Training of librarians in Oslo

Change and development – but with an unchanged professional profile


The Norwegian School of Librarians was established in 1940 as the country’s first educational institution for librarians. The training lasted for nine months, required workplace practice before admission and focused primarily on public libraries. The duration of the study programme was gra-dually extended during the 1960s and 70s. Since 1972, the training has lasted three years. The expansion of the number of years of study has been paralleled by a development into a research-based vocational course of study.

The school has changed its name on a couple of occasions, and in 1994 it merged with Oslo University College. At approximately the same time, Oslo’s monopoly of library training was broken. Today, training of librarians is also provided by the University of Tromsø as well as the University of Agder.

A two-year extension at the master’s level has existed since 1983. To begin with, the master’s programme emphasized knowledge organization and ICT-related subjects. Since the late 1990s it has been expanded to include courses in all subjects that are included in our BA programme: Knowledge organization and retrieval, Library and society and Literature and user.

Today, the Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA) offers one-year studies as well as bachelor’s and master’s studies in library and information science, a master’s degree in library management and one-year studies as well as a bachelor’s degree in archivistics and document management. A PhD degree in library and information science is being developed. Our reflections will mainly focus on the BA and MA programmes in library and information science, which are campus-based, but allow students to complete the first year of the BA degree and several modules of the MA programme as remote studies.

The professional profile and “the complete librarian”

The purpose of the study programme for librarians in Oslo has been to train ‘the complete librarian’, a librarian who is in command of the entire spectrum of library and information science as a professional field. While the tendency within LIS (Library and Information Science) in other schools has been to take a more discipline-oriented direction, we have chosen to hold on to an interdisciplinary professional profile based on knowledge organization and retrieval, the social role of the profession and culture-related subjects. The purpose is to train professionals who can activate knowledge from all these fields in an integrated manner to respond to the users’ need for information.

In recent years, various factors have exerted an impact on the development of this study programme: changes in the skills requirements in the practical field, external reforms such as the Bologna process (a European collaboration that aims to establish a shared European space for higher education), the Quality Reform in higher education, demands for research-based teaching, and the guidelines stipulated by the Qualification Framework for Higher Education. Throughout these changes we have retained a unified professional model in which the first two years of the BA programme are the same for all, where the courses progress from one year to the next, and where the MA degree is based on a BA degree in library and information science.

There are many reasons for keeping this model, one of which is geography. Norway is a long and narrow, sparsely populated country. Many libraries have only one librarian, and it is essential to possess a broad set of skills. The choice of subjects made during their studies will not dictate where the candidates finally end up, and we have a responsibility for enabling them to enter various professional environments. The key justification, however, lies in our views on library and information subjects as an interdisciplinary profession similar to medicine, for example. It cannot be reduced to the individual disciplines that make up this professional unity.

Contact with the practical field

The library studies at Oslo and Akershus University College maintain close contact with the libraries, for example through work placement of the students for five weeks during the first and second years of studies. Practical work is motivating for the students, and gives them a better understanding of the theoretical subjects. We wish to maintain this work placement, even though it is not mandatory.

The competence requirements for practitioners are important for our planning. The study Library Reform 2014 pointed out the shortage of applicants for management positions in the library sector. Based on this we have developed an MA programme in library management, which is to start from the autumn term of 2012. The programme comprises management-related subjects from our regular MA programme, as well as subjects such as Administration and Management from the Department of Public Administration and social subjects from our own faculty.

In many countries, including the USA and the UK, an MA degree in library and information sciences is based on a BA degree in another subject. The same type of model is sought after in our country as well. We have assessed it, but have chosen to retain a BA degree in library and information sciences as an admission requirement. This is partly to ensure that the students will start at a sufficiently high level, and partly due to our views on library and information science as a profession. This kind of study progression is also in line with the intentions in the Qualification Framework for Higher Education. The BA degree provides the students with knowledge and skills at the basic level, while the MA level is advanced and involves specialization.

Continuing and further education

We have always seen it as our remit to offer continuing and further education through short or long training courses. Previously, this activity was funded by the ministry. Now, however, the continuing and further education activities are based on earnings in the form of completed ECTS points or external funding. This change has entailed consequences. Currently, most of the continuing and further education activities are accounted for by working librarians taking individual courses from the MA programme. These constitute a fairly significant group.

In large libraries it has become increasingly common to hire persons trained in something other than librarianship for management positions and as special librarians. These can provide the libraries with skills in areas that are not covered by our studies. There are many in this group who wish to take studies in library and information sciences as continuing and further education. Our new experience-based MA programme in library management admits students with other types of BA degree supplemented by relevant practical experience.

Challenges and the road ahead

The training of librarians is facing the same dual challenge as other professional training programmes: it should be research-based as well as practically oriented at the same time. We must provide the students with theoretical knowledge, train them to think scientifically and educate candidates to function in a practical vocation. How can we strike an appropriate balance?

The practical field may have greater expectations of the practical skills of our students after completion of their studies than we are able to or wish to provide. Our responsibility is to train candidates with a robust set of skills enabling them to cope with change and transcend current practices, and not only reproduce these practices. The future will bring other skills requirements than today’s. Here too, striking an appropriate balance represents a challenge.

The perspectives on professionalism that lie at the base of our training have interdisciplinarity as their goal. We cannot say that this goal has been fully achieved. Developing the programme in a direction that brings us closer to this goal is a third challenge.

In 2010, the librarian studies celebrated their 70th anniversary. What will the training programme look like when we celebrate the 80th anniversary in 2020? We will still have a professional profile, but perhaps the final year of the BA programme will allow for more specialization than currently. We envisage a well-established doctorate program-me with a stable community of 15-20 PhD students. Perhaps the archivistics programme and the library and information science studies will be more tightly integrated than they are today. And – the skills of the librarians will be in demand in even more areas than now.


Professor Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences
Head of Department Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences