Background Reading for CityLIS 20/21

For those of you planning to study for a masters in Library or Information Science, LIS, here are some suggestions for background reading in preparation for your course.

This is a personal selection of printed books, (although some may be available in electronic format), covering LIS from a broad perspective. The list is not definitive, and other academics and practitioners may well recommend other resources. I have listed the books in an order which would give a sensible overview of the field, although each stands perfectly well on its own.

Although the suggestions are chosen for those of you intending to enroll for the academic year 20/21 with the Library School at City, University of London, CityLIS, it is possible that my recommendations may be of wider interest to anyone interested in understanding LIS related content.

These books should be regarded as key texts; throughout the course we will provide more specific reading lists, including: books, papers, websites, blogs, Twitter accounts, videos, podcasts, artworks and places to visit. The literature is always evolving and expanding, but the foundational concepts of LIS remain valid.

In addition to discipline related background reading, those of you joining CityLIS will need to have a Twitter account, and a blog suitable for professional level and course related communication. We suggest WordPress for the blog.

Please follow us on Twitter @CityLIS, and also take some time to explore the materials posted on this blog, which will give you further insight into our content, interests and culture at CityLIS.

The Books

Intro to Inf SciBawden D and Robinson L (2012). Introduction to Information Science. Facet: London

In spite of the deluge of novelty, some texts remain fundamental and I will start by mentioning Introduction to Information Science, which I co-authored with David Bawden, as an accompaniment to our classes in 2012. The text remains a solid place to start if you need an overview of the sort of topics and concepts that are covered in courses relating to library and information science. The text has been very well received, and is now used internationally as a basis for understanding and framing the discipline. We give many ideas for further reading and pathways for following-up with areas you find interesting or especially relevant. You should be able to see the content from the link to the Facet Publications site.

Intro to InformationFloridi L (2010). Information: a very short introduction. OUP: Oxford

The success of OUP’s ‘very short introduction’ series marches on. This series has the enviable, dual status of being both informative, and collectable. It is impossible to stop at ‘just one’ and I find myself drawn by the physical aesthetics of the little volumes to regularly add one more to my set. I would like to mention two titles, which cover respectively the two concepts that are central to our courses: information, and its processing by computers. There are many books which cover information and computing, as neither of these subjects is unique to LIS. These books however, offer an approach suitable for readers from a wide variety of backgrounds, with an interest in information and its communication from a semantic perspective.

Firstly, information. Luciano Floridi is well known for his work on the philosophy of information, which informs our work within library and information science as a discipline and practice. This volume considers the nature of information, and the social and ethical implications it raises.

51UULOTow+L._AC_UL115_Gleick J (2011). The Information. Pantheon

If you enjoy the concept of information from Floridi’s ‘very short introduction’, you might like to read James Gleick’s wider story, “The Information”.


sc0004ffe2Magee B (2016). The Story of Philosophy. Dorling Kindersley

If you would like a wider introduction to Western Philosophy, try “The Story of Philosophy” by Brian Magee.



9780199586592Ince D (2011). The Computer: a very short introduction. OUP: Oxford.

Secondly, the computer. The LIS sector has been inseparable from technology for around 30 years now, although many information professionals still feel anxious when faced with understanding the mechanisms by which information is processed. Darrel Ince’s book offers reassurance, in explaining how a computer works, and importantly, why we need to know. The book is short, with a social focus, and technological pain will not last long.

9781783300419Dempsey L (2014). The nework reshapes the library. Ed. Varnum K. Facet: London

Having embraced the technology, Kenneth Varnum’s 2014 edited volume of Lorcan Dempsey’s writing, The Network Reshapes the Library provides good follow-up reading on how technologies are changing the work of the library professional. Dempsey writes on a diverse range of topics, covering library organization, services and technologies, and the evolution of the library to embrace the learning and research needs of inhabitants of the 21st century.

imagesWright A (2014). Cataloguing the World: Paul Otlet and the birth of the information age. OUP: Oxford

The modern information age, underpinning our library and information services today, is often attributed to the work at the turn of the 19th century by Paul Otlet. Alex Wright’s book Cataloguing the World: Paul Otlet and the birth of the information age is a wonderful telling of the story of humankind’s longstanding and continued effort to collect and organize knowledge, and Otlet’s part in this.

Otlet’s prescient understanding of the varied nature of documents was coupled with his work on the UDC, Universal Decimal Classification. The process of describing documents now embraces digital as well as physical items. Cataloguing and classification codes used to describe physical entities laid the foundations for modern day metadata; data about data, which is used to described and index the digital world.

9780262528511Pomerantz J (2015). Metadata. MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Jeffrey Pomerantz book Metadata describes the origins and types of metadata, how it is used, and why it exists.



Front cover image for the book Information and SocietyBuckland M (2017). Information and Society. MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts

A short, informal account of our ever-increasing dependence on a complex multiplicity of messages, records, documents, and data.


All of the books listed above should be available from the smashing City University Library for anyone who is already registered. If you need more inspiration, please take a look at my LibraryThing catalogue, where you can see books tagged for the modules I teach, or for LIS related topics in general.

If you would like to know more about our courses at CityLIS, please take a look at this slideshow available from our data repository at City. CityLIS: MA/MSc Library Science and MSc Information Science.

If you need more information, or have questions, drop me a line.

About lyn

Dr Lyn Robinson is Reader in Library & Information Science, and Head of Department at City, University of London. She established and directs the Library School, and co-directs the Centre for Information Science alongside Prof David Bawden. Contact:
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