Hack Your Program: Beit Berl Department of Library and Information Science

01/07/2011 § 1 Comment

Ahava Cohen has completed her first year in the advanced graduate certification LIS program at Beit Berl.  Originally from NYC, she has been living in Israel for over 20 years. When not in school she serves as Information Officer in charge of portfolio companies for a private investment firm.  Over the school break she will be joining a fellow student in creating and cataloging a music collection in a small suburban township.
She can be found on Twitter (mostly in English) @AhavaCohen and WordPress (in Hebrew) at soferim.wordpress.com.

This is my perspective on my grad program, although I did consult with other students during our regular cafeteria hours for their input. This week I finished my first year (of three) in the LIS track. My program is unique among those I’ve read about on Hack Library School — not only is it not in the US, we don’t do our coursework in English. I also think we’re pretty unique in our student make-up.

Program Overview 

Beit Berl College is located just outside Kfar Saba, Israel. There are five tracks:

  • BA in information management
  • library science (graduate certification)
  • information science (graduate certification)
  • LIS (graduate certification)
  • archivist (non-BA, non-graduate)

Beit Berl Library

The graduate program does not (at this point) grant a masters’ degree, though that is the future direction of the program. LS graduates get government certification and IS students get certification from the college. In Israel, those are the general job requirements in LIS. Students who pursue the higher level of librarianship certification do earn points towards an MA in the college’s School of Government. Archivists take no courses with the LIS or BA students; required courses are common to the certificate and BA students.

The program aims to touch on every aspect of librarianship. There are no defined specializations, but students can hack themselves one by choice of electives.

Classes are held one day a week, and there are at least two distance classes offered each semester. Students who want to trim a year off their studies can take two days of classes a week in the first year. Graduates of the program are encouraged to come back and take more courses for professional development. At the end of each semester there is a seminar day, open to students and the public, with lecturers from both within the program and outside.

Students come from all across the country. Many have been working in libraries for years and some are even branch managers.

Financial info:

As of Spring 2011, courses cost 850NIS (approximately $246) per credit hour. Those working or volunteering in public libraries are eligible for government scholarships which cover up to one-third of tuition.

Coursework:

24-26 credit hours for LS, 8-17 for IS, and 32-34 for LIS. In addition, IS students must do a final academic project and LS students must finish a 120 hour practicum in a host library. LIS students do both.

There are 18 credits in the LS core curriculum, 8 of which also count towards IS certification. The rest of the courses are electives, broken down into general fields. LS students must pick 1 resource course, 3 library management courses, 1 information science and technologies course, and the rest are free electives. LIS students also study information center management, additional resource courses, website building, information policies, and advanced data retrieval classes.

LIS students have to go on 9 required field trips to libraries/information centers across the country, with mandatory discussion boards post-visit.

Facilities:

Few programs in Beit Berl have permanently designated buildings or even classrooms, and the LIS program is no exception. From semester to semester classroom assignments change, and you may have to scamper from one end of campus to the other between classes. In general, the classrooms are old, with bad acoustics, inadequate outlets, and uncertain (at best) WiFi. The cafeteria is where everyone hangs out between classes, and I’ve learned as much about practical librarianship around a cafeteria table as in any class.

Student Involvement:

There is little to no student involvement in the larger world of libraries. We have been made aware of ASMI, the Israeli Association of Libraries and Information Centers, and has offered one year free membership, with discounted membership throughout the rest of our school years. We’ve also been told of iFish, The Israeli Forum for Information Specialists in Hitech, but few have joined. We get no discounts as students for any of the big library or information conventions, and those can be very expensive — several hundred NIS per day.

Despite this, many in the program are involved in the world of professional librarianship, but as part of their day jobs, not their studies. There is virtually no involvement in the world of librarianship outside of Israel.

Strengths:

I’m not sure which came first, the make-up of the student body or the program’s emphasis on practical application of LIS theories, but the program’s greatest strength is that most of the students are in the trenches day to day. In between classes we gather at the school cafeteria and discuss acquisitions, patrons, fee structures, working with catalogs, obtaining and allocating budgets, teaching traditional and functional literacies, programming, theory, library politics, the future of our field. Each break is like a mini-convention of librarians.

Beit Berl cafeteria

Our other great strength is the faculty. Most are now or have in the past been senior staff at libraries both in Israel and abroad, and enrich their courses with practical tips and case studies. Though almost none of the lecturers have offices on campus, they are very generous about giving out their private email addresses and even phone numbers. The rule of thumb in the program is that no email will go unanswered for more than 48 hours, and often answers come within minutes.

Because the students are either LIS professionals or are older students starting second careers, the lecturers encourage application of previous knowledge and skills in the classroom and the teacher/student hierarchy is often abolished. Assignments and due dates are usually reached by consensus rather than instructor fiat.

Areas for Improvement:

­Because so much of what happens in our classrooms is collaborative, things quickly get out of hand. I’m a third of the way through my program and have yet to get to the end of the syllabus in any course. Every point a lecturer brings up we chew to death via our own real-world experiences. Our lecturers are always trying to impart too much information in too short a time to people who have too much to say.

­Though the program is in Hebrew, most of the reading materials are in English. The BA students have yet to achieve proficiency in academic English, and the graduate students are usually too busy to plow through foreign language materials unless they are sure it will be on the final. The Hebrew/English ratio of published work isn’t going to change any time soon, but it still feels like a waste to see 5 page course bibliographies and know that in the end, only 5 articles will be read by anyone in the class.

­The lecturers are an unending source of information. On the other hand, many of them are uncomfortable with technology. It’s easy to get caught up in how a lecturer used the Google search bar of her browser to search for Google, then clicked on the results page link to Google, then searched for Wikipedia (true story!) and forget that she’s given us a decade’s worth of information and advice in a single year. A lot of these problems could be solved if we had more classes (particularly those teaching about internet resources) in computer labs instead of sitting at small student desks watching the lecturer surf the web on a projector screen.

Because the program is so small (about 20 students per year) there isn’t much room for specialized courses or for separating classes based on skill sets. Former computer programmers learn in the same technology classes as librarians who aren’t quite sure how to save their files to specific locations on their computers.

The program is not for those who are looking specifically for a Masters degree, whether for personal reasons or as a stepping stone to a PhD. The contents of the courses are the same, though, and our graduates successfully compete with graduates of other certification and degree courses. The personal connections built up in a small program chock-full of senior librarians on both sides of the lectern is something that can’t be found in any other program. In a country fueled as much by “who do you know” as “what do you know,” the natural network of your fellow students is an invaluable resource.


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