A Ph.D. in Library Science?

March 4, 2010 at 11:21 am 5 comments

Posted by Emily Knox

Not long ago a participant on a listserv that I am on asked if she should consider getting a Ph.D. in library science. The answers were swift and almost all were negative–the poster should get a Ph.D. in anything but library science. Although it’s hard to believe now, this was something I considered before starting my Ph.D. program. Would I be boxing myself in if I studied library science? Should I get a doctorate in an area that is primarily identified by a professional master’s degree?

I told that poster that she should get a Ph.D. in an area that interests her. Ph.D.s take so much time and commitment that it is difficult to finish if you start one in an area that doesn’t interest you. According to the Council for Graduate Schools, the average completion rate for all Ph.D.s hovers at around 50%.

My area of interest, intellectual freedom and censorship, is a classic field within the library and information science. If this area were part of another discipline, I would be in another department. However, what has been most surprising to me throughout my coursework at Rutgers is how much I love studying libraries. I enjoy thinking about them, researching them, and having arguments with my fellow students about their status in society. Even the information science classes weren’t as bad as I had anticipated since they broadened my understanding of how people interact with data/information/knowledge in the world.

I find it disheartening that other librarians think research in our field is only necessary for teaching other librarians and has nothing to say to the wider academic community. We must encourage research in LIS in order to have a stronger voice in academia and to boost the status of libraries throughout the world. If we don’t believe that a doctorate in LIS is as worthwhile as one in another area, who will?


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Reference Renaissance Twofer — New Book & CFP for 2010 Conference Missing Mayors and Freeholders in our Libraries


  • 1. Michael Golrick  |  March 4, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    One big issue for getting a PhD in LIS is the limited number of programs. For those of us who are practitioners, the commitment to doing the program full time is also a very large barrier. (I’d consider doing it part-time, but cost and distance to a program are huge roadblocks for me, as is time.)

    However, you raise an excellent point about the gulf between LIS educators and those of us in the field.

  • 2. Nicole  |  March 4, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks for your post, Emily. I’m in my last semester as a graduate student in Library and Info Science, and the thought of ending here makes me sad. But when I talk about pursuing a Ph.D. program for reasons other than teaching, I get crazy looks. You’re spot on about the importance of encouraging LIS research, and not just teaching. You’ve given me some food for thought. Thanks!

  • 3. Anthony Molaro  |  March 4, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    As a current doctoral student in an LIS program (Dominican University), I can say that I agree with Emily on two major themes. The first is that one needs to make sure that they love what they are studying. Even when I am with non-librarian friends (which is decreasing with time), I talk to them about libraries. It’s almost always on my mind.

    Secondly, LIS research & theory is typically not found in other disciplines. We need to make sure that what we are researching is of importance to more than just librarians.

    Emily, this was a great post, and I look forward to reading the additional comments.

  • 4. cird  |  August 23, 2010 at 1:13 am

    Practicing Librarians as well as Teaching Library Science Professionals both need the Research, both need to contribute to the knowledge in the field. We believe that’s the legitimate need. There should be good research activities, pursuing of Ph.D. courses, publishing research articles and such activities in the interest of the ‘healthy’ growth of the Library and Information Science profession. Thank you for an interesting post there.

  • 5. Somnath chanda  |  December 15, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Please give me a topic on that subject.

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