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Are Library Science Programs Preparing New Librarians? Creating a Sustainable & Vibrant Librarian Community: Seeds for Discussion

Accompanying information for 2015 ACRL Poster

Online or In Person?

Responses regarding the format of classes ranged between supporters of in-person classes because of the ability for students to network, see their professors face-to-face, and get library experience; and supporters of online courses because they are more convenient, especially for students who are already working in a library. There seems to be a disadvantage for students taking classes online who did *not* already have a library job after graduation. Their degrees were respected less, and they had less experience to offer potential employers. It is also significant that respondents found experience working in a library and networking to be the most valuable aspects of their education, both of which may be hampered by eliminating the face-to-face interaction an on-campus degree provides.

Quotes:

“Even though I took classes online, I was able to connect to other students and seek the advice of professors and my adviser.”

“Since I was an on-campus student, I was able to work in the main humanities library … Having hands-on experience was invaluable and allowed me to put my coursework into action. It was truly the key to me finding a job so quickly after graduation.”

“Some of my classes were online. I was impressed with how interactive the instructors made the classes. I didn’t lose interest.”

“Learning in an online environment was helpful as it made me aware of the concerns of online students (as I am an academic librarian and instruct in person and online this has been invaluable).”

“I love the flexibility of online courses, but the opportunities offered to online students did not compare to that of in person students. For example, this survey lists assistantships … this would not have been feasible at [my school] for an online student.”

Freedom to Choose Classes or Tracks?

Participant responses differed about whether it was preferable to have the freedom to choose classes and explore new areas of librarianship, or whether it was better to have a track or specialization to guide their course choices and give them the necessary skills to be hirable.

Quotes:

"The variety of courses in different areas of librarianship helped inform my decision about what type of job I wanted.”

"As a student with interests in various fields of librarianship, taking a wide variety of courses helped me.”

“Courses in areas outside my intended field of specialization (archives) that gave me a sense of the work of other librarians, such as catalogers, systems librarians, etc.”

“I was grateful for the number of electives I had open to me, but in retrospect I think slightly less flexibility would have helped me.”

LIS Professors: PhD's or Practical Experience?

Participants also commented frequently on the quality of their instructors in library school. Most of the comments about LIS professors were negative regarding professors who had PhDs in library science but were not working in the field, saying that these professors were detached from the “real world” of librarianship. This issue is likely closely related to the question of whether or not the degree should be practice-based or theory-based.

Quotes:

“The adjunct teachers, who worked in the field already [were the most valuable part of my degree]. I was able to get an understanding of what the field is like.”

“Interaction with faculty who were actually working in libraries, or who had recently worked in libraries [was the most valuable part of my degree].”

“I feel most classes should be taught by practitioners rather than just PhDs who are not actually in the field.”

Practical Experience or Theoretical Knowledge?

The most heated discussion in the open comments revolved around the amount of practical knowledge or experience that should be required in a library school education. An overwhelming number of respondents commented on the value of getting experience while in library school, and even went so far as to say that library school should be structured around practical experience over theory and concepts. This is not a new idea, and a discussion with a representative from the ALA Committee on Accreditation described the history of library science as a profession turning on this very issue. “As a profession we decided to be based in theory,” she said. “That was a decision we made, and that is what our accreditation standards are based upon.”

Quotes:

“[What was most valuable about my LIS education was the] balanced mix of theory and practice, so I had a framework for understanding information work and the knowledge of what I’d actually encounter in the workplace and how to deal with it.”

“My graduate assistantship was, hands-down, the most valuable part of my education. It not only strengthened my own research skills (which were pretty weak when I started the program) but also gave me the opportunity to experience many different duties within academic librarianship and the experience teaching and offering reference services that made me hireable upon graduation.”

“While working with experts you not only get to see how the system works but you also have examples and reference points when discussing various topics in class. It also allows you to get much needed experience that is important for future employment opportunities.”

“I got a good grounding in the philosophy of librarianship. At the time I thought it was worthless, but I’ve learned that the foundational principles are, in fact, foundational."

No Degree or More Rigorous Degree?

Some survey respondents felt very strongly about the MLIS degree and the directions it should take, suggesting that the degree needs to go through some drastic changes before it can be viable. Suggestions for how this might be done varied greatly, with some respondents arguing that the MLIS degree could be completed as an undergraduate degree, or entirely as an apprenticeship. Others argued that instead of scaling the MLIS down, it needs to be made much more rigorous—accepting fewer students, requiring more demanding research-based coursework, and addressing some of the issues of promotion and tenure that some new graduates find so difficult to face in their new positions.

Quotes:

“Frankly, I think the MLS project has failed. It has clearly not helped workers in the field gain professional status in any meaningful sense, and the information that is presented could be covered in a weekend workshop.”

“I think many LIS programs need to have stricter admission requirements as well as a technology competency component.”

“I strongly believe that the MLS/MLIS is not necessary in that a Masters does not make one a ‘professional.’ Everything I learned in library school was at the same intellectual level as my Bachelor’s. I would have loved to have completed an undergraduate degree in library science and start my career that much earlier. A Master’s program could then focus more on management, public administration and higher level information science for those on the director or research tracks.”

“For academic librarianship, the LIS education is inadequate. We need a much more rigorous program if we are going to continue to advocate for professional status equivalent to other faculty on campus.”