Sunday 10 June 2012

Thoughts on LIS education from a first time tutor

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

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting post Kate. Thanks for reflecting on your experience.

    The challenge of diverse ambitions, as well as the idea of providing maximum flexibility, are concerns of mine. But there are two reasons that we can't offer a smaller core set of units and lots of choice for tailoring programs. The first of these is that we have to cover particular content in order to have our courses accredited. The second issue is that for the volume of students we typically have in LIS courses, we simply can't offer more units. If we ran a unit on public librarianship, for example, we may not have the numbers to make up a class.

    What we do instead is give students the opportunity to specialise by tailoring their assignment work to suit their ambitions. We get them to contextualise their assignment however they think will serve them best.

    Your suggestion about a more substantial research component is an excellent one. In academic libraries, increasingly librarians will be working in research support roles that see them become a player in the research process. Librarians with research qualifications are highly sought after. Doing a research project is also a way to specialise and a way to get your foot in the door with an employer. Because we wholeheartedly believe our graduates must have real world research skills, we have a compulsory project unit in our course. Many of our students use one of their electives to do allow them to do a more substantial project. And we also offer an advanced coursework Masters that requires students to do a substantial project - equivalent to a semester full time. Students get so much out of the project unit: exposure to the sector they're interested in; development of research skills; and often, a publication.

    I like the point you make about teaching students to think. I like to think what we do is teach students to learn... Which relates to your last point: the most important thing we can teach our students is that they cannot walk off campus at the end of their degree and think they're done with learning. Graduation is only the beginning.