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Case study approach for LIS education – a book review*

M S Sridhar@

N G Sathish and Anil Takalkar. Case studies for teaching library management. Edited by L J
Haravu. Secundarabad: Kesavan Institute of Information and Knowledge Management, 2012, xv
+ 159p, Paperback, Rs.290/-.

Teaching and practice, unfortunately, are two different streams in Indian librarianship and they
meet quite rarely. With an exception of a few, most teachers of LIS have no option than
borrowing case studies from others’ experiences for presenting to their students, if at all they
wish to do so. Well articulated true-to-life case studies are not easily and readily available. Here
is a book which very effectively fills this gap and probably the first of its kind to provide a number
of well thought out case studies of library management. The book has 39 case studies, a brief
introduction to library management, ‘case analysis’ for the first two cases and ‘suggested
discussion leads’ for the remaining cases.

Changing from ‘teaching’ to ‘learning’ is an important shift in education and case study method
has a role to play in this process. For a long time, the structure of management education itself
gave prime importance to case studies. Almost every LIS course has also ‘library management’
as a subject and management theory is taught regularly as propounded in management text
books minus cases from the experiences of practitioners. Even nascent topics like ‘strategic
management’, ‘change management’, ‘disaster management’ are routinely taught in master’s
courses and even explored for doctoral works without practical cases to record and discuss.
This book provides sufficient scope to library education for adopting, though belated, case
studies approach and fuel for gaining momentum and mileage. Case studies method of learning
is going to be revolutionary for library education. It calls for whole hearted commitment and a lot
of efforts on the part of faculty to make it happen.

Each case study is well presented like a mini story in an interactive mode and in a typical
journalistic style in the book. I am sure practitioners would love these case studies as each one
looks as if it is their own. Having retired four years ago, as I read through the case studies, my
memory is stirred and made me involuntarily and vividly recall number of similar incidents in my
own career. I consider this as a testimony for the effectiveness of case studies presented in the
book. There are case studies on many important and practical issues of libraries. I wonder this
compendium of case studies may also serve, in a limited way, as a brief history of management
of Indian libraries during two crucial decades of 1980s and 1990s when they were on the verge
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of automation and entering digital era. I congratulate the authors and the editor of the book for
this path-breaking attempt to imbibe case studies in library education. Now, it is up to the faculty
of library schools to take this forward and make the case study approach a reality in LIS
education. It is highly desirable that the book is also reviewed from the perspective of teachers
highlighting problems/ obstacles, if any, in implementing the case study approach.

The right, wrong or hypothetical nature of case studies is immaterial. More importantly, what
makes case studies complete is their ability to involve participants after presentation (i.e.,
invoking wide participation with intensive discussion/ debate). I am confident that the case
studies in this book have that quality to evoke absorbing discussions in group meetings both in
library schools and in professional meetings of practitioners (incidentally, the case study
approach of management teaching should not be mistaken or equated with case study as a
method in research methodology). Each case study in the book has well thought out, practical
and sufficiently intricate plot. Resolving such cases is certainly a good practical exercise that
every student must undergo. It is not just the theoretical knowledge of management technique/
tool but the rich experience and the insight into librarianship that is more important in case study
method.

An exposure to management theories and some understanding of the practical working of


libraries are the two important pre-requisites for adopting case study approach to learning. The
book, fortunately, has a brief introduction to library management and as claimed by the authors
it is intended to facilitate the use of the case method as a means of addressing typical problem
situations presented. This is an excellent, but highly brief exposition on ‘library management’ as
a preamble to case studies and obviously stands separate from the case studies. Though it
touches upon most of management concepts and techniques, a little more elaborate adjunct
library management manual either embedded with or cross referenced to case studies is
desired. While doing so, if embedding is not feasible, at least grouping case studies by the
management facets or skills involved will make the book more like a work book for class rooms
as it is not supposed to be read from the beginning to end. Alternatively, an index of case
studies using broad management issues like leadership styles, HR strategy, organization
culture, job description/ enrichment, motivation/ de-motivation, communication (or lack of it),
responsibility/ power struggle, and win-win situation is more convenient to students.

It is high time that practical sessions in LIS education include more and more case studies. We
can expect more case studies in the future revision of the book and also additional books on
case studies embedded in library management, if LIS schools show adequate interest. No

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doubt, course material and teachers have important roles in supplementing the book with
management theories and library practices. Authors do provide a very useful ‘case analysis’ for
the first two cases and ‘suggested discussion leads’ for the remaining cases at the end making
the book quite close to a practical work book. It is indeed a reference manual for teachers and
students of LIS. An apprehension about the ‘suggested discussion leads’ is that they are
indicative of answers (i.e., what is right or wrong) and as they are not expected to be
exhaustive, they may indirectly restrict or direct the thinking process of students. An alternative
is to either give generic examples and guidelines to raise questions or give fairly exhaustive
questions for two sample case studies.

There is one potential danger in the perception of these case studies. That is some case studies
are concerned with so called routine/ mundane functions and services of libraries.
Unfortunately, some wrongly think or believe that case studies involving library circulation, shelf
arrangement/ rectification, etc. as trivial or less important and even not-so-professional. In fact
this wrong perception of some professionals, particularly academicians and IT stalwarts, itself is
an theme/ objective covertly addressed in these case studies. When management gurus are
exploring use of video games and other advanced tools and techniques for teaching and
training, LIS should at least make a modest beginning with the good old case study method.
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*
SRELS Journal of Information Management, February 2013, v. 50 (1) 131-132.
@
Former Head, Library & Documentation ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore. Address: 1103, ‘Mirle
House’, 19th B Main, J P Nagar 2nd Phase, Bangalore – 560078; E-mail: mirlesridhar@gmail.com