Rachel Ivy Clarke, Syracuse University iSchool

Rachel Clarke Headshot

It’s Not Rocket Library Science: Reconceptualizing Librarianship as a Design Field

Session Description: For thousands of years, libraries and librarians have made artifacts to enable access to and use of information resources—everything from cataloging rules to sensory storytimes. Yet despite this focus on creation, American librarianship has positioned itself as a social science. Although many different scientific approaches have been used in the field, few since the beginnings of the 20th century have approached librarianship as if it was not a science at all. In recent years, a well-established record of research has demonstrated that design is a fundamentally different than science. Design creates artifacts intended to solve problems and, ultimately, change the world from its existing state to a preferred state. This presentation will discuss the implicit role of design in librarianship and its effects on user services and professional values, culminating in a provocative reconceptualization of contemporary librarianship as a design field, with recommendations for explicitly incorporating this new perspective into library research, education, and practice.

Professional Information

Formerly the cataloging librarian at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Rachel Ivy Clarke is currently an assistant professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies. Her research centers on the reconceptualization of librarianship as a design profession (rather than a scientific one) to facilitate the systematic, purposeful design of library services for the 21st century. She holds a BA in creative writing from California State University Long Beach, an MLIS from San Jose State University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington.

Research Interests

The bulk of my current research focuses on reconceptualizing librarianship as a design profession rather than a scientific discipline. Design is a creative discipline that often seems magical and intimidating to outsiders. Yet design reflects unique ways of knowing and assessing knowledge, different from traditional science. My dissertation, “It’s Not Rocket Library Science: Design Epistemologies and American Librarianship” analyzes examples of artifacts created through American library history to argue that librarianship is truly a design discipline. Continuing work draws on the idea of critical design–the creation of provocative artifacts to challenge established assumptions–to reveal ways in which libraries can explicitly, rather than implicitly, demonstrate and empower the values that set them apart from other information service providers. I also explore ways of incorporating design epistemology into both formal and informal LIS education.