From Michael: Char Booth and I were at a dinner sponsored by the good folks from Darien at ALA this summer. Our discussion turned to library school and Char offered some ideas and opinions about her experience as a student. I’m always interested to hear how I might do my job better – and Char definetely had ideas. I seized the chance to ask her to put her thoughts into a guest post, that became “The Library Student Bill of Rights.” What do you think? What would you add?
The Library Student Bill of Rights
Like every other librarian, in order to function professionally I’ve had to teach myself countless things on the job. Librarianship is a craft, and crafts are best learned by experience. Librarianship is also contextual – much of what we do is about developing relationships to the users we serve and/or the organizations we join. That said, the skills that are becoming essential to the increasingly demanding, complex, and collaborative world of librarianship could and should be better addressed by the education we receive. There are many reasons why library school curricula doesn’t yet reflect the reality of the profession, first among these the widely recognized disconnect between teaching faculty and practitioners. Librarianship is undergoing a number of transformations, and it is more often experimentation than tradition that motivates our actions in the workplace. For all of these reasons, there is a widening gulf between what we are taught and what we actually do.
It is my belief that systemic reform of the MILS curriculum is critical if libraries are to survive, beginning with aggressive adoption and progressive interpretation of the newly revised 2008 ALA accreditation standards by the 62 accredited North American MLIS programs. Said reform should be motivated by a recognition that criticism of library education is near-ubiquitous among those who have experienced it, and it should be focused on improving the student experience. Consensus is growing that the foundation upon which the profession is built should simply mean more – it should be stronger, broader, and better rooted in the tools and techniques librarians use on a daily basis, and that it should better connect us to the information needs of society. Above all else, the necessity for strong library advocacy is becoming increasingly crucial, and we should emerge from our training as more skillful champions of our field.
From the perspective of a recent student and new professional, I submit the following as my impractical, idealistic template for a more practical, realistic library education. In full recognition that it is far easier to tear down than to build up, I leave it up to the faculty and administrators of the library school world to do something about it.
The Library Student Bill of Rights
In order to create a more vibrant and resilient profession, the students of library and information studies programs should be entitled to the following rights:
1. The right to educate. Students should receive training in learning theory, pedagogy, instructional design, and assessment methods regardless of their areas of focus.
2. The right to evaluate. Rigorous, realistic, and applied instruction in action research methods as well as techniques in environmental scanning and user needs evaluation should be available to all.
3. The right to challenge. Debate and critical inquiry between library students should be encouraged, while information activism should be considered alongside impartiality as one of the unique contributions librarians make to the information world.
4. The right to innovate. Technology evaluation, selection, experimentation, development, and planning should be woven throughout the curriculum, rather than sequestered to the “information” side of learning.
5. The right to experience. Students should have access to formal apprenticing and mentorship programs in order to learn the skills of their trade actively and in ways that benefit institutional stakeholders and community partners. These programs should be available at the beginning of the MLIS experience as well as at its conclusion.
6. The right to explore. Interdisciplinarity coursework should be required in order to invigorate the skill-set new librarians bring to the profession, while students should be encouraged to draw on the strengths of complementary fields.
7. The right to collaborate. Librarianship is becoming increasingly generalized; the lines between collection development, public service, technical service, and education are blurring. As such, information science and library science should not be strictly apportioned into tracks or cohorts, and a recognition of mutual strengths and complementary pursuits between specializations should be established.
8. The right to redefine. Librarians are changing as fast as their users. In order to learn what is truly necessary to thrive in the library environment, faculty and administrators should partner with those new to the profession in evaluating curriculum, hiring faculty, and revising accreditation standards.
9. The right to develop. Students should have the opportunity to test, modify, and produce the tools and technologies they may be called upon to use in a variety of professional contexts, and should further gain practical project management skills to help them sequence and evaluate said tools and technologies.
10. The right to advocate. In recognition of the growing importance of championing libraries to various stakeholders and educating users about library programming, students should be trained in public relations, message design, and marketing.
Char Booth is an E-Learning Librarian at UC Berkeley. A 2007 ALA Emerging Leader and a 2008 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, Char blogs about library futures, technology, media literacy, and instructional design at info-mational.