Department of Information Sciences, published in September 2010. Upon completion of the undergraduate program, students are expected to be able to do the following:
- Identify the main features of the field, its branches and areas of convergence with the information profession and related fields
- Distinguish and understand the basic initial points and directions of development of culture and civilization
- Identify the basic terms and concepts in the field of information and communication science
- Understand and interpret the importance, objectives and tasks of information institutions in a society
- Understand the impact of computers and information and communication systems on individuals, organizations and society
- Demonstrate knowledge and skills in the areas of selection, organization, backup, storage, search and retrieval of information
- Understand and apply modern concepts and practices in information technology
- Apply knowledge and skills in the use of modern technologies and tools in the area of selection, operation and/or management of computer-based information systems
- Understand and apply the basic principles of information institution practice in accordance with professional, ethical, legal and safety principles and responsibilities
- Apply knowledge and demonstrate the skills to build and protect the physical and digital collections of material in information institutions and online
- Identify information needs and behavior of people and participate in the design and implementation of information services
- Assist in the implementation of information technology and information literacy
- Apply the acquired knowledge and skills in working with systems and users in the heritage institutions and publishing industry as part of their educational, cultural and social roles
- Participate in the design of information and educational materials and aids in information institutions
- Demonstrate written and verbal communication skills in communicating with the public, the users and in dissemination of information to the professional community
- Identify problem situations (actual and simulated); apply social skills through participating in group and teamwork and improve the skills of independent and lifelong learning for the purpose of further formal or informal training.
The graduate program in information sciences (accredited in 2014) emerged from the graduate program in librarianship (accredited in 2005). The program details are as follows:
- Duration of the program: 4 semesters
- Admission requirements: graduate level: undergraduate degree in information sciences or other university program – minimum 180 credits, and at least 6 months’ working experience in a library, archive, publishing house, bookshop, and related information institutions
- Academic title acquired upon finishing the study program: master in information sciences
Upon completion of the graduate program, students are expected to be able to accomplish the following:
- Understand the theory and interpret theoretical models as well as the directions of the development and new trends in the field of information sciences and science in general
- Recognize the underlying problems and issues in the area of information sciences and to apply appropriate methodology approaches and techniques in their research
- Understand and interpret social and ethical norms and behaviors in information and communication processes
- Demonstrate skills and apply theoretical knowledge and skills in selection, organization, search, retrieval and evaluation of information as well as in designing, maintaining and developing information systems and aids
- Understand and interpret socioeconomic and cultural context of information institutions and networks as well as their social roles
- Independently interpret the impact of computers and information and communication systems on individuals, organizations and society
- Identify and interpret philosophical determinants of information
- Recognize and interpret existing models and development trends in scientific research as well as the processes of transfer and evaluation of scientific information and communication processes in science
- Understand and skillfully apply the knowledge and skills in the use of modern technologies and tools in selection, creation and/or administration of the computer-based information systems
- Understand, interpret and apply the basic principles of management information services, including the planning and construction of appropriate physical and virtual space, in accordance with professional, ethical, legal and safety principles and responsibilities
- Understand and apply modern methodological approaches in research and development of organizational and information systems, as well as in designing organizational structures
- Apply knowledge and demonstrate the skills in managing physical and digital collections of materials, including their storage and curation in physical information institutions and online
- Systematically explore and analyze users’ information needs and behavior
- Recognize the importance to explore the issues and initiate the design and implementation of new information services
- Select, evaluate, implement and manage information and computer systems in heritage institutions and publishing as a part of their educational, cultural and social roles
- Demonstrate innovation in the design of information and educational materials and aids
- Demonstrate a high level of written and verbal communication skills in communicating with the public and users and in transfer of information in the professional community
- Identify issues in management of information institutions, systems and networks (actual, virtual and simulated) and offer solutions
- Expertly apply social skills in group and team work
- Identify and solve issues in pilot projects and systematically improve skills of independent and lifelong learning.
The Ph.D. program is based upon expressed social need to explore written heritage, its origin, organization, curation and usage as part of the social memory. It follows priorities in scientific research, especially in regard to Croatian and Slovenian heritage. It also strives to explore the need for systematic exploration of citizens’ information needs and habits in modern society with a goal of strengthening the role of national cultures in the development of global and, especially, European information infrastructure. Entry requirements are a graduate degree in information sciences (minimum of 300 credits) or in other disciplines (minimum of 300 credits) and published papers (in important international journals) on information science topics. Students who come from other disciplines and are interested in the interdisciplinary study of information problems are required to take an additional exam to prove their familiarity with social and cultural elements of the information society, as well as their skills for work in an electronic environment. During the study students are expected to independently conduct research projects and to be successful in their academic and research work.
From 2008 till 2015 the Ph.D. program had enrolled a total of 60 students. Of these, 10 defended their Ph.D. research and 34 officially presented synopses of their proposed doctoral theses. The students’ research is mostly based upon scientific projects lead by the department’s researchers, such as the following:
- Organization, interpretation and curation of Croatian written heritage, covering the issues related to digital collections of Croatian books published prior to 1800, written heritage in Croatian libraries’ collections and theoretical and technological aspects of their organization and curation
- Reading habits and information needs of Croatian citizens, covering information behavior, special information needs, reading in the network age and related topics
- Evaluation of information services, including research into management approaches in academic and public libraries, organizational culture, marketing and so forth.
The research is based upon interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches in information sciences and is stimulated by multicultural awareness and the ability to express the local in the global and global in the local environments. The research methods used are mostly the standard methods used in LIS and IS, but we note the growing import of research methodologies from other fields to investigate information-based phenomena.
Internationalization and Mobility Issues
The department has been collaborating at the level of graduate, but primarily doctoral programs, with the department in Osijek and with several foreign universities including Rutgers University and the University of California, Los Angeles in the United States; the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia; the University of Graz, Austria; and the University of Borås, Sweden. The department has established collaboration within the Erasmus program with the University of Vilnius, Lithuania; the University of Borås, Sweden; the ENSSIB (École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques), Lyon, France; and the Faculty of Philosophy, Ljubljana, Slovenia. It is presently preparing additional collaboration within the new cycle of the program with the information science departments of the universities in Ankara, Glasgow, Växjö and Wroclaw.
The department supports all types of mobility, including student mobility during and in continuation of their studies. Since its inception the department has devoted special attention to student exchange wherever Croatia was accepted as an exchange partner. Students have been participating in CEEPUS (Central European Exchange Program for University Studies) programs since academic year of 2007/2008 and Erasmus, since 2011/2012. Each student is issued a document of validation of acquired ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits and differences, and relation to the core courses is determined. From academic year 2012/2013, semester-long student exchanges with other Croatian universities have been successfully implemented. Since the academic year 2012/13 the University of Zadar has been accepting foreign students as a part of the Erasmus program.
With the financial support of the department and the university, four students completed two months of practical training through the Erasmus program in Horn, Austria, at the European Centre for Digitization of Written Heritage, and 14 students completed their practical training requirement in Rome, working at the Sisters of Mercy monastery library, where the monastery co-participated in their financial support. Several students continued their studies at the graduate level in the departments of information sciences in Osijek and Zagreb.
It is worthwhile mentioning that students and teachers from the Department of Information Sciences in Zadar have been actively involved in international professional organizations such as Euclid (European Association for Library and Information Education and Research), IFLA and ASIS&T. They have also participated in a variety of professional and scientific annual meetings and conferences, including several iSchool conferences attended by the department’s representatives.
The Job Market
The information sciences program at the graduate level is open to students coming from all profiles of undergraduate university study as this contributes to the competence of working with information of various professions such as medicine, law, humanities professions, engineering, economics, psychology and sociology. Consequently, our students, as the future masters of information sciences, are expected to be able to manage specialized information in libraries, archives, museums, publishing houses, bookstores, IT companies and other information environments. A high percentage of our graduate students are able to find jobs within three to six months after graduation, and most of students who receive bachelor degrees decide to continue their education. One reason for this step is believed to be the low interest from the market for B.Sc. students.
Since entering the European Union in 2013 our students have had increased chances for obtaining IS-related positions in other EU countries. The feedback we receive from their employers is that they are well prepared and competitive in the job market.
Considering the criteria that make an institution eligible to enter the iSchool family, we can conclude that the Department of Information Sciences at the University of Zadar, Croatia, has been engaged in the training of future researchers (through active, research-oriented graduate and doctoral programs) and is committed to progress in the information field. The only obstacle left is to receive funding under the new round of government-approved and funded research. Recently, the approach to funding research projects in Croatia has changed: the whole procedure came under the auspices of the National Science Foundation as an independent national agency whose main goal is to prepare calls for research projects and programs following the national strategic documents for science and technology. The last round of research projects, which was funded directly by the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport, ended in 2013, and since then a number of attempts have been made to apply for funding under new calls for proposals. Also, two submissions have been prepared for EU-funded projects (under Horizon 2020 and Erasmus Plus). As soon as the department receives notice about the approval of our proposed projects, we will be ready to fulfill the last requirement and hopefully be accepted as a new member.
Tatjana Aparac-Jelušić is professor in the Department of Information Sciences, University of Zadar, Croatia. She can be reached at taparac<at>unizd.hr