Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Open letter to incoming LIS students

Ready for another essay? Some background, first. I know I’ve mentioned before my status as a third-generation librarian. When I first considered going to library school 6 ½ years ago, 1 ½ years out of college (yes, for those math inclined, that means I’m now 30), my mom gave me two different lists of laws. The first list I’ll tell you about if you ever meet me in person. The second list was what types of classes she expected me to take. I greatly value my parents’ opinions on topics as a way to help frame my own opinions. I gave a great deal of weight to my mom’s thoughts on classes because she is a working librarian and knows what knowledge sets employers look for in a candidate.

Six and a half years ago, my mom required me to take, in addition to the two required introductory courses at Illinois, a reference course, a cataloging course and a computer course. She felt the ideas presented in these types of courses provide the basic skill set for any successful librarian. I’m very pleased I listened to her as I do feel that I received a good working foundation from those particular courses.

I think, as a profession, we are at a crossroad for the direction of education. Do we go the “traditional” library route, or do we go with the “modern”, “hipper” information route? We hear stories of people who somehow managed to get through library school without understanding the simple mechanics of what a relational database is. Frankly, I wasn’t clued in until my third semester. The concept of a relational database should be considered core knowledge for anyone getting a degree dealing with the searching for and finding of information. Keyword: should. As a profession, do we even know what our core concepts are? I truly wonder because of the wide range, almost on the scale of the Grand Canyon, of library school curricula at just the ALA accredited schools.

It’s not that I disagree that schools should be able to specialize, but I do think, if we value the education of our future professionals, we need to be more stringent about the base knowledge all new graduates will have. David Lee King recently wrote about his thoughts on what should be required of Librarian 2.0. That’s a fine discussion on technical capabilities, but what about more general job functions? What do you think the core concepts are of our profession? What makes having an MLS (or your school’s variation of) different from someone who started at the library as a page and has worked her way up to librarian and is inquisitive and has learned her vast wealth of practical knowledge through on-the-job experience?

So, after all of that, what are my thoughts on what our core concepts should be? I’m still musing. At this point, though, I do think there are core types of classes incoming and current LIS students should take.

Core concepts – a class where you learn the core concepts of LIS. This class should be a survey class of what we determine our core concepts to be. Some classes may cover the history of information science, personages to know about, and where the concepts of library science and information science converge and diverge.

Reference – a class where you learn base skills and theories behind searching for information. You will learn how what questions to ask of patrons seeking information to better determine what they’re really looking for. You will also learn about general information seeking behaviors.

Cataloging – a class where you learn about the classification and organization of information. You may learn specifically how to catalog a monograph using AACR2, MARC, DDC, and LCSH. You will learn what these acronyms mean. You will also be able to extend those concepts to Dublin Core and FRBR.

Management – a class where you learn about the business side of information. Topics included will be human resources, physical plant, and budgetary management.

Students should investigate the instructors as much as the courses themselves. Some instructors may not be as qualified or interested in the topic, but were the only person who could be roped into teaching it. Sad to say, with the short period most graduate programs take, this may be your only opportunity to take the class. In that case, take the class, but know you should be prepared to search out other avenues for learning.

These are only my thoughts and musings, but things I’ve been contemplating since graduate school. I hope everyone will consider not only what they wished they learned in graduate school, but what was taught well. Core concepts are important to our profession and something that needs to be discussed openly and with frequency.

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