Daniel Stuhlman, Reference Librarian at Wright College, Chicago presents part one of an interview with the newly appointed dean of the University’s School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS). Daniel notes, however, that “note this is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real university or dean is strictly coincidental.” The ideas ring true.
Back in late 2008, I received a phone call from a friend/colleague in Germany with a tantalizing offer: would I be interested in a three-semester teaching gig? The location was the University of Applied Sciences in Leipzig (Hochschule für Technik, Wirtschaft und Kultur – HTWK) [http://www.fbm.htwk-leipzig.de/de/fakultaet-medien/], and the job was a paternity leave replacement for their professor of electronic publishing and multimedia in the College of Media.
How could one say no? I was feeling a bit stale in my library work, and know from past experience that I enjoy teaching semester-length courses and possess some teaching skill. That I would be teaching in my second language was a bit daunting. In fact, that fear had led me to turn down an interview offer for a similar full-time position a number of years ago. There were also personal considerations, as it would mean doing a crazy bi-continental split family commuting thing. So of course I said yes.
It was a bit unclear before I started what and whom I would be teaching, but I thought it would be mostly in the LIS program. The HTWK’s College of Media has seven programs, and as it turned out, I taught only about 30% of my courses for LIS, with the rest divided between three other programs: two publishing programs (production and management) and museum studies. Teaching outside of my professional wheelhouse just upped the challenge ante, and in the end made the time richer and more personally rewarding.
The HTWK’s library program has a fairly traditionalist reputation. Students still learn cataloging principles, bibliography, etc., but the curriculum is modernizing. It also bears noting that in Germany, which has a two-tiered profession with two kinds of librarians—well, actually three now, just to spice things up—that the kind of librarians we were educating will be hired into line librarian positions and generally find the pathway to administration barred. As such, teaching basic library skills makes some sense, since the market is going to demand them for a while yet.
Another significant difference between North American and German library education is that Germany still has a bachelor’s level LIS degree, which is a professionally qualifying degree. As such, the majority of German librarians lack a graduate degree or a bachelor’s degree in another field. Needless to say, this affects LIS education and the profession in many ways, and is essential to understanding the core differences between German and North American libraries.
But what of the students? They’re a great lot for the most part: motivated, dedicated to libraries, keenly aware that the profession and institution are changing. Given that they choose to study library science without necessarily having any other post-secondary education, there are a few who seem confused about what is going in in libraries and just sort of drifted along, but that isn’t unheard of in any program anywhere. Even though their program’s curriculum does not support much in terms of new technology, many were quite curious and explored on their own.
Beyond what I was actually supposed to teach them, which for the library program centered around video production (see the often poignant and funny results here [http://www.youtube.com/playlist?p=PL0DBC1144AAEB1C3F&feature=mh_lolz]) and electronic publishing (translation: designing Websites that don’t stink), students got an earful of other topics from me. I sensed hunger and interest, so I just rolled with it.
First and foremost, I dragged them into the social media realm. They knew of its existence, of course, but they had never blogged, none twittered, and they never touched things like Wikipedia editing or other such UGC sites. I built a lot of this exploration into my classes, and left behind a passel of social media mavens. This is something I did in all of the classes I taught, regardless of field, and it’s been gratifying to see it take off.
Beyond social media, they heard about the current state of technology in libraries: link resolvers, ERMs, catalog overlays a la VuFind, and so on. Libraries in Germany (well, some) are hip to these things, of course, but this hasn’t trickled up (down?) into the LIS programs, at least not in Leipzig. Most students heard of a link resolver for the first time from me—including those in higher semesters—even though one could suggest that the OpenURL was a disruptive technology. Students in the publishing programs could not escape learning about scholarly publishing and open access, areas their programs otherwise ignore, despite the presence of major publishers (and potential employers) such as Springer and Wiley.
For my part, teaching there was as challenging and rewarding as I could have dared to dream. When I look back on my career, this will remain a highlight. On the other hand, it was utterly exhausting, and after 18 months I was so happy to be done. At universities of this type, instructors carry what in North American terms would be a 5-5 load, meaning five courses per semester; in my first and third semesters, I had five preps to boot. It’s a harrowing load, and even though I’m about as fluent in German as a non-native speaker could be, doing this much teaching in a second language (where every conversation, lecture, question, joke, etc. is about 10% harder mentally), there were days when I arrived home (to my brave daughter who did third grade in Germany with me while mom and sis were in the U.S.) utterly incapable of forming further speech nor doing anything other than watching mindless TV.
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the awesome colleagues I found in Leipzig. Truly dedicated professionals all, they welcomed me and my ideas openly and warmly, and I can only hope that our professional lives collide again down the road. Most importantly, the HTWK friend who made the original call supported me in word, deed, and with caffeine, and to him I owe a debt of gratitude that may take a lifetime to repay.
What saddens me as a librarian is how eager German librarians and library students are to experience and learn from North American libraries, but how little of that interest flows in the other direction. Language plays a role, of course, but it would be so beneficial for the profession on this side of the ocean to broaden its horizons beyond English-speaking nations. It can be done.
After serving libraries at Washington University, the University of Utah, Yale University, and Kansas State University, Dale Askey currently fills the role of Associate University Librarian for Library and Learning Technologies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Although firmly ensconced in the library information technology realm, his educational background is in the humanities, specifically German language and literature. This piece reflects on his experiences from March 2009-August 2010 as teaching faculty in Leipzig, Germany. He blogs semi-regularly/professionally at Eintauchen/Dive In
At the Future of Academic Libraries Symposium, I had about 15 minutes to hear from the attendees about their own “heretical thoughts” about LIS education. Thanks to Dale Askey (@daskey) for capturing these while I lead the discussion:
Being more selective about who gets in to library school.
Cut down number of graduates; avoid overstocking the profession.
Deans/professors at conferences/forums, at thought leading/forming events. Where are they?
LIS schools need to manage expectations of profession; libraries are being unrealistic by demanding immediate gratification in the form of
perfectly fit graduates
Instructional design should be part of the mix
Internships integral? Yes, must be strong partnerships with host libraries and communities.
More critical thinking skills taught in library school. Crucial component.
Lighten up, be playful, take risks.
ALA accreditation? Enabler?
Teach MARC and cataloging as history course.
Reduce adjunctification, less online instruction by semi-skilled instructors, allow practitioners sans PhD into the teaching ranks as full-time faculty.
Create unflappable and intellectually curious self-starters.
Require work experience to enter library school (as support staff)
What would you add?
This is intriguing – comment by “B” at http://bit.ly/gYGL6k :
Some of my former co-workers (who were also hiring managers) nixed applicants that responded “Because I love books” to the question “Why do you want to work in a library?” While such a black and white approach to hiring makes me a bit squeamish, I do strongly encourage job applicants to be a bit more creative in their response. Apparently “Because I like books” is such a common response (among the entry-level crowd, at least), that giving a different (thoughtful and honest) answer is a quick way to nail the question in an interview.
Library science used to be the realm of career changers. Bookish types, having put in some years in the work world, would enroll in a graduate program with dreams of one day making a living surrounded by the noble hush of book stacks, card catalogs, and shelf upon shelf of reference tomes.
Not so today. “More people today are coming straight out of college,’’ says Michèle Cloonan, dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. “The students are younger. Ten years ago, the vast majority of them had worked before coming here.’’
Tomorrow’s librarians face a two-year graduate school curriculum freighted with technology courses that didn’t exist 10 years ago, courses that will likely be replaced by others within a year or two. The future of libraries is a constantly evolving digital landscape, and technical literacy, as it is in so many other fields, is absolutely essential to find a job in a brutal job market.
“Get as many technology skills as you can,’’ advises Jamie Cantoni, 26, of Cornwall, Conn., who’s in her final semester at GSLIS and has already been out in the job market. “What’s most shocking is when you go to apply for jobs how much they value strong technology skills. A master’s in library science is not enough to get a job anymore. You need a second master’s.’’
The emphasis on technology begins early at the GSLIS. Every student must create a website and wiki page within the first six weeks. They cannot continue their studies until they complete these projects.
Linnea Johnson, manager of technology at GSLIS, also teaches the required hard-core course, Information for Technology for Information Professionals.
“It’s a confidence thing,’’ she says about technology literacy. “You can be overwhelmed by technology. We want our students to be able to talk comfortably about systems and talk to server and data base vendors.’’
I am very aware of the rumblings of change in our profession. This is further evidence of what’s needed to educate our future librarians – and where our focus should be. The landscape they work in will be decidedly different. Balancing our foundations and ethics with a healthy dose of technology is the best way to get there.
I believe in the power of stories. I think everything we do in our libraries contributes to the story we tell – signage, customer service, the atmosphere of the building and how we interact with our users – both in person and online. At this moment in time, a library’s story is written everyday by what users find or don’t find inside, how the staff meets those users needs and what is said about the facility in line at the grocery store and online at Yelp or Google reviews.
I’ve travelled a lot in the last few years, mostly for speaking gigs at various conferences, in-service days and consortial meetings. I’ve earned a load of frequent flier miles, Hilton points and other travel perks along the way. I’ve also come away with a treasure chest of stories from the road, from meeting practicing librarians all over the world.
I use these stories in my teaching, on my blog and re-use them in presentations, couching all in a degree of anonymity as to not embarrass the folks the stories are about. I use them to illustrate points. I use them to make people laugh. I use them in hope that on some level a person listening will recognize their own foibles and ponder a new point of view. A change in service. A change of mind.
Consider these strange but true stories from the road:
An academic library had outsourced almost 90% of its cataloging to free up time for the staff to focus on organizing and digitizing what I believe is much more important: local, unique collections. The head of cataloging, however, was suspect of the outsourcing vendor and checked every box of books that came in the door to make sure the cataloging was correct. The woman who told me this story actually noted that the head of cataloging had been on a two week vacation and the boxes were filling her office. Time saved by outsourcing? Zero.
An LIS student who works part time at a public library at related this story at a recent talk I gave out east. A teen desperately needed a copy of one of those oh-so-popular bestseller wizard vampire werewolf books we stock like mad. All copies were out – except for one, currently in the YA librarian’s office. “Could I check that one out to her?” the student worker asked. The answer: an emphatic “No” – that copy was for future book club use. The book stayed in the office for weeks, while the young patron went without.
A special librarian at a recent reception reflected on what Michael Casey and I wrote in The Transparent Library. Even in the corporate environment there is room for openness and transparency. His suggestion to the head of his information services department to found a blog and create a Twitter account to engage with other info specialists in branches around the country and to promote special librarianship to students and others in LIS was met with a sideways, suspect glance and the words: “That’s not secure. We can’t control it who might link to us and what they might say.”
The thread running through all of these stories? Barriers made by individuals acting in the interest of their library. What’s so apparent to my students, when I use these stories in the classroom, is just how wrong they actually are. How can I teach Rangananthan in Intro to LIS, knowing full well that in some libraries “Books are for use” comes with a few disclaimers, including that library that continues to put new and notable materials on a table for examination for TWO WEEKS. Patrons are encouraged to place holds for future pick up. Repeat after me: “Save the time of the reader.” Or viewer. Or listener.
While those stories cause me concern, I’ve also heard many wonderful stories that make my heart happy and demonstrate the amazing service that libraries provide.
I recently spent the day at a well-known library where the order of the day is a user-driven service philosophy. Staff are empowered to go above and beyond. In fact, they’re encouraged to do so – with full administrative support. There is no way the above examples would ever fly. The mindset is just too different. Over lunch, the staff gathered with me to share stories of what they’ve learned dealing with their users.
A patron was in desperate need of a certain title, a book that was out and overdue. The young staffer so wanted to help this person that she ordered the book on Amazon and had it delivered directly to the patron’s home. “Bring it in and we’ll catalog it when you’re done,” she said to the happy patron. Trust of the radical flavor for sure.
Another similar story ended with a staffer purchasing a desperately-needed children’s book at the local big box bookseller and dropping it off at the patron’s home. A human connection made for miles on the car and the cost of a book.
Is it out of the question to set aside a tiny bit of our book budgets for these type of “save the day” endeavors? Should we trust our users enough to bring back that book? Will the world end if someone tricks us and gets a free copy of “Twilight?”
I don’t think so when the obvious result is a user that remembers that interaction for a very long time – and tells everyone whenever the library is a topic of conversation.
Those stories offer AHAs as well to my students, many graduating this year. The ongoing conversation about user-focus and service in libraries – with participants like Shera, Buckland, and the current LIS philosophers out there making a name for themselves online – continues to shift and adapt to the times. I hope the places we’re sending them to are listening closely.
What stories would you share about barriers or saving the day?
My new column is up at Library Journal:
“I like books.” This is one answer to the introductory question I ask when meeting a class for the first time: “What brings you to librarianship?” The answers vary just as LIS students do, whether they’re recent college graduates or those returning to school for a second career in libraries. The “books” answer begs the question, “Do you mean the content or the container?” Students starting graduate school who want to work in libraries with stacks filled with books may be aiming for the wrong profession.
Archives and rare books collections will always need librarians to curate and preserve, but the shift within public and academic libraries of late may mean a very different set of duties not revolving entirely around the containers so many of us love.
At a recent dinner with three academic library directors, all detailed plans to move more and more of their book and print journal collections to storage facilities to make additional space for students to study and collaborate.
The book–library connection isn’t limited to wannabe librarians; it’s the public’s view, as well. OCLC’s recent study Perceptions of Libraries, 2010 reports that the number of people who associate the word library with books has risen to 75 percent—up from 69 percent in 2005. As Borders stores close around the country and ereader popularity soars, we need to focus on what comes next in the evolution of our services.
This post from Ben Lainhart inspires me to do everything I can to make online LIS learning and engaging: (emphasis mine)
One of the worst things about being an online MLIS student is the lack of meaningful interaction with professors and students. Let’s face it, Blackboard is still stuck back in 2001. Ideas do not organically flow there. How can they when you have to make two insipid posts per week – 1 original, 1 response please! I am nearing the end of my program and though I am sure I have had more than a few classes with several students, I never really interacted or networked with them.
So, I wonder why more LIS professors have not embraced social media and recognized the great potential for learning that exists there. I am not saying Blackboard is completely obsolete (an upgrade wouldn’t hurt though). However, it is past the time for classes to shed the familiar shell in which they exist. I do not want to take any more online classes that are exactly the same: sign into BB, read the “lecture,” read the articles, make my obligatory posts on the discussion board and occasionally write a paper. How uninspiring! This model of learning belongs back in the physical classroom (actually, it doesn’t really belong there either). Online learning should be a dynamic and self-directed experience. The professors role is to act as guide by curating materials around the web. Basic competencies should be taught and then the students need to be led on their own journey of learning through doing, interacting, trying (maybe failing), and working hard.
I kid you not, this was actually in a textbook (time for these to go too) that I had to read for one of my classes. Thank you, Info 530, for teaching me about the most famous internet: “the Internet.” Glad I am going into debt for this.
(see the post for the image of the textbook entry!)
I recently met with one of my professors in a private pod she created on Drexel Island in Second Life. The meeting was excellent. We chatted as if I had stopped by her office. She answered my questions and explained a bit more about SL to me. Lectures and meetings in SL with professors and students would greatly increase the ability to interact and network. It provides a space to learn more about each other as well. It pains me that this resource is available (for free!) and it is so rarely used.
Especially in the LIS field, emerging technology is incredibly important. If professors and students are not willing to attempt to use them to learn and expand, we are going to make ourselves obsolete. This must to start in school. I have learned some great things at Drexel, but I can’t help but wonder about how it could have been better. I am convinced that there have been days that I have learned more on Twitter than from an entire class.
As I begin to prepare for two classes centered on emerging technologies for SJSU SLIS in the fall, please tell me TTW readers what you’d like from an online course…
My new column is up at Library Journal:
If you are on the fence about emerging technologies, take a look at the new Horizon Report (www.nmc.org/horizon). The 2011 report not only pre sents technologies to watch but offers a road map for planning and an ongoing dialog about change in education, learning, and libraries. Supported by research and evidence, it points the way to the future.
This rich trove will spark your thinking, as it did mine. Here are some of my observations and ideas.
Reading becomes social. While the ebook market continues to steamroll past libraries, the report offers an intriguing concept: “What makes electronic books a potentially transformative technology is the new kinds of reading experiences that they make possible” (p. 8). Reading can remain a solitary, enjoyable activity for all, but some may choose to experience a more conversation-based form of consumption of content.
I’ve long included “context books” in my teaching—notable titles centered on social issues, learning, and technology outside our field to illustrate LIS concepts and expand students’ purview. This semester, I used the highlighting feature on my Kindle to clip passages in Peter Morville’s Ambient Findability and Nick Bilton’s I Live in the Future. Those thought-provoking bits sit on a web page devoted to my reading (bit.ly/e6I351). I can choose to tweet those highlights and 140-character commentary to my classes via a hashtag. I can display highlights and commentary of selected context books within my course sites. In turn, students will be able to comment on the passages, as well as retweet them to others.
What’s the coolest emerging tech librarian title you’ve seen lately? “Geospatial Librarian” is rather HOT – what are some others? I’m working on a little project today, need some insights…