rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 3: p. 257
Sources: Interdisciplinarity and Academic Libraries
Meagan Lacy

Assistant Librarian, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana

Medical humanities, environmental studies, game design: interdisciplinary academic programs are proliferating. This trend suggests that researchers are recognizing the need for new combinations of disciplinary knowledge, theories, and research methods to solve complex problems. The ongoing growth of degree programs, centers, and institutes raises the question, how do, or ought, libraries engage in interdisciplinary research? This latest monograph from ACRL’s Publications in Librarianship series offers multiple perspectives.

The opening essays provide excellent introductions to interdisciplinarity, making distinctions among multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and transdisciplinary research. Other essays address challenges to collection development, bibliographic control, and classification. Dan Hazen’s essay points out that some of these problems have persisted since the mid-twentieth century when area studies, women’s studies, and other interdisciplinary programs first started to appear. He notes limitations on interdisciplinary fields placed by established entities such as the Library of Congress Classification, which “reflects and reinforces a universe defined by disciplines,” and library catalogs that “still cannot manage Non-Roman scripts” (121). Other contributors focus on new opportunities for libraries to foster interdisciplinary research—especially in light of digital technology and digital scholarship. Ehrlich and Carreño’s chapter, “The Changing Role of the Subject Specialist Librarian,” is particularly inspiring: it showcases imaginative and innovative examples of library programs, services, pedagogical approaches, and community collaborations—challenging subject librarians to look beyond traditional roles and actively seek and assume new ones. To this end, the authors themselves admit, “profound mindset changes are required” (156).

In a way, interdisciplinarity has always been a priority in librarianship, “implicit in the library processes, standards, schemes, and services” (214). The librarian’s expert understanding of knowledge organization places him or her in a prime position to help researchers overcome disciplinary boundaries. Yet, despite this fact, no previous work has explicitly addressed how libraries can leverage this strength to become this “hub of interdisciplinarity” (4). This collection gets the conversation started.

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