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McGill University martlet

McGill GSLIS becomes SIS: School of Information Studies

May 23, 2007

McGill’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies is no more.

At its April meeting, the University Senate approved the change in name from “Graduate School of Library and Information Studies” to “School of Information Studies.” The proposal had been the subject of discussion the previous month at the Academic Policy and Planning Committee. Some highlights from the minutes:

from March 15, 2007 meeting minutes

11.04 Faculty of Education: proposal to change the name of the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies to “School of Information Studies” (0607-APPC-03-55)

Dean Roger Slee and Professor France Bouthillier, Director of GSLIS, presented the proposal. The proposed broader name, used by a large number of schools in North America, offers advantages for advertising and explaining the School’s activities for fund-raising purposes. “Information Studies” would encompass Information Science, Library Science, Archival Studies, and Knowledge Management.

Although it was stated that the proposed name was in line with the current trend, concern was raised in the discussion about possible confusion caused by the deletion of the word “Library” in the proposed name. It was felt that “information studies” reflects a utilitarian approach to knowledge and conjures up disciplines such as communication, information technology and the like; books are more than tools of “information”; the chosen name therefore appears to restrict what the School is and does. It was argued that the GSLIS deals with sources of knowledge, i.e. developing tools for retrieving and recording that knowledge, for example how to help young people use search engines and learn to be more discerning etc.

It was further stated that the proposal should include a record of consultations carried out (an approval/consultation table as well as appended letters). Units consulted might include the School of Computer Science, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Faculty of Management, University Libraries, and others.

Deletion of “Graduate” in the School’s name was also questioned: the School teaches only graduate programs but feels that it is not necessary for this to be stated in the name of the school.

The Chair thanked Dean Slee and Professor Bouthillier. In its discussion, APPC reiterated its concern about deleting the term “library” from the name of the School: it was noted that at a time when small libraries, Anglophone ones in particular, seem threatened in Quebec, the cultural context is somewhat weak and McGill would be sending a message to the community that it does not value libraries. While APPC does not question how the School is trying to position itself in its discipline and acknowledges that the members of the School ought to have a say in how the School is called, the School has traditionally been dealing with libraries. The principal degrees offered by the School are in “Library and Information Studies”; adoption of the proposed name would create a mismatch with the degrees the School offers. Only the Ph.D. in Information Studies (currently in the process of being evaluated by CREPUQ for approval by MELS) would reflect the proposed name. APPC was not convinced by the need to follow the trend elsewhere.

APPC therefore decided to table the name change proposal until the next meeting. Concerns will be expressed to the Dean of the Faculty of Education and to the Director of the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. The Dean and Director will be invited to consult with the Faculty of Science (School of Computer Science), the Faculty of Engineering (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering), the Faculty of Management, the Director of Libraries and submit the results of this consultation. PGSS student councilors from the GSLIS will be consulted informally.

(Note: Université de Montréal is retaining “Library Studies” in the name of its school, the “Ecole de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l’information”.)

from March 29, 2007 meeting minutes

12.03 Business arising
– Faculty of Education: proposal to change the name of the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies to “School of Information Studies” (0607-APPC-03-55)

In response to APPC’s request that further consultations be conducted, the Dean of the Faculty of Education and the Director of the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies obtained emails from the Dean of the Faculty of Management and letters of support from the Director of the School of Computer Science and from the Director of Libraries at Concordia University. Input was also solicited from GSLIS students: 31 of the 33 e-mails received in two days (from a total of about 200 students) expressed students’ opposition to the proposed name and concern about a lack of consultation between the School administration and the student body.

In the discussion, it was mentioned that half of similar schools in North America did not have the term “Library” in their name. Although many of the McGill students consulted stated that they would not have applied to the School if it had been called “School of Information Studies”, it was noted that applications to schools that changed their name seem not to have been affected. The proposed name reflects the direction in which the School wishes to go and a mismatch between the name of a school and the names of the degrees offered is not uncommon. It seemed unfortunate that more student consultation did not take place, as the students’ reactions might signify a conflict between the research interests of staff and what the students feel they are studying. Concern was also voiced about breaking links with alumni. While the School celebrated the 100 years of the “Library School”, it might seem odd that one year later the School would wish to change its name. On the other hand, including branches of information studies dealt with by the School, for example library and archival studies, might result in a very long name. Broadening the name so as to make it more inclusive may make the name more exclusive as it might seem to exclude libraries; it was noted that a name that had perfect clarity is being changed to one that is ambiguous to some. At the same time the members of an academic unit should be trusted to know best what their unit should be called if the current name makes them uncomfortable.

The motion to change the name of the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies was voted on and carried by a vote of five against and nine in favour of recommending the name change to Senate. The proposed name change was therefore considered approved by APPC and will be recommended to Senate (in APPC’s 389th Report, D06-53, for presentation on 19th April 2007). It was suggested that the School administration should be advised to speak with the students in the School.

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