MSc Information Management at UWE Bristol

Knowledge, skills and reskilling – where does the MSc fit in?   

Posted by Judith Stewart | 0 Comments 
04Aug2014
On July 1st, ALISS (Association of Librarians and Information professionals in the Social Sciences) organised a day conference in Cardiff on developments and innovations in staff development. I was pleased to contribute a presentation/workshop about the place of an MSc LIS qualification in the spectrum of professional development, and how the programme at UWE has been responding to current challenges in skills and knowledge required and desired by the profession.

What follows here are some of my thoughts on this, and of course they are my personal thoughts, not ‘official’ UWE thoughts.

One of the big, and ongoing, debates in Higher Education is whether the outcomes or purpose of your study for a degree is to become educated, or to be trained, and what the balance is or should be between the extremes of these two perspectives.

Is the purpose of a degree course to develop your knowledge and understanding of a subject and its relationship to the wider world, or to be trained in a set of skills: for a profession, or a particular role, or just for ‘the workplace’.

Some employers refer to ‘job ready graduates’ – to my mind a complete misnomer, and misunderstanding of what study in higher education is about – whether at first degree level, or at M level as we have in the various Msc or MA programmes in the LIS sector.

So how do we engage with this debate in LIS? Programmes need to enable students to develop
  • Subject knowledge
  • Professional skills
  • Personal or key or transferable skills
Is the desired outcome to equip you for your first professional role? OR more as a basis for the rest of your career?

Yes you will need to acquire a body of subject or professional knowledge – about the organisation of knowledge, the theoretical underpinning of digital and information literacies, information architecture, records management, legal context . . .  the range of topics is broad and evolving.

To an increasing extent, it is not possible to predict, beyond a certain point, what skills or knowledge will be needed in a professional life. Nor is it possible to predict the directions a career might take. So the other qualities and skills that need to be developed are the generic attributes that are recognised in most degree courses: the ability to evaluate, question and challenge, to be critical, to analyse and synthesise and present information, to be a successful team member (and that covers a multitude of skills), and other so called soft skills.

 How is the MSc Programme at UWE responding to these challenges?


All LIS courses are accredited by CILIP – the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals - http://www.cilip.org.uk/  as well as being validated by their host universities. UWE went through this process during June 2014 (as recorded elsewhere in this blog).

We have to map the content and learning outcomes of the programme against CILIP’s PKSB, - the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base. - and demonstrate that we meet the requirements of each section.

This is a much more direct link to requirements as delineated by the LIS professional body than we have had before. If you haven’t already looked at the PKSB, I would thoroughly recommend it.

Drilling down into the segments of the skills base reveals a whole host of skills and attributes. Under communication are the simple words – written and presentation [skills]. At UWE we emphasise the development of presentation skills – almost every job interview, and every professional role will demand this. In addition, each year recent graduates present their dissertation research to colleagues from the four universities in Bristol and Bath.

And we encourage our students to write up and publish their work with the support of a member of the teaching team.

At UWE, we have dropped the word Library from the title of  the MSc programme  in recognition of the different contexts in which information professionals  work. We now have students from diverse work environments – public and academic libraries, Records Management, digital publishing, and data management among them.

This has raised awareness of, and interest in all sectors among the student group – and among the teaching team, and we therefore encourage participants to look at the related professional organisations such as the British Computer Society,    and the Information and Records Management Society

The Programme team at UWE has regular discussions with Information employers in the region, where we find out what they want to see in information professionals joining their organisations. The outcomes of the latest of these forums is also reported on in this blog. Employers say they want people who can apply knowledge to a work situation, and be ready to undertake:

  • Project management
  • Bid writing for funds
  • Knowledge management policy
  • Records management
  • Information architecture
  Academic and public library colleagues focused on:

  • Advocacy
  • Partnership working
  • Digital literacies
  • Research support and data management
  • Library environment – physical and digital
  • Flexibility

We can see here the importance of taking the information service out into the wider parent organisation, and of developing more traditional areas of academic library expertise into the digital environment. Of most value however is the attitude and mind-set of the individual to be able to adapt and grow as technologies, and the social and economic environments change.

This applies just as much between sectors; it is vital that new professionals are flexible and can make connections; that they can transfer their knowledge and skills into different environments, and see their relevance to different projects.

At the workshop in Cardiff, participants worked in groups to discuss the skills and knowledge they thought to be relevant in different information environments, both now and in the future. Each group came to a similar conclusion: that the skills and knowledge required for working in any sector of the information profession are consistent across the board – transferable and interchangeable– although there may be a difference in the interpretation and expression of those skills.

The thing is – you never stop learning, so undertaking an LIS Masters programme is just the beginning.  . . .

The process of developing innovative, visionary and successful library and information professionals is not the sole responsibility of the LIS educator but must be viewed as a career long process that involves the individual, universities, training providers, employers and professional associations.

Hallam (2007) Education for library and information service. IN S. Ferguson, ed. Libraries in the Twenty-First Century: Charting New Directions in Information Services. Wagga Wagga. Charles Sturt University.

tags: skills, Professional Knowledge
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