I realize I’m courting controversy here as there are a lot of people with strong feelings on this topic but I think sometimes we have to throw caution into the wind and talk about it.
I’ve been a new employee in a library, a librarianship student, a librarian, a library manager and recently, a tutor in a postgraduate library and information management subject. I’ve been hired, been marked, been the hirer and now been the marker too. So what does LIS (Library and Information Science) education mean to me?
I must admit my experiences as a student have been frustrating, I worked in libraries for a number of years before studying, and found that many courses did not push the boundaries of the field in ways I might hope. As a member of the profession who has hosted LIS placement students and hired new members of the profession there have been times when I’ve wondered why they are instructed in this piece of software or that one and wondered if their course of study had any effect on them being strong candidates. However I’ve always recognized the challenges the brave educators face, challenges which I have now experienced first hand. So here are my thoughts on what I think are the three big challenges of LIS education:
· Diversity of Students – A room full of twenty students, especially postgraduate ones, is a room full of twenty individuals with different backgrounds, knowledge and levels of experience. How can you plan programs and run classes that meet the needs of all of your students when you can’t assume that they have an understanding of excel and pivot tables or have knowledge of the current practices in library administration?
· Diversity of Ambitions – Each of those students also come into programs with different aims, whether it be to become qualified, to get a job or to build knowledge. In addition at this point it is largely unknown where these students will end up: public, school, academic, special, corporate or state libraries or even applying this knowledge outside of libraries in businesses and other organizations. How can we tailor programs so that many of the technical skills remain relevant to future roles?
· Rapid Industry Change - Many articles discussing professional development remark on how vital professional development is in the face of our rapidly changing industry. Within just a few short years we have seen the rise of mobile devices, e-books, social media, digital rights management, data, e-research and user-driven purchasing as new issues LIS graduates may have to contend with. This is on top of field heavyweights such as information literacy, metadata, copyright, client support and information technologies. How can we fit everything they might possibly need to know into one degree and how can we teach them the things we don’t know they need to know yet?
So what can we do about these challenges?
· Provide Maximum Flexibility - Unlike more specialized professions there are very few skills that all members of our profession need to know. Our programs should be offering flexible options with a bare minimum of compulsory core subjects. Have recommended programs to guide students who don’t know where they are headed, but don’t torment your more experienced students by locking them into programs that are either aren’t interesting or challenging. We should also be considering offering more substantive research masters as a part of accredited program options.
· Teach Them How to Think – We can’t teach them everything, it just isn’t possible, as the yardstick keeps moving further and further away. Someone once told me that the purpose of higher education is to teach you how to think. Issues traverse the boundaries of individual workplaces and theoretical knowledge can be adapted to many purposes. We need to be ensuring that graduates understand theory and the issues our profession is facing and that they know how to analyze complex arguments and create compelling arguments of their own. This is how we create informed advocates for the profession.
· Embed the Value of Professional Development – Graduates within this profession should have a commitment to lifelong learning if they hope to be both valuable employees and to provide valuable support to their community. This profession is rapidly changing; it has been for a long time and mostly likely always will be. Graduates should know how to find professional development opportunities, create their own and support the professional development of their colleagues. They should be rewarded for developing good professional development practices, beyond reflection, whilst they are studying to reinforce the value of continuing this when their formal studies are complete.
These are just some of my thoughts on the complex topic of LIS education but I don’t pretend to have all the answers so tell me, what you do think?Kate Byrne @katecbyrne