Monday, March 06, 2006

Replies to Questions from the Library Research Round Table

I also received some questions from the LRRT. Here are the questions and my replies:

1. What do you see as the role of research in developing ALA initiatives (e.g., 21st Century Literacy)

21st Century Literacy is one of ALA's five Key Action Areas. The others are Diversity, Education and Continuous Learning, Equity of Access, and Intellectual Freedom. Each of these key action areas could be informed through research findings and provide rich investigative areas for future research. For example, I recently led a team of researchers in conducting the first study of ALA's Spectrum Scholars. Results of this survey of the first five years of Scholarship recipients will soon be available on the Office for Diversity Web site and will contribute to our understanding of Diversity, Education and Continuous Learning, and Equity of Access.

2. How can research inform the policy debates regarding E-rate, the USA PATRIOT Act, and other relevant issues facing libraries?

Research in LIS can greatly contribute to ALA's involvement in issues including protection of privacy rights and other public policy issues. For example, ALA has been directly and deeply involved in national-level discussion of the USA PATRIOT Act and has contributed to the wariness in Congress of providing a unanimous extension to all provisions of the Act. In 2005 ALA and two foundations (Carnegie and Ford) contributed funding to a study on Athe Effect of the PATRIOT Act on Privacy on U.S. Libraries@ (Dr. Abby Goodrum, Principal Investigator), the results of which have provided evidence to the U.S. government's use of the USA PATRIOT Act to secure patron circulation records in public libraries. These research results have been reported internationally and have contributed to a broader discussion of the impact of this legislation. Such studies not only inform ALA members and practice at the individual library level, they also can lead to greater visibility of ALA's principles and dedication toward the public good.

3. What Library and Information Science curricular content will best serve the profession in the 21st century?

It takes a supportive professional community to prepare new professionals. Contributing factors include the skills and backgrounds students bring to their programs, the LIS coursework they complete, student employment, involvement in professional organizations, and direction during the placement process. Once in the workforce, new librarians then begin a process of constant retooling.

The Standards for Accreditation of Master's Programs in Library and Information Studies 1992 provides this guidance on LIS curricula:

"The curriculum of library and information studies encompasses information
and knowledge creation, communication, identification, selection, acquisition, organization and description, storage and retrieval, preservation, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, synthesis, dissemination, and management."

At the same time the standards states that:

"The curriculum provides the opportunity for students to construct coherent programs of study that allow individual needs, goals, and aspirations to be met within the context of program requirements established by the school that will foster development of the competencies necessary for productive careers."

How can LIS curricula be best developed? What is the optimal balance of theory, attitudes, ethics, values, and skills? How can all of this be accomplished in a curriculum of twelve to fourteen graduate classes? Students continue to enter LIS programs from a variety of undergraduate programs. For many, their LIS programs are their first introduction to the field. How can curricula be developed to provide students with a broad foundation while allowing students opportunities to explore possibilities as well as hone their focus?

Successful LIS curricula can take a number of forms. These include, among others:
A. Prix-Fixe menu model: All students take the same courses, all of which are required. Requirements might also be sequential with students progressing through a series of pre-requisites.
B. Puu-Puu/appetizer platter model with entrée: Students complete a smaller set of core classes and then sample from an array of coursework, developing individualized programs of student.
C. Donut or no-core model. Students have no requirements and instead, take a series of electives that support each other rather than build on a central core.
LIS programs usually offer hybrids of these models with all requiring some courses of all students. Core classes typically include one or more survey or introductory courses on user clientele, information settings, issues, policy, and ethics; one on organization of knowledge; a management class; reference or search strategies; and research. Many programs have a required culminating experience such as fieldwork, a Capstone project, master's thesis or some other written report. This final project often provides exiting students with an opportunity to apply their skills in an LIS environment.

The required research class for master=s students enrolled in ALA accredited programs helps students prepare to be consumers of research by developing critical skills in evaluating research reports. Many students also receive some experience in conducting research in this class or others in their programs of study. Students in doctoral programs take additional research coursework in preparation for their dissertation studies.

LIS programs become known for their strengths, while students still often select their programs based on geographic proximity. Federal funding, such as grants provided through the U.S. IMLS can help support curricular innovation and encourage students to relocate to participate in these new initiatives. The best that many LIS programs can do is prepare the new professional for the first 2 to 5 years of his or her career. LIS programs might do best to focus on instilling enduring professional attributes, focusing on building a philosophical foundation and reinforcing attributes such as flexibility and self-initiative. The unifying theme is a focus on users. An idea LIS curriculum would, therefore, provide students with a foundation of professional beliefs, help them express these beliefs in core areas such as reference and organization, introduce and involve students in their professional organizations, and help them acquire a critical eye so that they could contribute through writing and engagement in research.

4. How can LRRT help ALA evolve in the coming years?

Given its size, ALA must always work to improve communication across units.
In addition to the Office for Research and Statistics, These units include research committees in ALA Divisions, the standing Research and Statistics Committee, and the Research and Statistics Assembly. LIRT can contribute to communication on issues related to research by participating in cross-unit discussion and remaining attuned to research oriented activities across ALA.

ALA has just approved a new strategic plan, ALAhead to 2010. LRRT might take the lead among ALA Round Tables by preparing an action response to ALAhead to 2010. While affirming the Organization=s Purpose, Mission, Vision, and Key Action Areas, the plan also introduces six Goal Areas, each of which can be achieved if supported by research and evaluation. The first two Goal Areas are listed below, along with one or the two identified Strategic Objectives illustrating where LRRT can play a pivotal role.
Goal Area I: Advocacy/Value of the Profession
LRRT can help ALA achieve its goal in Advocacy through contributing to the first Strategic Objective: Increase support for research and evaluation to provide evidence regarding the value and impact of libraries. LRRT can contribute by providing venues for discussing approaches to studying library impact/value and by identifying relevant studies and helping to disseminate findings.
Goal Area II: Education
LRRT can contribute to the third Strategic Objective: Make ALA continuing education programs and publications affordable and accessible in a wide variety of media and formats,@ through developing tools to measure and evaluate continuing education offerings through ALA. LRRT might seek to answer questions such as: Are ALA members using available CE clearinghouses, such as those available on, and to what extent are they being used? What are the most effective methods for delivering CE content? What are the experiences of those offering online CE to ALA members? How are ALA members using the information they are receiving through CE? How has the ALA-APA (Allied Professional Organization) contributed to CE for ALA members? For example, how effective is the new Certified Public Library Administrator Program?

5. What can the ALA President do to support research in the profession?

The ALA President can do much to support research in LIS. Here are just a few options available. The President is afforded a budget to support his or her programmatic initiatives. The budget can support planning meetings, publications, Web content development, and speaker events at the ALA Midwinter Meeting and Annual Meeting. Past Presidents have sponsored monographs, pamphlets on key action areas, tool kits. Past Presidents have sponsored special events at ALA conferences. Recent events were Michael Gorman's education forum, Carol Brey Casiano's sponsorship of advocacy institutes, and Carla Hayden's equity of access invited program. The President has numerous opportunities for addressing research interests, needs, studies, and results at public speaking events as well as in the ALA President=s Message continuing column in American Libraries. The ALA President can shore up his or her conversations with librarians and those outside the field through including results of relevant research. We know that this is an especially successful approach in speaking with legislators and other elected officials.