Book Reviews

Richard E. Rubin and Rachel G. Rubin. Foundations of Library and Information Science. 5th ed. Chicago, IL: ALA Neal-Schuman, 2020. 656p. Paper.

Book cover for Foundations of Library and Information Science

One of the tenets of a book review is a discussion of how well the book meets the needs of its intended audience, and, as far as target audience goes, this book was written for me. I teach a foundations course in a school of information and it is the likes of me that need to adopt this as our textbook as the final step in the production-consumption cycle. And so, it is in light of my needs that I set out to examine Richard E. Rubin and Rachel G. Rubin’s Foundations of Library and Information Science. The two questions I asked myself throughout were: Do I agree with the authors on what the foundations of the field are, and does their treatment of topics satisfy my teaching needs?

First, as is warranted, a brief overview of the book. The title Foundations of Library and Information Science pretty much reflects the book’s content: The history of libraries, technological developments in libraries, the place of libraries in society, the changing roles of the librarians, and more, to make a total of 10 chapters and 656 pages. The goal of the authors is to provide new librarians with an introduction, history, and overview to the field of librarianship. This already is a big departure from the goals of our foundations course that aims to provide information professionals with a critical understanding of information and information structures.

The Foundations in the book title should be taken to mean the historical foundations (xiii) rather than the fundamentals. Each topic is treated historically, and its development in the field is traced from earliest time to current manifestations. For example, the question of collections is discussed first historically, and the authors then introduce some of the complexities that arise from the shift from collection to service. The book is structured such that, while some themes run throughout the book, there is a corresponding chapter that focuses more narrowly on the topic.

The Preface, written in the COVID-19 reality, raises important issues that are at the intersection of libraries and society, including examination of some of our long-held beliefs (for instance, the myth of neutrality) and finding ways to increase diversity in the profession.

The Preface notes that the fifth edition (2020) places emphasis throughout on social justice, services to underserved communities, privacy and intellectual freedom, the shift in focus from library collections to library services, and disinformation and fake news.

What, then, do Rubin and Rubin identify as the foundations of library and information science? As the table of contents indicates, these include the history and mission of libraries (chapters 2–4), library functions and operations (chapters 6–7), the library profession and professional ethics (chapters 5 and 10), and ethics and policy (chapters 8–9).

Compare this to what my colleagues and I teach at a school of information, that, like many others, offer the MSLIS as one of several degree options in a school that is united under the umbrella of “information.” Our foundation course is designed to highlight the commonalities among all the degrees offered in the school to students who will be information professionals with degrees in library science, data science, user-experience design, and museum education. We have one unit devoted to governance design and infrastructure of information. These readings address information technology from the critical information theory perspective and discusses them vis-à-vis political economy and structures of power. In their rather extensive discussion of the role of collections in libraries, political economy as a lens for understanding power structures in the library is not mentioned.

Likewise, our approach to professional ethics differs greatly from the one presented in the book. Rubin and Rubin focus more narrowly on the theoretical roots and professional ethics of librarians. They draw theoretically from Ranganathan and pragmatically from the ALA code of ethics. The framework applies to librarians, mostly those working in libraries and not-for-profit organizations where the user is typically not paying directly for the service. The information professionals that we are educating will work for libraries, not-for-profits, and commercial organizations alike. Many of them will have clients rather than users and will be measured by quantitative outputs rather than their contribution social capital. Our emphasis in ethics is on ethics in research methods, ethical data collection, ethics of fieldwork, ethics in hiring, and algorithmic ethics.

Returning to my original questions—how well does this textbook meet my teaching needs—that answer is, sadly, not very well. It lacks both in theoretical perspective and in a broader appeal to information professionals writ large. In my world today, Foundations of Library and Information Science will not be added to my reading list and this saddens me greatly because this book in itself is not a bad book. In the annals of librarianship, there is room for a book that provides an historiography of the profession, and, in many ways, this is the strength of this book.—Debbie Rabina, Pratt Institute

Copyright Debbie Rabina

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