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Book review - Foundations of Library and Information Science

 ·  ☕ 8 min read

(Note: I read this book in September and originally wrote this review in October, but it’s taken me a while to proofread and post it.)

Overview

Title: Foundations of Library and Information Science

Author: Richard E. Rubin, Rachel G. Rubin

How I learned about it: Similar to Looking for Information, I searched Goodreads, and the reviews overall seemed better than the alternative intro textbooks.

Would I recommend: Sooooooo……it’s an intro textbook to LIS. If you want that, you’ll get that. I can’t really say I enjoyed reading it, but I definitely learned a lot of things. The references and per-chapter bibliographies are arguably the most useful part. If you can read enough other books to cover all of the topics that you can avoid reading an intro textbook altogether, that sounds preferable.

General comments

I did not enjoy this book very much, and I thought it was pretty lacking as far as textbooks go, though maybe some of my complaints are because it’s not intended to be read cover-to-cover, which is what I did. Before I go into complaints about, though, I want to emphasize that I did indeed learn a lot from this book. In particular, chapters 2 (history of the library from ancient times to present), 6 (organization and classification schema), and 8 (information policy in the United States) were of particular interest to me. Chapter 7 (information science) would have been as well, except I already read Looking for Information (and actually after finishing Foundations of Library and Information Science, the next book I read was an information policy book, so that made chapter 8 a bit redundant as well).

Surface-level complaints

These are just issues I had with presentation of the material. Some of them are minor, while some of them had a very large (negative) impact on my reading the book.

  • None of the “vocabulary” terms was ever bolded. This was so frustrating! You would think an intro textbook would convey “hey, this word/person/organization/place/bill/court case/etc” is pretty important, but nope! They italicized some stuff here and there, but not enough for me to think that it was a consistent effort to convey to the reader “hi, important terms are emphasized all the time, always.”
  • There was no glossary.
  • There was no list of acronyms/initialisms. At first I thought this might be an unreasonable complaint, like, who makes a list of acronyms? but then the very next book I started reading, Foundations of Information Policy, (which is great by the way!) literally has an acronym list at the start of the book. Not even at the end as an appendix, but at the start, so you can’t miss it.
  • The index sucks. Like, not only is there not a list of acronyms, but the acronyms aren’t spelled out in the index for you. Also, it’s missing references - for example, ALISE is discussed on pages 287 and 302, both of which are not present in the index (I know this offhand because I wrote that in myself. I also wrote in a bunch of acronyms myself.).
  • Most of their numbered lists are written in paragraph form, which is maybe ok if you’re an academic paper, but super annoying if you’re an intro textbook (an example can be found on page 312, with a list of five myths about millennials).
  • Speaking of numbered lists, very frequently they will say something like “three services” and then give an UNORDERED list of the services (this example is from page 71).
  • Still speaking of numbered lists, on at least one occasion, their headings are off-by-one from an introduced numbered list - in chapter 6, they promise to discuss five foundational areas, which they number 1-5. Then they begin discussing these in section II. I cry.
  • They overuse “nineteenth century” and “twentieth century” - once even saying something like “second decade of the twentieth century,” though I can’t find the page number of that anymore. Again, this is an intro textbook, please just say 1800s, 1900s, etc, every time. You don’t need flowery prose, you need clarity.

Content complaints

Overall, the book was just pretty repetitive. Like I said, I’m not sure if it’s intended to be read in its entirety; if most curricula include only a couple chapters of it, then I guess the repetition makes sense. But it repeated discussions of social justice (but only mentioned “critical librarianship” once), censorship, privacy, and several other broad, relevant topics that are very buzzword-y. It felt like a better-organized and more tightly-edited book would not need to spend the time on these topics all over the place in the same way, but maybe the repetition was a deliberate choice to keep people’s interest specifically because of the topicality of the issues? Either way, I wasn’t a fan.

This next issue is rather inherent to introductory textbooks I think, but there are also a lot of instances of there being an interesting topic for a few paragraphs that then devolves into a laundry list of institutions, dates, and specific contributions that I’m certainly not going to care about or remember (or, let’s be honest, even really read the first time). I would like for these somewhat-useless lists to be shown in charts so that I can ignore them completely when I don’t care (or memorize them if I’m actually in an LIS class that’s making me learn them? Flashbacks to seventh-grade explorer charts), but that’s maybe a bit impractical to do all the time. One example is on page 348, where there’s a discussion of coded bibliographic records and the challenges one faces when trying to create these. Then the last paragraph of the page starts with, “Other groups that worked to improve bibliographic access included…” and I stop caring.

Unfortunately, the authors sometimes mix interesting and relevant information into their laundry lists of organizations, acronyms, dates, and other details that should really be charts off to the side that the reader can ignore. As a result, the reader has to at least skim every laundry-list paragraph to make sure they aren’t missing information, which is pretty frustrating.

I also made notes while I was reading of specific things that I thought should have been mentioned but weren’t.

  • Page 40 - They cite an essay from Library as Place but fail to mention the original book that the essay was discussing or even the name Ray Oldenburg.
  • Page 144 - They characterize SciHub as if it’s a venture-capitalist for-profit website. Not cool.
  • Pages 212-213 - When discussing “the urgency to apply preservation techniques to digital items” they don’t provide any concrete example of a technology that was discontinued. This edition was published in 2020, and by that point they could have mentioned Adobe Flash, which would have illustrated their point perfectly.
  • Pages 244-245 - The first part is not a complaint, just an observation of how quickly content can get outdated - Yahoo! Answers no longer exists! The second part is a complaint, though; reddit should absolutely be on their list of “Social Question and Answering Services,” for two reasons: first, the AskReddit subreddit, and second, the AskHistorians subreddit. The latter is possibly the single best-moderated space on the entire internet for getting an indepth answer researched by experts. It’s an incredible community.
  • Page 273 - The Library Bureau isn’t mentioned as one of Melvil Dewey’s accomplishments, though it is brought up later, on page 346.
  • Page 408-409 - In a discussion of “Big Data,” privacy, and related policy concerns, the GDPR isn’t mentioned even in passing, though it does come up on page 454.
  • Page 446 - Ajit Pai isn’t mentioned in a discussion about the FCC and net neutrality and the 2018 decision

Further reading

As I said before, the citations and per-chapter bibliographies / further reading lists are among the best parts of this book. I bought several books from these lists, and here I’m including a list of some of the books I bought; I haven’t read all of these yet, so I’ll make a note of the ones I have read already.

Chapter 2

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Conclusion

I’m definitely glad I spent the time to read this book, and if you’re interested in knowledge management I think it’s valuable to learn about libraries, which are the traditional cultural centers of knowledge. Maybe it’s not worth reading cover to cover, but there’s a lot of information included, and any chapters you decide to spend time on will teach you something!

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River (RheingoldRiver) is a MediaWiki developer and the manager of Leaguepedia. She likes cats.


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