In these pre-millenial days, any observation to the
effect that some aspect of our society is undergoing 'fundamental
change' seems hackneyed. When the subject of such an observation
is the impact of information or of its attendant technologies,
it becomes even more difficult to avoid resorting to cliché.
Yet the consequences of the 'information revolution' of the last
50 years continue to ramify, and to provoke pronouncements that
make up in dramatic style for what they lack in original content.
It is often recorded, for instance, that one such consequence
of recent advances in computing and telecommunications technologies
is a 'fundamental change' in the nature of professional work in
a wide range of employment sectors. Hardly less frequently stated
is the standard call-to-arms for those academics responsible for
the education of the professionals of the future. The new requirements
of employers in the 'emerging markets' should be satisfied by
the production of a new breed of graduate! New kinds of knowledge
and skill should be the subjects of new kinds of curricula! New
curriculum content should be delivered using new teaching techniques!
New techniques are the preserve of staff with newly-developed
expertise! Fresh? No. Understated? No, again. But: true? Apparently
In this paper, I review the ongoing efforts of the
School of Information and Media (SIM) of the Robert Gordon University
(RGU) in Aberdeen, Scotland, to respond appropriately and effectively
to the demands of students, employers, profession and government.
One core element of the School's strategy is the new Postgraduate
Diploma / Master of Science degree course in Electronic Information
Management (EIM), whose first cohort of ten students matriculated
in September 1997, and which is now firmly established alongside
the other courses in the School's postgraduate portfolio: the
PgDip/MSc in Information and Library Studies, the PgDip/MSc in
Information Analysis (which received the Jason Farradane Award
from the Institute of Information Scientists in 1994, in honour
of its 'outstanding contribution to the development of information
science'), and the PgDip/MSc in Publishing Studies. Under development
over the two previous years, the EIM course has been marketed
as an innovation of unique interest in the United Kingdom, providing
successful graduates with a 'skill-set' unattainable elsewhere
yet precisely tailored to the demands of the modern job market
for information professionals.
In the next section, I place the School's goals in
the historical context of published debate about the match between
employer demand and graduate supply in the library and information
studies/science/service (LIS) sector; in Section 3, I outline
the aims and objectives, and the curriculum, of the EIM course;
and in Section 4, I draw conclusions that may be of relevance
not only to those directly concerned with the design of LIS curricula,
but also to those with a wider interest in the quality of output
of LIS schools.
It is fairly safe to assume that the primary goals
of most, if not all the courses (undergraduate and postgraduate)
offered by the 16 LIS schools in the UK are vocational in essence
[1,2]. One course may vary from another in the degree to which
an emphasis is placed on theory rather than practice, but this
distinction is between the theory and the practice of information
work. Educators design curricula with the intention of
providing students with the best preparation for employment in
the information-related professions; students enrol on these courses
in order to gain a qualification that, they trust, will increase
their chances of finding professional employment; and employers
are expected to respect the validity of that qualification as
an indicator of the level of knowledge and skill that the holder
is likely to have.
Not surprisingly, much space in the LIS literature
is given over to discussion on questions of curriculum content.
Given the vocational aim of LIS courses, what sorts of knowledge
should be imparted, what sorts of skill developed, in the classes
that students take? The short answer, unhelpful as it stands without
expansion, is simply to state: 'those very skills that are desired
of prospective employees by employers'. In responding thus, one
takes a view of educators as reactive beings, in thrall to the
requirements of external organisations. Ignoring (for the moment)
the wider implications of such a view, we can observe that debate
is commonly deflected only to raise the obvious follow-up: What
are those qualities that employers look for in applicants for
information-related jobs? And then, in circular fashion: What
exactly are these jobs (for which, by implication, graduates with
LIS qualifications should be more than suitable applicants)?
In published considerations of questions of these
types, three related themes recur frequently, typically in concatenated
form as a compelling argument for the reform of traditional LIS
curricula. These themes are: (i) the impact of technological
advances on the use of information in everyday life; (ii)
the emergence of alternative markets for job-seekers with
LIS qualifications; and (iii) the value of generic skills
that may be applied equally effectively whatever the professional
function or employment sector of the holder.
The characteristics of the late-twentieth-century
'information revolution', and the level of its influence on the
nature of work in the traditional LIS sector, are well-known.
The driving force is technological, pushing forward through
advances in the fields of computing and telecommunications; the
essence of the revolution lies in the economic sphere,
in the increasing efficiency with which information may be generated,
transferred, acquired, collected, stored, located, retrieved,
analysed, presented and used in organisations' and individuals'
decision-making processes; and many of the consequences are at
the social level, resulting in change in the typical activity
of people not just at work, but in every aspect of their lives.
The most celebrated technological advance
of the last decade is, of course, the growth of the Internet into
the global, publicly-accessible computer network that is today
used by millions at work and play. Despite the continuing prevalence
(and undoubted accuracy) of the perception that much of the information
accessible via the Internet is of limited and ephemeral usefulness,
two primary effects of the widespread uptake, unprecedented in
scale, of the networking technologies have been (i) to increase
public awareness of the existence and range of information stored
in digital form and conveniently transferable from remote sources,
and (ii) to persuade organisations of the value of the client/server
model on which the implementation of internal information systems
(intranets) may be so effectively based.
At the economic level, a more general effect
of the recent technological advances in informatics and telematics
has been to heighten organisations' appreciation of the corporate
value of their own information stores and assets, of the information-handling
skills of their employees, and of those activities by which decision-makers
are continuously supplied with access to timely, relevant, accurate,
full and easily-digestible information, tailored to the specific
needs of the individual. It is now well understood that an organisation
which fails to deploy the technology and personnel required for
the effective and efficient management of 'the fourth resource'
is more than likely to suffer in the competition for profit in
the marketplace .
The extent of the social impact of these changes
is demonstrated by the frequency with which the descriptions of
jobs and employees' roles in organisations refer to information-based
functions and demand information-handling skills of the post-holder.
But the impact on people's lives extends beyond the workplace
to the home and to leisure time. Social activities of all kinds
are becoming more and more dependent on a computerised, networked,
information-driven infrastructure; and increasingly, in order
to carry out mundane tasks such as shopping for consumer goods,
booking a holiday, or even deciding what television programme
to watch, it is information-handling skills that are required.
Before the mid-1980s, it was certainly the exception
rather than the norm for LIS graduates to find employment outside
the 'traditional' library sector-this being limited to public
libraries, academic libraries, and a few special libraries in
commerce, industry, R&D and government. With the publication
of influential reports by the Library and Information Services
Council , the Transbinary Group on Librarianship and Information
Studies  and Nick Moore , the significance of the 'emerging
markets' for information professionals and the developing mismatch
between employer demand and library-school supply became clear.
The size of the traditional sector was in decline; in contrast,
the numbers of jobs in information-related occupations
were rapidly growing; yet the graduates of LIS courses were not
meeting the distinctive requirements of employers in these emerging
markets, resulting in high levels of graduate unemployment and
The implications of these developments were highlighted
by commentators such as Brittain [7,10], Moore , Davenport
and Cronin  and Muddiman et al. , to be subsequently restated
on numerous occasions in the professional literature, and confirmed
to varying degrees by surveys of job availability and employer
opinion undertaken in the UK , North America  and Australia
. Explanations tend to run as follows. One effect of the information
revolution (as we have seen) has been to increase the relative
weight of information-based functions in all jobs, not
just those traditionally located in the LIS sector. If they are
to carry out these functions with an acceptable level of proficiency,
the holders of these posts need to be able to call on an appropriate
subset of information-handling skills. It is just this subset
that, it is assumed, is possessed by the typical graduate of an
LIS course. And hence there are very many jobs that may well be
classed as falling outside the traditional LIS sector, but for
which LIS graduates are (potentially, at least) particularly well-placed
The key terms here are 'subset' and 'potential'.
Clearly, information-handling skills will not be the only ones
that are required for effective performance in most of these jobs:
in other words, they will form only a subset of the whole skill-set
of the ideal post-holder. On the other hand, it is far from clear
(so the argument continues) that, in present circumstances, the
graduate of a traditional LIS education has more than this inadequate
subset at their disposal. The potential nevertheless remains to
augment this subset-i.e., for LIS educators to ensure that students
are encouraged to develop the complementary skills that will enable
them to compete in the emerging markets.
The questions that arise from this kind of debate
can be divided into two broad categories. Questions in the first
group relate to the way in which the emerging markets are defined.
What exactly are these jobs, that are supposedly sufficiently
'information-intensive' to be suitable targets for LIS-graduate
job-seekers, but that exist outside the traditional LIS sector?
How many of these jobs are there, in comparison with numbers in
the traditional sector? In what sorts of organisation are these
jobs to be found? What job-titles should job-seekers look out
for? What channels should they go through to identify vacancies?
Available evidence appears to suggest: (i) that almost
any role whose successful performance is dependent on the effective
use and management of information is likely to benefit from the
skills of LIS graduates; (ii) that these roles greatly outnumber
traditional library-based roles (although to what precise extent
is uncertain); (iii) that these roles may be found in sectors
as varied as publishing, computing, public relations, health services,
marketing, journalism, management consultancy, and financial and
legal services; (iv) that, given the wide range of job-titles
in current vogue, job-seekers need to be suitably vigilant in
order to spot appropriate vacancies; and (v) that traditional
sources (such as the UK Library Association's fortnightly Vacancies
Supplement) tend to provide details only of posts in the traditional
Questions in the second group relate to the definition
of the skill-set that is appropriate for effective performance
of non-traditional roles. What exactly are the skills that are
required of graduates by employers in the emerging markets? What
is the relationship between these skills and those that are imparted
in traditional LIS courses?
Discussion about 'transferable' skills in the LIS
literature is frequently initiated in partial response to questions
similar to those posed above. Skills of certain types may be identified
as being 'transferable' in the sense of their being largely context-free:
they can be appropriately and effectively applied in the performance
of a variety of professional functions in a range of employment
sectors, and stand in contrast to 'technical', 'specialist' or
'professional' skills that are specific to function and/or sector.
A common argument takes as its starting point the assertion that
employers see transferable skills as making up a vital part of
the set required of the modern, 'hybrid' information professional.
What combination of skills is it, then, that forms
the ideal package, portfolio or mix of core competencies,
as far as employers in the emerging markets are concerned [15-17]?
The intention of the educator asking such a question, of course,
is that any answer should inform the design of LIS curricula,
in order to reverse the tendency characteristic of the mid-1980s,
when in many cases information-related jobs would be given to
non-LIS graduates with the transferable skills that employers
particularly valued. Towards the end of that decade, spurred by
the recommendations of the LISC and TGLIS, the UK library schools
began the process of curriculum reform that continues today.
Perhaps the most obvious of skills to be identified
as transferable are those related to the use of information
technology. Knowledge and understanding of basic hardware
and software (in which category might be included word-processing,
spreadsheet, database, desk-top publishing, presentation and Internet
applications) is essential for success in an ever-increasing range
of occupations. In truth, LIS educators have seldom been slow
in taking steps to ensure that all students reach adequate levels
of IT skills at the earliest possible stages of their courses,
so that these skills may be further developed through practice
and application in subsequent modules that do not necessarily
have IT has their primary focus. Yet IT skills are not those that
are most commonly identified by employers as being of most value
in information-related jobs: that distinction is reserved for
The catch-all category of interpersonal skills
might include: communication skills; leadership, teambuilding
and motivation skills; negotiating and selling skills; presentation
and training skills; and teamwork skills; as well as certain desirable
personal attributes, such as: a 'professional' approach; a customer-service
orientation; an enthusiastic, positive attitude; numeracy and
linguistic ability; confidence and ambition; dedication and focus;
flexibility and initiative; and creativity and vision.
Add these two sets of core competencies to solid
bodies of knowledge (i) of the fundamental theory of information
generation, flow, use and management, (ii) of technical LIS processes
such as information seeking, retrieval, evaluation, selection,
acquisition, collection, representation (indexing, classification
and cataloguing), organisation, analysis, synthesis, presentation,
transfer and dissemination, and (iii) of the information sources
(printed and electronic) and services (manual and automated) that
are available in the sector in which the post-holder will operate,
and the result is a vibrant mix of skills that ideally prepares
the LIS graduate for a successful career-or so the employers argue.
Whether LIS courses are able to attract students of the calibre
necessary if they are to emerge as suitably multi-talented, 'renaissance
people' is an altogether separate matter.
The aims and objectives of the EIM course are strongly
vocationally-oriented, in accordance both with the University's
general statement of purpose: ('... to produce versatile and resourceful
practitioners who are relevantly qualified for their chosen professions
and vocations ...'), and with the historical focus of the UK's
'new universities' (i.e., those ex-polytechnics, colleges and
technological institutes granted university status in 1992). The
general aim of the course is stated as being 'to prepare students
for a professional career in electronic information management
and for an effective role within the electronic information industry',
and the intended focus is on the development both of traditional,
technical skills and of those transferable competencies valued
by employers in the emerging markets. More specific aims are specified
It is intended that these aims should be achieved through the fulfilment of several objectives, some course-specific, and others more general. The course-specific objectives of the Diploma stage of the course are to enable students to develop:
The more general objectives are to enable students
to develop the abilities:
The objectives of the course develop as it progresses
from the Postgraduate Diploma stage (Stage 1) to the Master of
Science degree stage (Stage 2). As well as providing the fundamental
knowledge, skills and stimulation necessary for students to begin
practising at professional levels, Stage 1 also provides the appropriate
foundation for undertaking independent Master's-level research
in Stage 2.
The Master of Science degree stage provides the opportunity
for students to use appropriate research methods in carrying out
a critical investigation of a specific topic of relevance to the
electronic information profession, preferably one that requires
a constructive dialogue to be initiated with representatives from
commercial organisations, and to present findings in the form
of a dissertation. The objectives of the Master of Science degree
stage are to enable students to develop the abilities:
To ensure that these aims and objectives are met,
the EIM course provides a programme of study that covers five
core areas in the field: information management, information sources
and services; computer systems and telecommunications; databases
and information retrieval; and research methods. Each core area
is represented in the curriculum by one or more modules as follows:
(a) Information management
Coverage: the basic concepts of organisation theory;
the key functions and activities of management; the characteristics,
use and management of information systems within organisations.
Coverage: the scope, role and impact of electronic
and multimedia publishing; technologies for production and delivery;
social, economic, legal and political issues.
(b) Information sources and services
Coverage: the meaning of information and the structure
of recorded knowledge; the context-specific nature of information
need; the characteristics of published sources of information
content; the use of information services in enabling information-seekers
to satisfy their needs; the process of information access; the
social context of information.
(c) Computer systems and telecommunications
An introduction to information technology (IT), which
provides a basis for the incorporation of further IT-based work
in other units. This six-week unit is not assessed.
Coverage: the role and operation of advanced features
of computer systems hardware, and the function and use of systems
Coverage: the fundamentals of telecommunication techniques,
including information theory, digital transmission, data communication
and data networks.
(d) Databases and information retrieval
Coverage: the fundamentals of database theory; the
analysis of data models; the practical use of commercial database
Coverage: the information retrieval (IR) 'problem';
the elements and functionality of IR systems; the evaluation of
IR systems; networking and distributed IR systems.
(e) Research methods
Coverage: strategies and techniques for the conduct
of applied research; research management skills; the development
of a student-specific research proposal.
The teaching in Modules 5 and 6 is delivered by the
School of Electronic and Electical Engineering, and in Module
7 by the School of Computer and Mathematical Sciences. In addition
to these nine core modules, all students are required to undertake
a four-week period of supervised, unpaid work experience (Module
10: Fieldwork placement). Every effort is made to meet the individual
wishes of students in regard to both geographical location and
the type of organisation in which the placement is undertaken.
For the Master of Science degree stage, the student is required
to produce a dissertation (as described in the previous section).
A tendency to exaggerate the pervasiveness of the effects of the
information revolution and the relative significance of transferable
skills has recently led some to the conclusion that 'we are all
information professionals now'. All jobs, to a greater or lesser
degree, involve information-handling activity; information-handling
skills are therefore applicable in a very wide range of contexts,
and in that sense may themselves be regarded as transferable.
Some (employers, prospective students, educators in other disciplines)
might make the leap, and ask: Is the level to which students receive
education in non-LIS curricula not sufficient for them to undertake
the work of an information professional? Are the traditional,
technical skills that are the preserve of LIS courses not outmoded
in this modern, electronic age of information-for-all ?
The answer to both these questions, of course, is a definitive
'no'. In fact, given the volume of information now available and
the proliferation of formats, media, systems and services through
which it is accessible, a solid education in the theory and practice
of information work, founded on the traditional, tripartite structure
of sources (bibliography), processes ('cat. and class.') and operations
(administration), and maintaining the discipline's distinctive
emphasis on the importance of serving the needs of the user, is
in fact more essential for the prospective information professional
than ever before.
Nick Moore's latest prediction [18,19] is the emergence of four
complementary groups of information professionals, each armed
with a different skill-set: 'creators', or developers of information
products, services and systems, versed in the principles of information
technology and information design and in the importance of a user-friendly
interface; 'collectors', or gatherers and organisers of both internally-
and externally-produced information, skilled in knowledge representation
and database design, and highly knowledgeable about the needs
of their users, the objectives of their organisations, and the
nature of the environments in which those organisations operate;
'communicators', or information retrieval specialists, able to
analyse needs, to evaluate potentially-relevant information, and
to select that which matches, with efficiency and effectiveness,
using specialist subject knowledge, interpersonal and communication
skills, and theoretical understanding of information-seeking behaviour;
and finally 'consolidators', processing, analysing, interpreting,
filtering, synthesising and presenting information, reducing complexity
without sacrificing accuracy, 'making sense of the world' for
the benefit of busy managers and decision-makers. It is easy to
spot the shadows of more traditional figures lurking behind the
newly-minted jargon: systems designers, database producers, reference
librarians, and research analysts are all there. In today's job
descriptions, of course, these same people might be known respectively
as webmasters, knowledge managers, online searchers or competitor
intelligence executives [20-22].
As the technologies develop and formats and media change, job-titles
change accordingly; both the number of opportunities and the degree
of respect accorded post-holders by top management increase; but
the functions of information-handling remain the same, and it
is these functions that are the preserve of qualified graduates
in LIS-related disciplines. Rather than concerning ourselves as
educators with the identification of new roles or new skills for
information professionals, perhaps we should concentrate on graduates'
development of new attitudes: a new confidence, both in
one's ability to apply one's knowledge and skills effectively
in different contexts and sectors and in a continuously changing
technological environment, and in the fact that the particular
combination of technical and transferable skills attainable by
LIS graduates is already uniquely marketable and, as the information
revolution continues and managers become more appreciative of
its implications, ever-increasing in attractiveness to employers.
The curriculum of the new postgraduate course in Electronic Information
Management is one that provides a particularly thorough grounding
in the technical knowledge, managerial expertise and practical,
transferable abilities that are essential requirements for the
information professional in the digital age, and is thus expected
to meet employers' needs for graduates with this special blend
of skills precisely and comprehensively.
 MACDOUGALL, J. and BRITTAIN, J.M. Library and
information science education in the United Kingdom. In:
M.E. WILLIAMS, ed. Annual review of information science and
technology: Volume 28. Medford, NJ: Learned Information /
American Society for Information Science, 1993, pp. 361-390.
 ELKIN, J. and WILSON, T., eds. The education
of library and information professionals in the United Kingdom.
London: Mansell, 1997.
 BEST, D.P., ed. The fourth resource: information
and its management. Aldershot: Aslib / Gower, 1996.
 LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SERVICES COUNCIL. Professional
education and training for library and information work. London:
Library Association, 1986.
 TRANSBINARY GROUP. Education for librarianship
and information science: report of the Transbinary Group on Librarianship
and Information Studies. London: British Library Research
& Development Department, June 1986.
 MOORE, N. The library and information workforce:
a study of supply and demand. British Library Research &
Development Report, No. 5900. Bath: Parker Moore, 1986.
 BRITTAIN, J.M. Information specialists: new directions
for education and training. Journal of Information Science,
1987, 13 (6), 321-326.
 MOORE, N. The emerging markets for librarians
and information workers. Library and Information Research
Report, No. 56. London: British Library Board, 1987.
 DAVENPORT, L. and CRONIN, B. Demand and supply
in information work. Education for Information, 1988, 6
 BRITTAIN, J.M., ed. Curriculum development
in information science to meet the needs of the information industries
in the 1990s. Library and Information Research Report, No.
70. London: British Library Board, 1989.
 MUDDIMAN, D., MURPHY, M., ROBINSON, L. Information
studies: developing the pluralist curriculum. Personnel Training
and Education, 1990, 7 (3), 43-53.
 BRITTAIN, J.M. The emerging market for information
professionals in the UK National Health Service. International
Journal of Information Management, 12 (4), 261-271.
 CRONIN, B., STIFFLER, M. and DAY, D. The emergent
market for information professionals: educational opportunities
and implications. Library Trends, 1993, 42 (2),
 FERGUSON, S. Preparing LIS graduates for the
'emerging market': an Australian educator down under in the UK.
Education for Information, 1997, 15 (3), 229-233.
 BUTTLAR, L., DU MONT, R.R. Assessing library
science competencies: soliciting practitioner input for curriculum
design. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science,
1989, 30 (1), 3-18.
 BUTCHER, H. Business information curricula:
an employer's list of essential skills and knowledge. Education
for Information, 7 (4), 335-341.
 BUTTLAR, L. and DU MONT, R.R. Library and information
science competencies revisited. Journal of Education for Library
and Information Science, 1996, 37 (1), 44-62.
 MOORE, N. Creators, communicators and consolidators:
the new information professional. Managing Information,
June 1996, 3 (6), 24-25.
 ABELL, A. New roles? New skills? New people?
Library Association Record, October 1997, 99 (10),
 OJALA, M. Core competencies for special library
managers of the future. Special Libraries, 1993, 84
 MENDELSOHN, S. Will a different kind of person
be needed to staff the information service of the future? Information
World Review, March 1996, 112, pp. 28-29.
 MARSHALL, J., FISHER, B., MOULTON, L. and PICCOLI,
R. Competencies for special librarians of the 21st century:
full report. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association,
Special Committee on Competencies for Special Librarians, May
1996. Available online at URL: <http://www.sla.org/professional/competency.html>.