“Research is both science and passion, knowledge and feelings”: Interview with José López Yepes, Emeritus Professor from the Complutense University of Madrid

We continue with the interview that we began yesterday with José López Yepes, advocate of university studies in library and documentation science in Spain and one of the chief experts in its philosophical underpinnings.

(Archivoz) Another highlight of your career has involved assisting new researchers in their development through thesis supervision, and in that capacity you have advised some of the most outstanding researchers in our field. What are the most important elements in the work of a thesis supervisor?

(José López Yepes) Indeed, I attribute this to my teacher, Professor Desantes, and the effort he and other mentors made to instill in me a vocation for research. He was a great research director, and he trained me well. In a letter recently sent to the magazine El Profesional de la Información, I have addressed this question. It is about recognizing that research is both science and passion, knowledge and feelings; that the director must take both of these aspects into account and that he must be present in each and every one of the phases of the investigative process; that he is jointly responsible for it and that he shares with the thesis candidate both in the process of research and in the end result. Ultimately, it seems to me that the role of the director is essential to the choice of the topic, in the insistent monitoring of the work schedule and in the careful reading of the developing text, taking into account the caliber of a  doctoral student’s contributions to scientific knowledge as well as in terms of style and quality of writing. A good thesis, a true thesis not only solves useful scientific problems but also communicates its content well. All this requires that the director of the thesis enjoy the task since his main compensation is the satisfaction of having trained a new researcher and of having learned together with him, that is, having reached the top together.

(Archivoz) I daresay that all the students in Spanish universities, and a large portion of the students in Latin American universities, have been introduced to this science by way of your textbooks (in my case, that textbook was What is documentation? : the history of the concept in Spain), which are a doorway to a field of knowledge the diversity and breadth of which perhaps until then we as students did not fully understand. How do you teach your students that before advancement in the knowledge of a discipline is possible, they must first think and reflect on the nature of their understanding? What would you highlight about your years as a university professor?

(JLY) The evident starting point for the study of any discipline is a knowledge of its historical origins and its current state of development. Disciplines such as law, medicine, or philosophy, that enjoy a long tradition and pedigree, have been defined, established, and strengthened over time and are not often questioned. On the contrary, in our field it is not like that. Ours is a relatively young disicpline (for example, within the Spanish university it has been an official field of study for less than 50 years). Hence the frequency with which we ask ourselves in writings and in forums what we are, what professional in our field should look like, and what our role should be in the scientific and social community. I dealt with these questions in my books of 1978 and 1995, and more recently in a booklet entitled The science of documentary information : the discipline, the document, and the information professional in the digital age (Mexico DF, 2015), which summarizes all my concerns in this area. In Spain, I have noticed less interest in these theoretical and epistemological questions than is expressed in other countries in our academic environment, such as Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

Regarding the last part of the question, what stands out most from my career as a professor of documentation science is the real intellectual adventure represented by entry into this field. I was able to discover and explore new territories, which increased my enthusiasm and enthusiasm for an institution such as the university, whose nature never disappoints. My work was made easier by the fact that I always had teams of enthusiastic people working with me. For me, happiness and a career in the university go hand in hand.

I still think that the terminological conflict that our discipline suffers from is a hindrance to an understanding of what our field is, the paths we should follow Click To Tweet
(Archivoz) You are one of the great experts in the philosophical underpinnings of information and documentation science. After all these years, where have your reflections on these issues led you? How does the speed at which our field progresses influence these questions?

(JLY) Thank you for the compliment. As your question notes, the search for a philosophy of documentation has been a constant theme throughout my work in the field, as have the methodological and evaluative aspects of research. I still think that the terminological conflict that our discipline suffers from is a hindrance to an understanding of what our field is, the paths we should follow, and, above all, exactly how to position ourselves within academia and as professionals. We cannot fall asleep. On the contrary, we must constantly rethink these issues and revise them continually, given the speed of movement in an information-bsed society. Keeping this in mind, I have tried to promote this type of research and, of course, to attend forums on the study of these issues.

(Archivoz) Finally, we did not want to bid you farewell without congratulating you on your numerous national and international recognitions, having even being named “Doctor Honoris Causa” by the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (Bolivia). Could you tell us a bit about your relationship with Latin American universities and the work that has been done there in recent years?

(JLY) Once again, thank you very much for your congratulations. The fact that you ask this question is the best recognition I could receive at the end of my administrative career. It is something that has left an indelible mark on me and has allowed me to establish personal and very affective ties with the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés de La Paz, especially with its Faculty of Humanities and Education and, more specifically, within the Information Sciences program. I have observed a great partnership there between teachers, students, and administrators who share a common goal, an immense desire to learn and to seek new horizons. I cannot fail to mention the Dean of Faculty, Mtra. M. Eugenia Pareja, and the program’s director, Lic. Freddy Maidana, who are individuals with a great capacity for enthusiasm. I enjoy a strong relationship with Mexican universities. Mexico was in fact my first host country, since Dr. Elsa M. Ramírez, current director of the UNAM library system, approached us to establish an arrangement enabling select researchers from the University Center for Library Research (currently IIBI) could obtain a doctorate from our program in Spain. The first doctorate awarded was to Dr. Araceli Vargas, the current director of the IIBI. That first seed has borne interesting fruit: in addition to producing the Hispano-Mexican Seminars, participants from other universities, such as San Luis Potosí, Chiapas, Baja California Sur, ENBA, Panamericana, and Iberoamericana have joined this program. In all, forty-two doctorates have been awarded to candidates from Mexico over the last twenty-five years, work that has been strongly supported by academic leaders in that country, such as Dr. Estela Morales, former coordinator of Humanities at UNAM, and by the directors of our department in Madrid, such as Dr. María Teresa Fernández Bajón.

(Continuation of the interview published yesterday, January 4, 2021, and conducted on November 18, 2020)


Interview conducted by Victor Villapalos

Cover image by Antonio Peiró

 

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