I got back from Iceland this weekend just in time for a storm to knocked our power out at home. It’s back on and I’m slowly recovering from the travel, jet lag and mountains of emails and to-dos. Iceland was absolutely amazing! The landscape is so unique — I got to see lava fields, double waterfalls, geysers (including the original, Geysir), and walked across the fault between North America and Europe. It’s a fascinating place with wonderful people. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to visit — it’s something I’ve been wanting to do since I was in college.
While I was sad to miss Internet Librarian this year, I found the conference in Iceland to be one of the best I’ve attended in some time. There was so much great food for thought, so many new ideas, so many people I’d never met before. At Internet Librarian, I would have had loads of fun, but I imagine that only one or two of the talks I attended would have offered me something really new. Still, I definitely would have been sad to miss IL had I not been on my own trip.
On the second day of the conference, I spoke about the future of library education as did everyone else who spoke that day. Each talk came from a somewhat different perspective (library 2.0, marketing, skills library leaders need, emerging jobs for librarians, interdisciplinarity, etc.), which led to many fascinating insights based on the speakers’ diverse views and backgrounds. At the end of the day, I was part of a panel discussion, which took an interesting turn. In my talk, I’d emphasized the critical importance of students getting practical library experience as part of the curriculum. This was echoed by other speakers that day, but notably not by those who came from academia in Iceland. After my talk, I was approached by some library school students who complained about their practicum in school which lasts a mere 40 hours. How much can anyone learn about librarianship in one week?!?!
During the panel discussion, talk quickly turned to the importance of practical experience in the LIS curriculum; how library schools that don’t require students to take a practicum are doing a serious disservice to their students. Librarians don’t get a lot of training in this profession; managers expect to hire people who have a clear understanding of how libraries work and how to do the various pieces of their job. If your only knowledge of libraries is academic, you will have a steep learning curve (if you get the job at all in a market where experienced librarians are competing for entry-level positions). Also, what you learn in library school is so much more relevant and meaningful if you already had some experience in a library setting. Some of the LIS students bravely (since two of the panelists were Icelandic LIS faculty) stood up and discussed how useless they felt much of their library school curriculum was and how much they wanted more practical experience to be a part of the required curriculum. You go girls! One of the faculty members seemed to agree that more practical experience should be integrated into the curriculum, while the other seemed mostly to want to defend the current curriculum. It was interesting to see her negative reaction to the notion that the curriculum was out-of-touch with the current realities of the profession, especially since the conference was all about how we have to change to meet the changing needs of patrons and change the education system to train librarians who can do that.
While that tension between academia and those in practice was clearly in evidence at this conference, I think it goes far beyond Iceland. When more than 50% of people who’ve graduated in the past 5 years (and answered my survey) stated that their LIS curriculum did not prepare them for their professional work, I think we have a real disconnect between what is taught and what is needed. I love that San Jose State University’s LIS program has formed advisory boards on various topics that consist of people outside of academia. I’m on a technology advisory board which suggests topics that they should consider teaching in future semesters. That way, they are aware of what skills the profession needs right now and they don’t develop tunnel vision. I’d imagine that there’s a danger of faculty only proposing topics that are within their research interest or that they’d like to teach, leading to a curriculum that may not be designed well to meet the current and future needs of the profession. Getting advice from people who are connected to emerging technologies and to what is happening in the profession makes great sense and I’m surprised that more schools aren’t doing this. A PhD doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Just as academic research should inform practice, practice should inform academia.
You can see the slides from my talk below:
As I told the audience during my talk, a great example of the power of Web 2.0 was my very presence in Iceland. Had I listened to the media (the “expert”) I would have thought that Iceland was in chaos and that I’d have to worry about food shortages, my credit card not working, and not being able to leave because of a shortage of fuel. However, when I looked at sites like TripAdvisor and did blog searches for recent posts about Iceland, I found nothing of the kind. Everyone said that things were fine, that tourists didn’t need to worry, and that the Icelandic people would very much appreciate our tourist dollars during this difficult time. I definitely made the right decision in trusting the “amateur” over the “expert” since it ended up being one of the best trips I’ve taken.
Thanks to the organizers of the conference and all of the wonderful people I met in Iceland. Your hospitality and kindness made icy Iceland a very warm place for me, and I learned so much from the trip.
I graduated from library school in 2003, and I definitely felt that the semester-long practicum I did was the best preparation I had for real library experience (especially since I had never worked in a library before). I’ve had the idea for awhile now that an MLIS program should be more like a teacher credential program – coursework combined with on-the-job training through the whole program. It’s not that the coursework is useless, I just think you need to experience it in the context of a working library in order to get the most out of it.
I completely agree. When I was in school for my masters in Social Work, we had to do two practica. The first was in the second semester and (if we were full-time) we did that one while taking two other classes. The second one was in the last (fifth for full-time students) semester. For that second practicum, we worked full-time in a setting related to the area of practice we were interested in working in. We also met once a week with other students doing practica and a facilitator to talk about our experiences. I liked having one practicum and then having two semesters of regular classes, because it added so much richness to my understanding of what we were learning. And I really liked the least practicum because it was just like working in the “real world” in a F/T job.
I totally agree with you, Meredith, but come at it from another perspective. When I hire a recent graduate, I expect he/she has not only the theory but also practical skills. Otherwise, a new hire is nearly worthless for at least a year, while we train him/her. This is especially difficult in a small public library, where the support staff see they are training a new professional, who is getting paid more than they are.
I went to library school back in the dark ages after working in libraries for 5+ years. I also worked in a library while I was in school. Most of my fellow students had the same kind of background. I must say we often wondered why we were in school but tended to view it as getting our union cards. It sounds like times have changed but questionably for the good.
Ideally, students should be required to have two different kinds of onsite experiences:
1. Field Observation — wherein they spend time in at least two different kinds of libraries shadowing a professional to *see* what the job entails. (FWIW, this should be done early in their coursework, to provide some reality for those who’ve never worked in a library.) Then, after most of their coursework is completed,
2. Practicum — an intense/extended apprenticeship to provide a grounding in practical applications of the skills learned.
I like that idea, Alice! I think a lot of people get their hearts set on working in a single kind of library, when they’ve never had experiences in other kinds of libraries. It would give people a much more well-rounded perspective to shadow librarians in various areas of practice. I liked with my social work education that I got experience in two kinds of settings; it really helped to clarify for me what I was really passionate about doing.