An argument for transdisciplinary research for the library and information professions

by Tegan Darnell, Research Librarian, University of Southern Queensland

Put simply, ‘transdisciplinary’ research draws on work from a number of different disciplines to approach a problem or question in a holistic way, but it is distinct from other cross-disciplinary methodologies in that it describes research that attempts to interrogate space across, between, or beyond the disciplines.

Interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and multidisciplinary research remain inside the framework of disciplinary research. A library study that uses a method such as ethnography is one example of ‘interdisciplinary’ research, for example. A ‘transdisciplinary’ approach is one that attempts to understand the wider world in a way that is not possible within disciplinary research.

Transdisciplinary research is a way of attempting to understand and address the complexities of those ‘wicked’ multi-faceted problems that involve human beings, nature, technology and society. Climate change, artificial intelligence, poverty, and health are all areas where transdisciplinary studies are beneficial.

As LIS professionals, we are working in a field that is at the intersection between people, technology, ethics, information, and learning. Allowing ourselves to abandon the rigid ways of thinking established within disciplines such as education, information science, and perhaps even the term ‘evidence-based librarianship’ would allow LIS professionals to create the intellectual space to challenge our existing assumptions and realities.

Problems with complex social, economic, or ethical aspects such as:
• lack of diversity within the profession,
• scholarly communication and publishing models,
• copyright, intellectual property and piracy,
• technologist vs. humanist approaches to libraries,
• Western-centric approaches to information, knowledge and learning
could be approached with new conceptual, theoretical, and methodological investigations.

So, why is this important to LIS practitioners? Do you ever ask yourself:
• Are we really dealing with the problem here?
• Are we creating value for our community in the long term?
• Why are we paying for these subscriptions anyway?
• What is ‘authoritative’ information (and who says)?
• What about privacy?
• How can we address climate change as an organisation?
• How can I address my own ‘whiteness’ in my day to day professional practice?
• What does our preferred future library even look like?

I do. It is important to me that what I do affects the wider world in a positive way. In a very selfish way, when I go home in the evening I want to be able to tell my children that I do a job that makes the world a better place. If I can’t, I need to change what I’m doing.

Let’s make some connections with others, let’s find some new ways of thinking about solving these problems, because I’m ready, and I want some answers.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.