Thursday, March 30, 2006

Response to NMRT question: LIS curriculum

I continue with another reply to a question forwarded from the New Members Roundtable.

Question: "There is some concern within our profession about whether library school graduate programs are really preparing future librarian practitioners. In your opinion, how can library schools improve the MLS curriculum so that new professionals feel prepared as they begin their career? What role can you, as ALA President, play in seeing that the MLS curriculum is reflective of what is needed in professional librarian positions?"

There is some sentiment that LIS schools have moved away from preparing librarians as they focus on preparing graduates for emerging careers in areas such as usability, knowledge management, and digital content management.

Let’s start with considering what is going on in LIS programs to identify the trends that are strongly influencing LIS education.
1. The evolution of the iSchool.
There is a perception that the best LIS programs have reinvisioned themselves over the past five to ten years as schools of information. The iSchools are starting to band together to seek money, discuss large initiatives, and to present a block front of interest. In general, these iSchools are considered more advanced in use of technology and are highly involved in hot initiatives such as digitization efforts and development of digital libraries.
2. A growing focus on competences
One of the counter efforts to the iSchool movement and changes in LIS school curriculum is the current national focus on competencies. They are often documents that identify the types of skills and areas of knowledge that an entry-level information professional should strive to acquire and be able to demonstrate.
3. Increasing attention on continuing education
This concern stems from the recognition that it is difficult for librarians to keep abreast of changes in the field and that we all face the need to retool.
4. Increasing recognition of the needs and roles of library support staff.
5. The arrival of distance delivery LIS education.
The primary criterion for selecting an LIS program has long been geographic proximity: students attended programs close to where they lived. Distance delivery means students can attend such programs from almost any location.
6. Changes in student enrollments and demographics.
In our strong residence program at UT-Austin we are seeing a trend of admitting a larger percentage of younger students. Distance delivery programs may be attracting the more traditional student body of second career and part-time students.
7. A challenging employment scenario predicts an impending librarian shortage.

How do we respond to these trends and ensure our commitment to preparing the next generation of librarians?

The January 2003 issue of American Libraries featured an article by Dr. Elaine Yontz on “How You Can Help Save Library Education.” She identified fourteen strategies for practitioners to become involved in librarian education. Her suggestions are meaningful and action oriented. In short, she reiterates my belief that librarian education is everyone’s responsibility. Specifically, how would I continue to contribute to the education of librarians if I were also to serve as ALA President?

First, I plan to continue my direct involvement in educating librarians. I teach classes that are firmly placed in the realm of librarianship: Public Libraries, Library Instruction & Information Literacy, and advanced reference courses in the social sciences and humanities. My students pursue careers in public services with half of them planning for careers in public librarianship with the other half intending to work in academic libraries. One of the motivators of agreeing to accept a nomination as President of ALA was the strong belief that this experience will help me inform my classes.

One of my three platform issues is supporting LIS education through practice. Employers want students to be prepared to contribute to the workforce from day one. Increasingly, job vacancy announcements ask for one or more years experience even with entry level positions. As a result, new graduates are expected to know more and to continue to learn on the job. As ALA President, I would like to collaborate with ALISE (The Association for Library and Information Science) and librarian practitioners to explore ways to encourage and provide LIS students with field-centered experience. One step might be the development of a national fieldwork database linking practitioners interested in engaging with LIS education with students and faculty.

As a two-time recipient of the University of Texas at Austin’s Award for Academic Advising, I am very concerned with the quality of advising that students receive during their programs of study. ALA can work with ALISE to provide recommendations on advising students and supporting their interests in pursuing careers in librarianship.

Finally, I would like to explore the possibility of involving ALA units in recognizing new graduates who have focused their academic preparation on librarianship. This might include establishing a new graduate academy or certificate program to reward students who have completed at least four graduate electives in a focused area (such as reference), have completed a Capstone or other practical work while a student, and who has joined ALA and the relevant ALA Division (such as RUSA).