Athena Salaba, Knowledge Organization Requirements in LIS Graduate Programs in:

International Society for Knowledge Organziation (ISKO), Marianne Lykke, Tanja Svarre, Mette Skov, Daniel Martínez-Ávila (Ed.)

Knowledge Organization at the Interface, page 384 - 393

Proceedings of the Sixteenth International ISKO Conference, 2020 Aalborg, Denmark

1. Edition 2020, ISBN print: 978-3-95650-775-5, ISBN online: 978-3-95650-776-2,

Series: Advances in Knowledge Organization, vol. 17

Bibliographic information
Athena Salaba – Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, USA Knowledge Organization Requirements in LIS Graduate Programs Abstract: The importance of knowledge and information organization has become more evident in the larger and fast changing information environment. Educating knowledge organization professionals has been a long tradition of library and information science programs. This study reports preliminary findings on knowledge organization requirements and offerings of North American ALA-accredited programs and aligns them to professional competencies. Future research and work are needed on knowledge organization competencies and curricula for the wider knowledge organization professions. 1.0 Introduction Knowledge organization is of great importance in a global information landscape, and affects all economic, political, social, and educational sectors. Knowledge organization enhances scholarly discovery, technological innovation, entrepreneurial activity, artistic exploration and even public policy improvement (Szostak 2014). Standardization, representation, categorization, classification, description, and access all require knowledge of principles, theory, and different international and domainspecific standards and best practices. The creation and sharing of such information also require knowledge of tools and structures for storing, exchanging, and accessing this information. Preparing information professionals for careers in knowledge organization in a heterogeneous information environment is an enormous challenge for any library and information science (LIS) program, and even more challenging when most programs have limited opportunities for relevant coursework. Educating knowledge organization professionals does not stop with cataloguing or general and domain-specific metadata standards. To educate a well-informed professional, one needs to cover the broader context of knowledge representation, classification and indexing, conceptual models, best practices, data processing, data management, information systems, and technologies, including semantic web technologies. A balance of the theoretical and practical is necessary. In addition, other topics, such as ethical considerations, intercultural awareness, responsiveness to community needs, global trends, collaboration, and resource sharing are essential for students to learn. Drawing from an analysis of competencies developed by professional organizations, and relevant literature, this paper examines the program requirements for information or knowledge organization among the American Library Association (ALA) accredited master’s programs in North America. In addition, the paper provides a preliminary examination of their knowledge organization offerings beyond the core (required) coursework. 2.0 Competencies and Skills What is meant by competencies and skills? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines competence as the “possession of sufficient knowledge or skills”1. Hoffman (1999) 1 Competency.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 385 found that there are typically two types of definitions of competency; one referring to outputs of training as in competent performance, and the other as inputs or inherent attributes required by an individual to be able to achieve competent performance. Competencies are also defined as the “measurable or observable knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors (KSABs) critical to successful job performance” and are grouped into knowledge competencies (practical and theoretical understanding), skill and ability competencies (learned or natural capacities), and behavioral competencies (conduct) (Washington State 2012). Within the LIS field, competencies are also defined as characteristics of individuals. Fisher (2001) defined three types of competencies: professional, which are occupational-related knowledge and skills required for success at a particular work setting; personal, including attributes and behaviors of individual that would apply to any setting; and educational, acquired from studying a body of knowledge in a particular field. Dole, Murych, and Liebst (2005) define competencies as a “specific range of skills, abilities, or knowledge that enable or qualify someone to perform a particular function or to carry out selected responsibilities” (125) and exclude personal and behavioral characteristics. Several publications and presentations have examined knowledge and skills, including soft skills for metadata and cataloguing librarians but the literature on the competencies and skills required for the broader knowledge organization field is largely lacking. Evans et al. (2018) describe the process of developing the ALCTS core competencies for cataloging and metadata professionals. They conclude that the resulting competencies document “could serve as a starting point for students, practitioners, educators, and managers to plan for an individual’s growth and development across the span of a working life, from novice to mid-career professional and beyond” (Evans et al. 2018, 195) Several publications and presentations have addressed the skills required by cataloging professionals in library settings. They identify knowledge of and experience working with particular standards or particular knowledge organization systems, technology savviness, including semantic web technologies, metadata transformations, and metadata and ontology development skills (Joudrey and McGinnis 2014; Mitchell 2013; Carlyle 2013; Panchyshyn 2015). Fewer publications specifically address the importance of soft skills, such as effective communication, flexibility, openmindedness, and critical thinking (Bothman 2014; Han and Hwse 2010; Hall-Ellis 2015). Professional organizations and other groups have created competency and skills documents ranging from general lists for all librarians or information professionals to specialized lists for particular areas within the LIS field. In the North American context, ALA-accredited programs must show evidence that the curriculum “takes into account the statements of knowledge and competencies developed by relevant professional organizations” (ALA 2019, 5). Three sets of competency and skills relating to the work of library and information professionals that also address the area of knowledge organization to some degree have been used in this study: the ALA Core Competencies for Librarians, the ALCTS Core Competencies for Cataloging and Metadata Professional Librarians, and the Competency Index for the Library Field compiled by Webjunction. Due to the limited scope of this study to ALA-accredited programs in 386 North America, competency standards from other parts of the world have not been included here. The ALA Core Competencies for Librarians (ALA 2009), define eight areas in which every graduate of an ALA-accredited program should know or able to do. The third area, “Organization of Recorded Knowledge and Information,” includes three subtopics of principles, skills to organize the recorded knowledge and information, and systems, standards, and methods used in this organization process. The ALCTS Core Competencies for Cataloging and Metadata Professional Librarians (ALCTS 2017) have a more specific focus on competencies and skills for catalogers and metadata professionals within the library environment. The listing is grouped into knowledge, skill and ability, and behavioral competencies. The “knowledge competencies” cover principles, systems and technologies, and trends in the specific areas. Skills and abilities cover application of principles and standards, application of universal standards within the local context, and management of metadata within a bibliographic system. Behavioral competencies include a number of soft skills, such as communication, orientation for public service, adaptability, and problem solving abilities. WebJunction’s Competency Index for the Library Field (Gutsche and Hough 2014) drew from a number of existing competency sets also limited to the library setting. It defines essential competencies and a number of competencies for four specific areas or functions of a library. These include competencies related to library collections, library management, public services, and technology (systems and IT). It is within the library collection competencies that “cataloging” is included, as one of six subsets. The cataloging competencies cover use of bibliographic control standards to catalog resources and management of the catalog for users’ optimal access to the collection. Although information ethics are applicable to knowledge organization, separate codes of ethics, like IFLA Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers (IFLA 2016) and the ALISE Position Statement on Information Ethics in LIS Education (ALISE 2008) are not examined here due to their more general scope. 3.0 Knowledge Organization Education A number of publications surveyed the current state of cataloging education in the United States. In a series of four publications of a longitudinal study, Joudrey and others examine the evolution and current state of cataloging education in ALA-accredited programs, including teaching subject analysis and subject cataloging, suggesting that the complexity of subject access required a complex approach to teaching these topics and reviewing the information organization curriculum in ALA-accredited LIS programs, courses offering, program requirements, and trends and developments in information organization education (Joudrey 2002; 2008; Taylor and Joudrey 2002; Joudrey and McGinnis 2014). Saye (2002) addressed cataloging as a required course, curricular changes to include new areas within cataloging, the influence of LIS faculty on cataloging courses within LIS education, and the changing perception of the importance of cataloging in library and information studies programs. Davis (2008) provided an overview of the state of cataloging courses in ALA-accredited programs at the time, concluding that while most programs are offering courses on cataloging, and even requiring them, they tend to rely on introductory courses for the bulk of cataloging education. 387 In a series of publications, Hudon (2011; 2014) examined the knowledge organization and bibliographic classification instruction in ALA-accredited LIS programs in Canada and the United States, taking a closer look at course objectives. Among the findings are that teaching and learning objectives “are very general, and often rather vague, covering in a single statement many concepts and subjects” (Hudon 2014, 530). The balance of theory and practice in cataloging courses is a frequent topic of discussion. Many surveys of cataloging education considered the debate as one of the factors shaping curriculum, but several publications addressed the balance more directly (Moulaison 2012; Normore 2012; Intner 2002). Perceptions of students and supervisors on practica are also discussed. Damasco and McGurr (2008, 2010) conducted surveys of entry-level cataloguers and practicum students and supervisors to identify attitudes about practica and best practices for the practicum as part of the LIS curriculum. Interviews of LIS graduates conducted by Snow and Hoffman (2015) found that balancing theory and practice, teaching hands-on cataloging practice, and placing cataloging in a real-world context contribute to effective learning. 4.0 Methodology The scope of this study is limited to ALA-accredited programs in North America. Two programs were excluded from the directory provided by the ALA Office on Accreditation2. One due to the fact that curriculum information was not available in English and the second because it was granted accreditation around the data collection period. A total of sixty-four (64) accredited programs housed in sixty (60) academic units were included in this study. Among these academic units, 43 (67%) have some membership in the iSchools organization ( and 21 (33%) do not have any type of iSchools membership. For each program, the following data was collected: 1. required (core) information or knowledge organization coursework, defined a course required by all students in the accredited program, regardless of specialization path; 2. whether the program offers a set of courses that allow students to specialize in the area of information and knowledge organization; and 3. courses included in the specializations. For each course, the title and course descriptions were included in the analysis, which employed content analysis techniques using both manual coding and use of NVivo for the emergence of major themes. Competencies and skills relevant to knowledge organization from three sets were examined; the ALA Core Competencies for Librarians, ALCTS Core Competencies for Cataloging and Metadata Professional Librarians, and WebJunction’s Competency Index for the Library Field. Competency statements were then aligned to the course content as described in the official course description provided by each program on their websites or university catalogs of courses. 5.0 ALA-Accredited Programs Of the sixty-four programs examined in this study, 33 (52%) offer a Master degree of Library Science/Studies (MLS) or Library and Information Science/Studies (MLIS), 19 (30%) offer a Master of Science (MS) in LIS, information, or information science, and 2 388 12 (19%) offer a Masters of Arts (MA), Information (MI), Information Systems (MIS), Management (MM), etc. Of the sixty-four programs, 60 (94%) have a core course in IO/KO and 31 (51%) have a defined area of study in IO/KO identified either as a concentration, specialization, cluster, or a pathway. This is not to say that programs that do not declare a defined area in IO/KO do not offer additional coursework in this area. When comparing membership in iSchools, of the members, 20 (47%) offer MLIS degrees, 14 (33%) offer MS, and 8 (19%) other Master degrees, with 38 (88%) requiring an IO core course, and 24 (56%) offering a specialization in the area. Of the noniSchools, 13 (62%) (19%) offer MLIS degrees, 4 (19%) 3 offer MS, 4 offer other Master’s degrees, with all (100%) requiring a core course in IO/KO, and 7 (33%) offering a specialization in IO/KO. 6.0 Required Core Coursework in Knowledge Organization The majority of the programs, 94%, have a requirement for a course that covers topics in knowledge organization. Most of these courses are required of all students in the program. A few programs give an option between a select list of courses, one of which is an knowledge organization course. Figure 1: Analysis of IO/KO Required Courses Titles Required core courses in the IO/KO area were normalized and analyzed. Figure 1 shows title terms that appear in at least two core course titles. A comparison of the use of information vs. knowledge shows that “information” is used in forty-four core course titles, where “knowledge” is used only in thirteen course titles. Three courses have both information and knowledge in their title. Other terms appearing in the titles include “access,” “representation,” and “description.” Frequency of terms appearing ten or more times in course descriptions, are presented in Figure 2. The terms were normalized for reporting. The term “systems” is one of the most frequent term, with a frequency of forty, followed by the terms “theory” and “practice,” each appearing thirty times. Standards is also one of the top terms (frequency of 27). Concepts, structures and tools have the same frequency (19), followed by subject and vocabularies. Some descriptions mention specific standards and tools, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Dublin Core, Resource Description and Access (RDA), MARC, BIBFRAME, and XML, among others. 389 It is interesting to note, that although the core courses are introductory and content coverage is targeting all students in the program, preparing them for all types of IO/KO study, the term “library” appears fifteen times in these descriptions. This may be an indication that introductory IO/KO courses do not necessary cover knowledge organization in all settings. A more detailed examination of course content and learning outcomes is necessary to shed light on this observation. Figure 2: Core IO/KO Description Terms Description statements were coded using the NVivo software for thematic analysis, which resulted in a number of content themes emerging from this analysis. The top themes, appearing in ten or more course descriptions, are presented in Figure 3. The theme, a description of what is included in each theme when necessary, its frequency, and alignment to the three competency sets, ALA Core, ALCTS Core, and WebJunction’s competencies are included in the respective columns of Figure 3. The top three themes with a frequency higher than twenty are “principles,” including theories of IO, “information,” and “standards.” In this thematic analysis of the content, the theoretical coverage occurred more frequency than the practical aspects of IO/KO. Library cataloging received equal treatment as metadata creation. The two combined (freq. of 20) approximate the frequency of classification (freq. of 18). Very few (3) described the coverage of IO in broader contexts to address national and international coverage but also the need to implement universal (international) standards to local contexts for more effective community service. Settings, on the other hand, either specified (e.g., libraries), or inclusive (e.g., “in different environments”) received more attention in the core courses. Three themes have a direct alignment to all three competency sets: classification, cataloging, and context, although the broader context is not a topic that appears in many course descriptions. This can be explained by the scope of the competency sets, which are limited to libraries. In addition to these two topical themes, four themes, principles, standards, metadata, and IO approaches, align to both ALA and ALCTS Core 390 competencies. Fourteen themes align to the ALA Core statements, twenty-three to ALCTS Core statements, and nineteen align to WebJunction’s statements. The hunger number of alignments in the latter two can be explained by the detailed competency statements included in them vs. the very broad statements of ALA Core. Figure 3: IO/KO Core Course Themes and Competency Alignment 391 7.0 Knowledge Organization Specializations and additional Coursework Only about half of the programs offer a set of courses that is either identified as a cluster of courses, pathway, specialization, or concentration in knowledge organization, which allows students to have a more in-depth exposure in this area, beyond their core requirements. The data show that a higher percentage of iSchool programs offer a specialized program of study in IO than non-iSchool programs. An examination of the names (normalized) used for these specialized areas of studies, indicate that by far, “information organization” is the most commonly used name: Information Organization 18 Knowledge organization 2 Technical Services 6 Cataloging 2 Library studies 1 Collection management 1 Information Services, Organization, Management, and Use 1 The number of relevant courses associated with these specializations, ranging from none to sixteen distinct titles. In the cases where no courses are listed within the area of specialization, it is possible that a set of electives is available for the students to taken in consultation with their advisors. Courses listed in these specializations cover a variety of topics, as illustrated by Figure 4, with the most frequent being cataloging and classification, metadata, archives and records management, and KOS construction. Figure 4: Specialization Courses In most cases, additional courses are available to the students to further explore allied areas, such as rare book librarianship, digital technologies, text mining, and digital preservation. Additional data are needed for a more in-depth analysis of the content of additional elective courses and the frequency they are offered. During the data collection process, it became evident that many courses listed on the course catalog have not been offered for a while. In addition, many programs are revising their curriculum (a few program requirement and offerings changed at the start of the 2019-2020 academic year), which could be the result of continuous curriculum review, reorganization of academic units, trends, and shift in direction, all of which may affect the focus of the programs or the availability of courses. The literature points out the importance of a balance between theory and practice and the curriculum option for practica as part of LIS education. The data show that overall, the majority of the programs (78%) provide an option or a requirement for an internship or practicum to be counted towards the degree. Among programs that offer an IO/KO specialization, eight (8) require an internship or practicum as part of the program, two 392 (2) offer it as one of the options of an end-of-the-program requirement, sixteen (16) offer it as an option, 4 require it or highly recommend it to particular groups of students, and seven (7) do not offer it as an option or do not provide information about internships or practica. Among the programs that do not list an IO/KO specialization, two (2) have it as a requirement, six (6) offer it as one of the options of a program requirement, eleven (11) offer it as an option, one (1) require it only for a particular group of students, and six (6) do not offer an option or do not provide information on internships. 8.0 Conclusion In summary, this preliminary examination of the knowledge organization required courses and specializations in ALA-accredited programs shows that the majority of programs require an introductory course in this area. Not all programs offer courses beyond the required course, which means that students have a limited exposure to IO. This may be of concern, considering the important role knowledge organization plays in today’s information landscape, which goes beyond libraries. Additional research is needed to examine the content of the courses in more detail, the learning objectives, and their applicability to knowledge organization professionals in any information environment. Extending the scope beyond the ALA-accredited programs with provide insight on the needs for educating and preparing knowledge organization professionals world-wide. In addition, there are no international competencies, including knowledge and skills, for the broader field of information and knowledge organization, regardless of setting. Is it perhaps the responsibility of an international professional organization such as IFLA or ISKO to undertake such a task? How can LIS programs benefit from an international effort to define IO/KO competencies to adequate prepare their graduates for careers in this field? References American Library Association (ALA). 2009. Core Competencies of Librarianship. American Library Association (ALA). 2019. 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Joudrey, Daniel N. and Ryan McGinnis. 2014. “Graduate Education for Information Organization, Cataloging, and Metadata.” In: Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 52, no. 5: 506–550. McGurr, Melanie J. and Ione T. Damasco. 2010. “Improving the Practicum or Internship Experience in Cataloging.” Technical Services Quarterly 27, no. 1: 1-16. Mitchell, Erik. 2013. “Trending Tech Services: Programmatic Tools and the Implications of Automation in the Next Generation of Metadata.” Technical Services Quarterly 30, no. 3: 296–310. Moulaison, Heather Lea. 2012. “A New Cataloging Curriculum in a Time of Innovation: Exploring a Modular Approach to Online Delivery: Online Delivery of Cataloging and Classification Education and Instruction.” Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 50, nos. 2– 3: 94-109. Normore, Lorraine F. 2012. “Here be Dragons: A Wayfinding Approach to Teaching Cataloguing: Online Delivery of Cataloging and Classification Education and Instruction.” Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 50, nos. 2–3: 172-188. Panchyshyn, Roman S. 2015. “Skill Sets for Technical Services Staff.” Presentation at the Cataloging Norms Interest Group, Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, American Library Association Annual Conference, San Francisco, June 27, 2015. Saye, Jerry D. 2002 “Where Are We and How Did We Get Here? Or, the Changing Place of Cataloging in the Library and Information Science Curriculum: Causes and Consequences.” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly 34, nos. 1–2: 119-141. Snow, Karen and Gretchen L. Hoffman. 2015. “What Makes an Effective Cataloging Course?” Library Resources & Technical Services 59, no. 4: 187–199. 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The proceedings explore knowledge organization systems and their role in knowledge organization, knowledge sharing, and information searching.

The papers cover a wide range of topics related to knowledge transfer, representation, concepts and conceptualization, social tagging, domain analysis, music classification, fiction genres, museum organization. The papers discuss theoretical issues related to knowledge organization and the design, development and implementation of knowledge organizing systems as well as practical considerations and solutions in the application of knowledge organization theory. Covered is a range of knowledge organization systems from classification systems, thesauri, metadata schemas to ontologies and taxonomies.


Der Tagungsband untersucht Wissensorganisationssysteme und ihre Rolle bei der Wissensorganisation, dem Wissensaustausch und der Informationssuche. Die Beiträge decken ein breites Spektrum von Themen ab, die mit Wissenstransfer, Repräsentation, Konzeptualisierung, Social Tagging, Domänenanalyse, Musikklassifizierung, Fiktionsgenres und Museumsorganisation zu tun haben. In den Beiträgen werden theoretische Fragen der Wissensorganisation und des Designs, der Entwicklung und Implementierung von Systemen zur Wissensorganisation sowie praktische Überlegungen und Lösungen bei der Anwendung der Theorie der Wissensorganisation diskutiert. Es wird eine Reihe von Wissensorganisationssystemen behandelt, von Klassifikationssystemen, Thesauri, Metadatenschemata bis hin zu Ontologien und Taxonomien.