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Faculty Profile: Library Science

Historical Background

The School of Library Science was established in 1968, located in an area now fully occupied by the H.T. Coutts (Education) Library. The first class graduated in 1969, a class that still considers itself very special, with a Bachelor of Library Science, a one-year post-baccalaureate degree.

The decision to provide library education in the prairies had not been a hasty one. Library administrators at least, had foreseen the demand for professional librarians and were advocating a graduate program from the end of World War II. With the tremendous development of educational programs during this period and a renewed emphasis on adult education, libraries were established in every sphere — schools, colleges, universities, cities, small towns, and rural areas. The demand for librarians in industry and government, especially in the more industrially developed and developing areas, competed with the demand in educational institutions and in the municipalities. By the ‘fifties, the competition for the thin trickle of Canadian graduates was fierce, and librarians from any anglophone area were welcomed. Prairie students were recruited and sent elsewhere for professional education, only to be lured by the libraries and "fleshpots" of the East. In 1961, British Columbia opened a School of Librarianship, the first in the western provinces. Its graduates frequently refused to leave the coast for positions in the prairies. Gradually the prairie librarians managed to coordinate their efforts: the availability of professional personnel could only be improved by the establishment of a school in the prairie provinces.

The question was where? Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Edmonton were all interested contenders. Marjorie Sherlock, former Chief Librarian at The University of Alberta had planned the top floor of the Rutherford Library (now Rutherford South) to accommodate a library school, part of the space which the Faculty now occupies. By 1964, the needs were such that a committee of prairie university librarians, chaired by Morton Coburn, Chief of Edmonton Public Library and including Bruce Peel, Librarian to The University of Alberta, on behalf of the library associations of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, presented a brief to the Presidents of the western provincial universities, asking them to approve the establishment of a library school to provide for prairie requirements. The brief indicated the extent of, and anticipated need for professional librarians in the area, and evaluated the relative merits of the cities of Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg as "library bases" for the projected school.

Alberta took up the challenge and a school was approved by the University's Board of Governors in 1965 and assigned by the Universities Coordinating Council to the Edmonton campus in 1966. Thereupon a Search Committee, chaired by President Johns, set about finding a Director. Potential directors and faculty were no easier to find than librarians at any other level, and it was only after considerable effort that the Committee was able to secure the services of Sarah Rebecca Reed, then Library Education Specialist in the US Office of Education. Sarah Reed was appointed Director in 1967. She immediately began recruiting potential faculty even before she left her Washington office. This was typical of her energy and dedication which, combined with her experience, close association with Canadian librarians, rapid assimilation into, and appreciation of the Canadian library situation, enabled her to develop a firm foundation in facilities, faculty and curriculum. In 1970, the School applied for accreditation by the American Library Association which acts on behalf of the Canadian Library Association. Accreditation granted in 1970 provided recognition that the quality of the graduate program met the educational standards established within Canada and the United States, thus rendering the graduates competitive within both countries. In 1971, after four dynamic years of leadership, Sarah Reed returned to the US. She has been succeeded (1971-76) by M.E.P. Henderson, from The University of Alberta;(1976-79) by C.H. Davis, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and, since 1980, by W.J. Kurmey, from the University of Toronto.

The BLS was a one-year post-baccalaureate degree involving, of necessity, a structured sequence of required courses with a limited number of options allowing individual specialization. The increasing scope and sophistication of library science necessitated a more extensive basic knowledge represented by course content which should be mastered by all students.

The first MLS (Master of Library Science) degree program was developed in conjunction with library science and media specialists in the Faculty of Education, primarily for school librarians, and was approved in 1970. A year of additional full- or part-time study for experienced librarians with the BLS degree was required. The year 1970-71 saw an increase in courses available for the MLS to accommodate the demand by returning BLS candidates from all sectors of the profession for advanced specialization. The most recently developed program is an MLS (Learning Resources) degree for teachers which includes significant components of both library science and education courses. Unfortunately, the continuing financial constraints on education do little to encourage teachers to undertake graduate library studies.

The School became the Faculty of Library Science in 1976, discontinuing the BLS degree and adopting a two-year MLS degree in accordance with the pattern of education recommended in 1968 by the Canadian Association of Library Schools and endorsed by the Canadian Council of Library Schools in 1971. The change to an MLS degree was undertaken following two years of curriculum study and planning involving the faculty, students, alumni, members of the profession, professional associations, and representatives of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research. It marked but the first step, for the curriculum has been under review with varying degrees of intensity ever since. The move to expand library science programs to two years in Canada and the United States is based on a reassessment of educational objectives and on the need to examine new developments within the profession and adjacent fields. With the implementation of the MLS program by the Faculty, all seven library science programs in Canada are two-year MLS degree programs.

As soon as possible, shortly after the first MLS class graduated in 1978, the Faculty applied for accreditation for the new professional degree program. This too involved considerable effort for two years, gathering and presenting data, much of which consisted of self-study and analysis. The present program of study was accredited in January, 1979. The Faculty is the smallest in the University' and remains the only Faculty with an entirely graduate program.

Professional Education

Graduate professional library education suffers from the same difficulty which has concerned all professions in all ages; namely, the conflict between theory and principles, and the technical and practical skills employed in professional practice. A constant concern of the Faculty is the appropriate balance between the apparent extremes. Formal library education until 1935 emphasized technical skills now assumed, in large measure, by para-professional training available in library technician programs in community and vocational colleges. In some cases, employers still mistakenly expect this type of training from graduates of professional degree programs. The information explosion and its pervasive technology is having a galvanic effect on libraries and information services. Professional library education programs are considering principles and theory as never before.

The activities of the librarian and the nature of professional practice in library science are changing rapidly with the increasing use of automation, the proliferation of commercial information services, the emergence of information delivery to the home environment, the availability of library technicians and para-professional personnel, and the evolving interdependent relationships among the library, the information industry and society. Social issues associated with the provision of library and information services have had an explosive impact on professional ethics and practice; the conflict between invasion of privacy and speed, convenience, accuracy in delivery of information; the information overload conflict between exponential growth of recorded information and the unchanged capability and capacity of comprehending and assimilating information; the conflict between rapid expansion in increasingly narrow, diverse, specializations and generalization to the extent that a generalist within a profession is now considered a type of specialist; the conflict between the information poor and the information rich, an increased class distinction associated with a lack of basic information skills; the future shock of attempting to keep up with rapid change in all aspects of society where availability and possession of information now denotes power; the intellectual property issue involving conflict between ownership and possession, and accessibility and distribution of information. The librarian's responsibility and accountability for the quality of professional practice has never before been of such vital concern to a society which now considers the major role of the librarian as the "gatekeeper" of recorded knowledge.

The goal of the Faculty is to educate students to achieve excellence in applying theoretical, analytical, and critical skills to the professional practice of library science. The role of the librarian as an administrator, designer of information services, or practitioner, requires continual adaptation to change — the only constant in the dynamic and challenging profession of library science. The Faculty recognizes its responsibility to provide a stimulating learning environment for examination and exploration of the theoretical foundations, functions, services, and potential of library and information science (inside or outside the traditional library institutional environment), and to provide for creative investigation and research into specific aspects of library science with particular emphasis on significant Canadian issues.

The objectives of the MLS degree program are:

1) to prepare students to select, locate, organize, and disseminate information, and to develop and administer programs of service, in all types of institution environments including the library.

2) to provide students with the knowledge of current analytical principles for the organization and interpretation of the intellectual content of print and non-print materials based on intellectual level or subject discipline.

3) to introduce students to the theories and concepts of administration and organizational behavior, and their application within the context of the information industry as a whole, and the library in particular.

4) to develop the students' abilities to analyse and critically evaluate the utility, performance, and impact of advanced technological applications, including the potentialities and limitations of computer and electronic communications media.

5) to provide students with the knowledge of the social, political, and economic factors influencing the behavior, growth, performance, evaluation and design of activities involved in the provision of information to communities of information consumers.

6) to develop the students' understanding of the principles and methods of research, systems evaluation, and problem solving prior to conducting an investigation of a specific problem of interest to the students.

7) to provide the students with an opportunity to expand and develop individual interests in an area of specialization within or related to library science.

8) to develop the students' ability in decision making; ability to predict the impact of decisions under varying social, economic, political, and organizational conditions; ability to design selective feedback mechanisms for monitoring and comparing actual behavior and performance; and the ability to evaluate objectively the entire organizational pattern of an information system adjusting the system parameters to match environmental constraints with priorities in order to achieve long-range and short-range system objectives.

The responsibility of the Faculty includes the provision for encouraging professional development programs for librarians in the prairie provinces and for the delivery of continuing education programs to practising librarians in Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well as Alberta.

Graduates of the Faculty should be able to make decisions and either implement them in practice or administer an implementation program. The decision-making ranges from determining the most effective way to answer a reference question to managing the re-organization of the information services of an entire institution. Graduates of the Faculty have a professional obligation to make an active and intelligent contribution to the profession, if only through assuming responsibility for ensuring a high standard of quality of their own professional conduct and practice.

Significant changes in a well established profession cannot be accomplished overnight. Library science, perhaps more than any other profession, has arrived at a critical juncture at which it desperately needs research to provide a firm foundation for future development. The traditional bibliographic emphasis is alone no longer adequate to meet the changing needs to cope with the "information explosion." There is an evolving recognition that library science has its own area of human experience to analyse, its own body of descriptive and factual data, its own conceptual schemes to formulate and test. Some of the most critical areas in which research is required are:


The techniques, philosophy, and scope of education for library science.

Use and users

Information and reader services; expressed and unexpressed goals for different kinds of users (students, specialists and the public); variations in user patterns caused by geographic, economic, social, or other factors. Organization of library and information services Administration, management, personnel (including manpower utilization, staffing, labor relations), finance, government relations.

Role of libraries and information centres in society

Purposes, values, goals, relationship with other educational and cultural institutions; influences of various communications media; public relations; recruiting; the library science profession. Integration of library services in school and academic instructional programs

Curriculum development, planning; instructional programs at the elementary and secondary levels.

Control of resources Documentation; book, card, microimage catalogues; subject analysis; classification; indexing; abstracting: provision of an optimum collection for communities of users; network and systems planning and analysis: automation (software).


Preservation of materials; storage and physical access; reprography; automation (hardware).

Among the forms in which research is undertaken in library science are:

  • State-of-the-art studies Collection and integration or interpretation of existing research.
  • Feasibility studies Identification of the need for and feasibility of research, develop-ment, or other research-related activities within a clearly defined subject field.
  • Prototype development and hypothesis generation Formulation of an hypothesis or the development of a model to aid in the solution of a problem.

Testing and evaluation

Test of hypotheses or models in a controlled situation and evaluation of the results.

Demonstration and implementation Application of the generalization to a non-controlled situation to verify and, if necessary, to modify the formulation developed.

It should be recognized that little precedence for the research activities described exists in Canada. The Faculty, which has been increasingly turning its attention to research activity, must play a leading role in developing a more vigorous attitude in this area of library science.


When the Faculty was first estab-lished, it was assumed that there would be steady growth in number of students and faculty. Economic constraints, however, have slowed the prospects of growth considerably. The Faculty has a quota of 35 students with the prime constituency extended beyond Alberta to include Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The majority of students come from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in that order, but students are also accepted from all Canadian provinces and applications are received from the United States, Latin America, and "third world" countries. Graduates are employed primarily in the prairies, but have also found positions in other provinces, in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Scandinavia, Latin America, Africa and India.

Enrolment stability has been reached with a quota of 35 students in the first qualifying year. Under the quota, the Faculty accepts less than one-half the number of applicants to the program. This normally results in a student population of 70 full-time students in the two years, plus additional part-time students. With an approved academic staff complement of ten faculty members, only achieved in 1980, and with limited physical facilities, it is unlikely that any substantial increase in student enrolment will be possible, or desirable, in the near future. The faculty is responsible for 42 separate courses in the two years of the program in addition to supervising thesis and non-thesis projects.

During the period 1969-76, 397 students graduated with the BLS degree. An additional 891 students from the Faculty of Education and 224 special students have com-pleted library science courses.


Since 1978, 120 students have graduated from the MLS program, including those intending to graduate in the spring of 1981. Employment prospects for graduates are inevitably fewer than they were in the 1960s. However, with steady, if modest, expansion in the number of positions in Alberta and, to a lesser extent, in Saskatchewan, career opportunities in the prairie provinces are probably the best in Canada. The number of graduates and positions available locally appear to be matched fairly closely. A much less buoyant employment situation in Ontario, where there are two large library schools, provides considerable competition as the Ontario graduates look west for employment. The mobile graduate, anywhere in Canada, has reasonable expectations of a position. The graduate unable to relocate from a particular city or region may have to search diligently for a permanent position. Part-time and short-term employment is normally available, and very few graduates need wait more than a year for permanent employment, although not neces-sarily in the preferred areas of specialization or interest.

The 1980 statistics in the table above, seem rather encouraging, especially when compared with other parts of Canada. Most interesting is the apparent increase in university library as opposed to special library positions.

As the prairie region has been somewhat tardy in developing libraries, there is a sense of a need to catch up quickly with the rest of Canada. As a result, responsibility and promotion often come early. Graduates of the Faculty are already chief librarians in universities and colleges, in regional libraries, branch libraries or large urban systems, and in government and business libraries of varying sizes. At the assistant chief librarian level, graduates may be found in national libraries, provincial libraries and public libraries. A considerable number of graduates are seasoned middle managers, in both the traditional management situations and in charge of systems development in the widespread move to automated services. The librarian is no longer confined by the walls of a public service institution. Businesses large and small, banks, research establishments, lawyers' offices, hospitals, and government departments, realizing the benefits of rapid, accurate, current information, are setting up their own libraries and information centres, sometimes their own computer-based networks, employing special librarians. In the last decade, the position of consulting librarian has emerged, selling services for a fee, identifying a client's specialized information requirements and providing individualized information services. The consulting librarian is either self-employed or a member of an information consulting group. Several graduates have established their own consulting firms. In this arena of library science, experience, competence, imagination and salesmanship are imperative to attain success. There are also career opportunities with the commercial producers of data bases, with publishers and booksellers. At least one graduate has found a position in publishing. Opportunity for career advancement exists in specialty areas throughout the information industry offering exciting and challenging professional prospects in addition to the traditional "library" environment.

Continuing Education

As prairie libraries and librarians strive to keep up with and perhaps surpass developments elsewhere in Canada and the United States, a demand for continuing education has developed. To meet the demand, more of the regular courses are made available in evenings and in special sessions, especially summer sessions, when it is feasible to bring in specialists to extend the expertise available within the Faculty. Courses in archives administration, legal bibliography, and law librarianship have been recently offered and others are planned.

A survey sponsored by the Faculty was completed in the autumn of 1980, identifying the requirements of libraries in the prairies for continuing professional education. It is still in the process of analysis but is already providing guidance both for course revision within the MLS program and for the type of contribution that can best be made by the Faculty toward professional development. It is clear that the demand for education in management and automation is paramount. It is also clear that budgetary limitations of libraries make it very difficult for professional staff to obtain release time to attend courses if they must leave their place of employment to do so. Efforts to provide off-campus and out-of-province courses to help meet these demands have met with limited success. Given a scattered population of librarians, it is difficult to find enough subscribers wanting the same course at the same time. Distance education possibilities are being closely monitored but again, because of the small and scattered audience, they are still economically unfeasible. In both cases, the local resources for supporting degree courses and research are, in many cases, insufficient, presenting a considerable impediment to offering a course. The survey appears to indicate that efforts should be made to provide specific, single topic seminars or workshops which could be organized in conjunction with provincial library authorities and library associations. If appropriate, successful programs will be moved from centre to centre to respond to the most immediately identified areas of interest and concern.

Published May 1981.

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