LIS Education and Its Discontents

10/02/2011 § 13 Comments

Our friend and fellow library blogger Andy Woodworth published an Open Thread on his blog today with the topic “Library School.” We thought it necessary to summarize some of the comments that were added to his post here, as we are in the business of writing about that exactly. Generally? There was some blatant negativity. LIS students think Library School is easy. Or is it just the nature of the web that brings out complaints in people when they have the chance to rant? We’ve added our comments from the post below along with some general themes that seemed to be discussed throughout the comments. And please take our survey below -

Micah’s response:

Andy, what an excellent topic. As some of you may know, I love talking about library school. I’m in my very last semester, and while I agree with some of what’s been said here, I’d like to add one thing – if you don’t like it, change it. If it’s too easy, get a PhD and reform the curriculum. If you feel like you have something to say, write an article for In The Library With A Lead Pipe and turn it into a group blog of library school students talking, writing about, and discussing library school. ;)

These types of grievances are not new, and not particular to library school. What is new is that all of sudden, thanks to the social web and new technologies, we can all get together and talk about this stuff online, and be productive about making it different. So, say something. Join the HackLibSchool experience. PLEASE join ALA and let’s reform that organization. Talk to your Dean. Write letters to the politicians. Use information and its tools to make something better.

All that said, my specific experiences in Library School mirror many of yours. It is easy. I do very well, and learn some of what I might need. I have been aggravated being in classes with working librarians who approach everything from their perspective at their library, and are nervous about ebooks stealing their jobs, while I approach everything from a “critical thinking” point of view coming from a previous Master of Arts. I feel the tension between academic librarians, public librarians, corporate librarians, etc. I hate group work. I’ve got the ALA Code of Ethics tattooed on my brain and soul. BUT! I’m coming out of this with a sense of the power of information to change things. And I have the opportunity to be a part of that because I spent two years, and waded through this muck of LIS education. So we’ll see what happens next.

http://hacklibschool.wordpress.com. Be The Change.

Heidi’s Response:

Thanks for the space and opportunity to discuss this, Andy. I’m just finishing up my MLIS degree at the University of Washington and I share similar frustrations [practicality vs theory, professors who haven't set foot in a library in years (or ever), reactive rather than proactive, etc.]

I think this can and should be handled two ways:

1. We need to take responsibility for our education. If we aren’t getting what we need, we’ve got to say something! This can be at an individual level (see — making an appointment with a dean or student advisor) or a group level (see — HackLibSchool (http://hacklibschool.wordpress.com))

2. As has already been said, we’ve got to supplement our degrees with internships, volunteering and experience. It’s an extra step, but it’s a necessary one if we want to get out into the library-world and make some changes.

Nicole’s Response:

Such great discussion going on here. Thank you Andy for opening it up today!

I admit, for the first year of my MLIS program I complained a lot. Part of it was just the shock of going back to school and the rest included my rants about theory heavy classes, professors with very little actual library experience, the divide amongst students of different library specialties, what seemed like a lack of practical experience combined with in-class learning, etc.

But then I remembered this was a graduate program. Not undergrad. That if I wanted to get more out of it, as many have said here, it was up to me to stop complaining and to try to do something about it. I tried taking varied electives, reached out to professors, fellow students, the dean, all in an attempt to get as much as I could out of the 2 years I planned on spending in grad school. Because remember, you’re (well I am at least!) paying a lot of money for this degree!

I also sought out an internship which has amazingly turned into a full-time job that I feel very lucky for. But I still try to develop my networking and professional development by attending ALA last year, meeting students via social media, and becoming involved with http://hacklibschool.wordpress.com (see Heidi and Micah’s comments as well).

Now I am totally psyched to be entering this profession. Do I think that the program could be changed and developed and enhanced? Yes, absolutely. So let’s start talking about what that looks like!

One final note- I have felt like if students want to be challenged further and want a more theory driven program, that is the beauty of the PhD program…which I will not be pursuing!

Britt’s Response:

Loving this conversation. Can’t help but throw my two cents in.

I’m in my penultimate quarter at UCLA, and we’ve been told by professors and adjuncts that our program is much more rigorous than others they have taught in, mostly because we are on the quarter system. This doesn’t equate to rigor, in my mind: it’s just a less amount of time to do the same amount of work. Rigor looks like in-depth study and critical analysis of current theory and thought, and then putting that into practice. I find this lack of rigor to be especially true of my specialization in children’s services. Our studies and our classes are *so cute* and warm and fuzzy, and I feel like we’re one of the most deprofessionalized fields of IS as a result.

Ultimately, I’m personally glad that my program has been relatively easy, as it’s given me the chance to take on leadership positions, volunteer, and attempt to create my own study path. I do worry, however, about MLIS students who don’t take this initiative; when they graduate, how is their education going to affect the view of IS as a profession? The ramifications for professional credence, pay, and the priority of IS in funding (as Court mentioned above) really are affected.

Julia’s Response on Final Projects:

Our school’s capstone project is akin to a conference poster, created to summarize a paper/project done for a class. It’s a useful way to help students feel more comfortable presenting their work, but I also have been wondering about how useful that project is for students. I will say that our program is definitely geared more for the practitioner than the researcher, which is great–we need well-trained practitioners in the field! I also feel that it has the potential to keep students from being more well-rounded: I’ve always felt like a key to making our field even more awesome is to have practitioners who are also researchers, so that they can add their perspectives to the body of work being produced. However, a lot of programs aren’t set up that way: in our program, several students have tried to do theses and have found that there just isn’t enough time in a 2 year program to pick a topic, research, and defend it (there would be if we picked topics our first semester, but people grow so much in a program that this isn’t always the best idea!) I would be curious how other programs are handling the balance between teaching research and teaching practical skills: coursework? capstone projects? assistantships?

Common Themes

  • The MLIS degree is too easy
  • Idea of “Theory vs. Practice” in the degree
  • Student involvement and student organizations
  • MLIS final projects

These are some of the themes that brought us all here to Hack Lib School.  Stay tuned for posts and discussions on these themes and many others that affect us as students of an ever-evolving profession.  As Micah writes in his original article, “How Would You Hack Library School?”

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§ 13 Responses to LIS Education and Its Discontents

  • librariankate7578 says:

    Here’s the response I just left on Andy’s post:

    The time for an MLS is past, and the “M” should be dropped. It’s not a true master’s. It’s more like a certificate program, and should be taught as such…

    It can be an add on for subject master’s degrees. My brother in law’s degree from The College of New Jersey is in History with Secondary Education – and he is a history teacher. The subject specialty comes first. This will create subject specialists for academic and special libraries.

    For school librarians, it can be an add-on to the elementary or secondary education degrees. This may solve the issue Lyn brought up in her post about lack of integration of library services into the classroom. You now have the pedagogy to make that happen.

    If you want to be an entrepreneural librarian, say starting your own information science business, combine that degree with marketing, business, etc. degrees and you have the professional knowledge and the business know-how. Combine it with computer science, informatics, and similar fields to become a web designer with strong informational organization experience – perhaps an Information Architect or User Experience (UX) designer?

    The only place where I struggle with this in in public libraries. I’m not sure how to fit my model into that arena. The closest I can come is making the library degree a bachelor’s degree. Any ideas?

    I don’t see this happening in my time, sadly.

    • I had a very different response to the question, yet I agree completely. We should have a lower level certificate or degree for basic librarianship, leaving the Master’s degree for librarians who want to advance their knowledge and move their careers in a particular direction.

  • I’m in my second semester of library school, and I have been surprised by the lower level of academic rigor in LIS courses. My first master’s degree is in English, and even though I took fewer credit hours per semester I spent far more hours per week wrestling with content and assignments for that degree. I realize that there is often a significant difference in the students in these departments as well as the purpose of the degree: students pursuing an English MA typically want to get a PhD and become a professor, whereas MLIS students are focused on a specific job. However, if we want people to take this profession seriously, particularly in the academic community, then we need to raise the bar.

    As a TA I see the type of work that is being submitted in some of these classes, and it appalls me. Programs appear to let in every student who applies for the sake of numbers and funding, so classes have to be easy enough to keep the graduation statistics looking good as well. We have easy-access easy-degree programs in a market that has more librarians than jobs.

    Despite all of that, I still feel like I’ve found my home in library science. I love the discipline and what it stands for, but I want more from it.

    • librariankate7578 says:

      Bella,

      I was a GA for two classes, and one of those two I worked directly with students. Some of the student work was appalling. And there were many in my cohort who really should not have been in library school, much less graduate school, in the first place.

    • Annie says:

      My program has a certificate training that you’re talking about, I think for school media specialists, they are required to have at least that certificate. I know what you guys mean about library school not being challenging, and it may be designed like that for various reasons.

      I’ve contemplated why it is a master’s degree and not a bachelor’s. I think it really helps to have the research capabilities that you develop as an undergrad, because it helps you help others to find the information they need. This applies to the public or academic setting. Once you have that, you can apply and build on your skills in the MLS. I don’t know about you guys, but when I started, none of my teachers asked us if we knew how to use databases or how to search. They assumed we already knew (hopefully from our previous educational background). That’s just what I think.

  • Katie W. says:

    Well said, Micah!

    I think as students, we’re all in a very unique position to help effect those kinds of changes. One of the first things I was told on entering the iSchool at the University of Washington is that everything all of our instructors learned in grad school is completely obselete, and what they do now they’ve had to learn on the job over the years. Because of this, I think teaching adaptation should be a critical part of curriculum.

    Every time I read threads like the one on Andy’s blog, I just remind myself that the best thing I can do is to throw myself into what I’m doing in school now, but fully expect a good chunk of it to float out of my head once I start really pursuing work in this constantly-changing field.

    • librariankate7578 says:

      This is why trying to make LIS education more “relevant and rigorous” has more potential to fail.

      As for taking up arms – well, I am running for ALA Council. FYI. :)

  • juliaskinner says:

    Here’s the response I left in a discussion about graduation requirements, and I think it ties in well here. I agree that our degree could handle to be more academically rigorous, although the people in LIS programs have such a diverse set of goals, so we also risk alienating people who want a practical, professional program if we get *too* academic. That being said, I think there needs to be a balance and we need to stress the importance of having practitioners who are trained not only to read and critically evaluate research, but to produce high quality research that allows them to share what they’ve learned in practice.

    Our school’s capstone project is akin to a conference poster, created to summarize a paper/project done for a class. It’s a useful way to help students feel more comfortable presenting their work, but I also have been wondering about how useful that project is for students. I will say that our program is definitely geared more for the practitioner than the researcher, which is great–we need well-trained practitioners in the field! I also feel that it has the potential to keep students from being more well-rounded: I’ve always felt like a key to making our field even more awesome is to have practitioners who are also researchers, so that they can add their perspectives to the body of work being produced. However, a lot of programs aren’t set up that way: in our program, several students have tried to do theses and have found that there just isn’t enough time in a 2 year program to pick a topic, research, and defend it (there would be if we picked topics our first semester, but people grow so much in a program that this isn’t always the best idea!) I would be curious how other programs are handling the balance between teaching research and teaching practical skills: coursework? capstone projects? assistantships?

    • Carolyn says:

      I agree with your concerns about theory vs. practice and alienating future librarians, well put. That being said I do think practice can be worthless without the theory that underpins it, and in that way LIS programs do need to be concerned with research and theory in general.

      As far as our program, we do not have a capstone project. Students who are in the archives, rare books, or digital libraries concentration have to do an internship for a semester. However, those of us interested in various forms of academic and public librarianship do not. There are also few assistantships and many are helping faculty with research instead of out in the field librarianship. I find that most of what I’ve learned is through the work experience I’ve gained while in school.

  • Rebecca says:

    I really wish my library science program offered object oriented programming classes. The reality is that information management is becoming an increasingly technical field, and even if we never need to write code ourselves, it’s inevitable that (if the field is to survive) we will need to be conversant in computer programming, at the very least to guide developers who will create information management software. Instead of offering courses that will prepare us for the future of library science, the faculty of my school seem terrified of technology, and “cling to guns and religion,” as it were.

    • juliaskinner says:

      This is a really interesting point, and I agree that we need to at least be comfortable enough with tech to be able to learn as we go in the field, since there are so many things we probably don’t have time to fit into a curriculum. Programming classes and maybe some design classes are some of the things others new to the field have told me that they found to be incredibly helpful in their jobs. We have a decent number of technical courses at my school for students who want to design databases and such, and I think it’s great! We are all required to take an introductory computing course. It’s unfortunate that you aren’t feeling that sort of support in your program’s curriculum: one of the great things about LIS is that it is so fast-paced and changing, so it can be frustrating to have that reality kept out of the classroom.

  • [...] post is inspired by LIS Education and Its Discontents from the Hack Library School, which was in turn inspired by a library school themed open thread at [...]

  • [...] leads to problems with the quality of students’ education: many courses are so broad (or so easy) that only a fraction of the material will be useful to any one student, and even when the entirety [...]

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