Information Context, Learning Context
23/04/2012 § 24 Comments
Ashley’s previous post on ethnography got me thinking about a topic that has been buzzing around in my mind–the importance of context for information and for learning. While Ashley focused on learning the tools of a different discipline, anthropology, for direct use in librarianship (i.e., librarian as ethnographer), I wonder how much can be expected of librarians in terms of knowledge about the communities and knowledge contexts in which they work. After all, information and learning carry little meaning out of context, and librarians certainly deal with information in very concrete situations with discrete users, questions, and fields of knowledge.
More narrowly and less abstractly, this post is in part about whether a second master’s degree or some courses in a particular discipline outside of LIS should be required for librarians. How important is domain-specific knowledge for practicing librarians?
For some library positions, this question has a straightforward answer (e.g., law librarians need a legal education background). And for others, job ads sometimes state a preference for experience in the field (e.g., science or engineering library positions at academic libraries prefer applicants with at least undergraduate-level degrees in related fields). But what about other kinds of librarian positions? Should reference librarians have (or seek) domain-specific knowledge? Should general librarians at public libraries? Should youth services librarians have a degree in child development or education as well? Should digital librarians have a computer science degree? And in a slightly different vein, should librarians in management positions be required to have an MBA or a similar kind of management-oriented certification?
My knee-jerk response is that the second master’s should never be a baseline requirement because I believe that requiring additional diplomas for jobs and/or advancement in careers creates severe problems in the educational system (but that’s a different post topic…). I also think that librarians and library students should work more actively to demystify the work that librarians do, to help people in the general public understand both the value of the MLIS degree and librarianship. The MLIS should be seen as a professional degree that imparts important knowledge and skills; LIS as a field should be seen as a substantive domain of knowledge in and of itself.
Do you discuss this issue in your program? Does your program require coursework in different disciplines? Do you have other graduate degrees or plan on pursuing another master’s as part of your career goals in librarianship? What are the pros and cons of requiring a second master’s degree for a professional librarian position?
What do you think of this issue in relation to other topics frequently discussed on HLS such as the importance of gaining experience working in libraries while in school, choosing useful courses, and learning computer programming and technology skills?
Here are a few related articles I perused while composing this post:
- Florance, V., Giuse, N. B., & Ketchell, D. S. (2002). Information in context: Integrating information specialists into practice settings. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 90(1): 49-58. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC64757/
- Jantz, R. (2003). Information retrieval in domain-specific databases: An analysis to improve the user interface of the Alcohol Studies Database. College & Research Libraries, 64, 229-239. Retrieved from http://crl.acrl.org/content/64/3/229.full.pdf
- Starkey, J. (2006). Everything you always wanted to know about getting a second master’s degree but were afraid to ask. LIScareer.com: Career Strategies for Librarians. Retrieved from http://www.liscareer.com/starkey_masters.htm