Ibekwe, Fidelia. European origins of library and information science. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing, 2019. xvi, 201 p. ISBN 978-1-78756-718-4. €89.95. (Studies in Information, 13).
Attempting research of the European origins of any study area may be challenging as it is quite problematic to account for historical, economic, political and social differences or variety of traditions in many diverse countries, especially, in any culturally bound area of social sciences and humanities. Languages pose additional challenges for a bold researcher as the origins of these study areas usually are local, rather than global and foreign or international influences are interpreted in a very particular national context. Thus, seeing the book on the European origins of library and information studies I immediately felt conflicting emotional response: admiration of a heroic attempt of the author and sceptic disbelief that it could be successful.
The hero of the review is the author of this interesting study, which presents the review of the development of library and information science in France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and former Yugoslavia (or the Balkan countries). Fidelia Ibekwe's native country is Nigeria where she received a Bachelor's degree. Then she moved to France and completed her Master's and doctoral degrees in Information and Communication Sciences there. She worked in different French universities and at present is a professor at Aix-Marseille University. Thus, she is acquainted with cultural differences within academia, library and information science institutions, and the development of libraries. She is aware of differences in traditions and is good at spotting relationships and influences between them. This experience and knowledge has helped her to identify the key moments and the most important features in the historical development of library and information science in the countries that she is focusing on. It has also allowed her to account for the limitation of the study: text of European origins of any area of study that does not include German and Russian traditions, let alone the United Kingdom, where the terms 'information scientist' and 'information science' were invented, does not exactly deserve the title. On the other hand, the countries that she is exploring are quite different and it would be difficult to find a suitable umbrella term for a general explorative study of their library and information studies.
All in all, the heroic deed undertaken by the author has been accomplished and the foundation for further development of the topic is laid. Anyone who would like to get an overview of how library and information science has emerged and developed in any of the seven countries can get a reasonably good understanding of general trends and present situation as well as correct facts and plausible interpretation of them. Having in mind that the author has mainly relied on English publications (except for France) and oral histories told by her interviewees, the accounts of each country are quite impressive, though not derived from traditional historical sources. The chapters on the countries are rather descriptive and the most analytical effort on examining the terminological and conceptual issues is moved to the Chapter 5: In search of the identity and the object of discipline. On the other hand, some chapters, e.g., on French, Norwegian and Yougoslavic documentation and information science, include more material on conceptual approaches of particular researchers, while others are gliding through the descriptions of the events, institutions and people. This inconsistency of presentation is understandable and demonstrates the common sense approach of the author when the less know contexts are covered not as exhaustively as the ones that are close to her own research. This also adds to the trust that a reader can feel towards the text and its author, especially, as she openly discloses her bias at the start of the book.
However, this makes one feel that the book is composed of separate chapters based on rather different premises and data and does not consist a coherent study as the title would suggest. One can understand the pragmatic underpinning of the differences between the chapters and the data, but this does not remove the evident deficiency of the study - the inconsistent and somethimes fragmentary treatment of the topic depending on the accessibility of data. In this respect, the approach to the data collection is also raising doubts. Why is only one respondent chosen for three rather different Nordic countries, while eight are interviewed in Spain? Having in mind the list of acknowledgements, one can presume that many more respondents could be available for interviews using online options. I am sure their stories would have enabled to provide more rounded and less biased accounts, as they are biased, not only because of the lack of documentary sources in local languages, but also because of specific perspectives of the interviewed local scholars. Thus the analysis also becomes somewhat biased and the humanistic and cultural tradition of the library and information science does not get a fair treatment in comparison with harder informational trends.
There is another doubtful decision taken by the author regarding the subchapter 4.7 Network of links between European pioneers of library and information science. Why is it included in the chapter on Spain and Portugal and not in the later analytical one remains a mystery to me.
Despite of the more or less understandable shortcomings of the book, I am sure that it is a useful and necessary text that hopefully will inspire the researchers accross Europe to fill in the gaps and provide different interpretations of the library and information science traditions in Europe. First and foremost, I would recommend it to the students and teachers of the relevant departments at the universities.
University of Borås < /br> August, 2019
How to cite this review
Maceviciute, E. (2019). Review of: Ibekwe, Fidelia. European origins of library and information science. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing, 2019. Information Research, 24(3), review no. R669 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs669.html]
Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.