The Library Student Bill of Rights – A TTW Guest Post by Char Booth 26

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 exploreInterdisciplinarity 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.

26 thoughts on “The Library Student Bill of Rights – A TTW Guest Post by Char Booth

  • Scott Nicholson

    Thanks for posting this. I’m the MSLIS program director at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, meaning I’m in charge of ensuring the curriculum is appropriate. I took over that role about 2 years ago, and I’ve made a couple of changes to our core that all students take.

    One is to introduce a class called “Library Planning, Marketing, and Assessment.” Just as you suggest, I believe that all students need to be strong in these skills in order to demonstrate to funders the value of their organizations, to reach out to patrons and let them know about the programs, and to assess that those programs and services are meeting desired outcomes. Don’t tell the students this, but it’s how we slip in research methods under the guise of assessments.

    Another is to change the reference course to Reference and Information Literacy Services. We are working to introduce more elements about teaching and conducting information literacy sessions, as we weren’t giving students enough exposure to how to instruct.

    I would challenge your assumption that all library schools are not paying attention to the changing world, and present as evidence these changes we have made to our core in reaction to the changing needs of the profession.

    We have two faculty members focused on the library program who are “professors of practice,” meaning they are full-time faculty who have recently been full-time librarians. While the research faculty are focused on the science of librarianship, the professors of practice are rewarded for maintaining connections to librarianship. One of them, for example, works as a volunteer one day a week in a library which allows us to stay better informed. These connections to the profession are invaluable to both other faculty members and students.

    In the face of not only the new ALA standards, but the statement of core competencies, we are just starting on a re-examination of the entire core to bring it in line with current needs. I will now add your post to the documents we are collecting to help us redevelop our core.

    The question I would like your input on… what do you remove? What are the skills that you don’t teach any more in order to teach these new skills? You can’t just add in – you have to remove as well. As an example, to introduce planning, marketing, and assessment, we reduced the time we spent on collection development. To introduce information literacy and teaching into the reference course, we reduced the time we spent with print materials.

    So, help guide us on this… what would you say that librarians don’t do any more? What skills did they need 5 years ago that are no longer core to the profession?

  • Alan

    Char and Michael: I was pleased to be at that dinner in Anaheim and glad to see something very positive come of it. It’s the reason why we at Darien Library look for opportunities to sit down with the brightest members of the library world — to see what we can learn. We’ve certainly learned much from the two of you and look forward to many more such occasions.

    Keep up the good work, and we look forward to seeing you again.


  • Susan Knoer


    Thanks for the list! It will be part of my class online evaluation this year, and I’m sure there will be much talk about it.

    Maybe I’ll add it to my 2.0 Week – since none of the classes offer any new technology, I insert a week of it in Humanities Reference just so my students will have a clue when they get to job interviews.

    Since my class is one of the few online electives, I get a mix of new grads, second career and second MA students, and special library students along with the public and academic tracks. I encourage them to share their experiences and skills, so they come out of the program with some practical ideas and projects that are relevant to this century.

    Every year my students come up with new ideas and valid criticisms, and every year I change the class to reflect their ideas and new issues, both through the formal evaluation and privately.

    Why do I do this?

    Students are the best judges of what they’ve learned (even if they don’t realized what they learned for a while, ala Piaget).

    Students need to know what professional development tools are out there for future growth.

    Students know the world is changing, and librarianship with it. It seems only the faculty doesn’t, if they’re not in a library.

    I got my MLS five years ago and learned very little if what I needed to know. I learned most of the useful stuff working in a library while getting my MLS, reading, and talking to librarians and archivists. I want my students to get at least a little of that in a class.

    So let the debate begin!


  • char booth

    Alan, thanks for your comment – I was certainly left with much food for thought, and look forward to future conversations.

    Great insights from Scott and Susan – this is in response to both of you.

    Scott, you are right to challenge the suggestion that all library schools ignore the need for curricular revision. My attempt was to write a pithy post that would get people thinking about how library school curriculum does or doesn’t serve their needs, which unfortunately did not list the range of efforts towards this end that are already in progress. Your examples illustrate this point quite well – I love the idea of “professors of practice,” especially. This gets to the heart of the faculty/student disconnect that so many people cite as problematic. I also think your point about what needs to be taken away in order to make room for new foci is an excellent one, and it sounds like in your situation it is being addressed very well. Collection development is definitely an area that I believe should be scaled back as a core competency, in part because of the increasing prevalence of approval purchasing… some may disagree. There are certainly ways to incorporate attention to open access publication and the transition in scholarly communication in general that will make col. dev. more relevant.

    As for what librarians don’t do anymore, that’s actually pretty hard to answer – I think we’re doing many of same things but are now expected to think in terms of innovation and experimentation instead of following the “rules” of the game. At least in the public services arena, giving students the opportunity to develop and assess real-world programming and partner with organizations in the field will go a long way. Perhaps employing more contextual analysis and case studies of practice in different areas – showing students how specific libraries respond (or don’t respond) to specific user populations, and so on.

    Susan, I think many instructors are making valiant efforts to, like you, work new topics and competencies into old courses – yet another piece of evidence that things need to change.

    Your point about teaching students how to develop professionally is critical. There are so many sources for self-education in the library world, from the blogosphere to WebJunction and the like, that I feel there should be more attention paid at the MLIS level to developing student awareness of lifelong learning… a course on career development in general would not be a bad idea. The field is growing increasingly competitive and I think a lot of us really do leave our programs feeling unprepared, especially for landing our first job.

    Again, thanks for your responses, and I’m glad to get the perspective of a few practitioners.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for the post. I’m a future (hopefully near future) MLIS student and paraprofessional, and your Bill of Rights provoked me to think critically of MLIS programs and inspired me to take ownership of my own education. I’m hanging a copy of your post at my desk as a guide for my path to professional librarianship.

  • char booth

    That’s so great, Sarah – I hope you add a few things to the list. It’s awesome that you will do what you can to fill in the gaps you find along the way to an MLIS… this is an excellent (and underused) strategy to make the most of any graduate program. When I was a library student I don’t feel like I had the moxie or insight to do this for myself… that said, hindsight doesn’t have to be the only way to see 20/20.

  • Thomas Eland


    Your post is well stated and refreshing. I am the coordinator of an undergraduate Library Information Technology degree program, and an Information Studies department. Our degree program and department actually addresses many of your concerns. Our program and department is run by practicing librarians that also that run our college library. We are both library practitioners and library educators. As practicing librarians that share your views, we made sure to construct our teaching department as a part of the library. Of course we had much more freedom to do this since we are a community college and our librarians are full members of the college faculty.

    Our degree program curriculum provides our students with interdisciplinary courses and we require all students in our Associate of Science in Library Information Technology degree to take an information ethics/intellectual freedom class (INFS 2500: Information Ethics and Legal Issues), and a liberal arts class INFS 2600: Ideas, Censorship and Politics that is open to all students at the college. As a result, the library paraprofessionals that graduate from our degree program most likely have more in-depth grounding in the core intellectual freedom/social responsibilities values of the library profession than some graduates of MLIS programs. And like MLIS programs we also infuse the discussion of intellectual freedom/information ethics in our other program classes.

    Related to what you say in your library students bill of rights, our library faculty teach a required freshman information literacy class that approaches information literacy from a broad critical perspective, starting out with a serious discussion about the political, economic, and cultural contexts in which information is created, distributed, and organized, and how certain knowledge is privileged and other knowledge is marginalized. We continue to weave this discussion through the entire class. As practicing librarians we have designed an in-depth and comprehensive information literacy program that is required for all liberal arts students, three courses in information studies that are part of the liberal arts curriculum, and an Associate of Science in Library Information Technology degree program. Our MLIS course work did not prepare us to develop curriculum or to teach classes. Many in the library profession continue to argue against librarians developing and teaching credit bearing courses in information literacy or information studies. I would argue that one way to make academic libraries more relevant is for librarians to realize that they have unique and important knowledge to offer the broader society. In academia we have the potential to develop and teach unique classes that students will find engaging and compelling. But in order to develop such classes and programs we need library education to be restructured along the lines discussed by Char in her library students bill of rights. The type of library education that Char has proposed would allow more librarians to develop courses such as our “Ideas, Censorship and Politics,” or Necessary Illusions: A Critical Introduction to the Information Age,” classes. Or to teach classes on information policy and society, or critical information literacy classes.

    If the MLIS is to remain a relevant degree major changes need to be made to the curriculum. Our LIT program attempts to prepare library paraprofessionals for the realities of the job they will enter, which means we need to provide them with both the intellectual and theoretical knowledge related to all aspects of the library profession as well as the practical skills they need to do their jobs. As a result, we have created a demanding curriculum that provides both theoretical knowledge as well as practical skills instruction. We also provide an educational framework that situates library work in its broader social context. Because of the very ideas that Char has expressed in her Library Student Bill of Rights, we are currently working on the development of a new course in community outreach and civic engagement that will become a requirement for students in our program. We feel that all library workers should be engaged in community outreach and understand how their library is, or can become, an integral part of the civic life of their community.

    Program web site

    Course Descriptions

  • weezy215

    I am very heartened to hear that you guys are so involved in revamping library school programs. Might I suggest an apprentice school type experience, rather than the traditional academic one. Yes, I know that there is aways an option of field placement or interning, but as someone who has worked in a major public library as a paraprofessonial for the last 11 years and is now in an MLIS program, I must say that having to train every newly graduated hire showed me that an academically-oriented library school (for public library service, at least) is essentially useless. People graduate full of theory and ideas, but no practical knowledge whatsoever. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to have to teach librarian’s how to do their jobs.

    If, on the other hand, (like carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and other tradespeople), library students spent four days a week working, 2 nights (2 hrs a piece) and one day (8 hrs) in classes, and did this for 2 years, I believe that several things (AT LEAST) might be accomplished:

    1. MLIS graduates would actually have the skills and knowledge to step right into a job and be useful. (At the very least, they will Not require extensive, exhaustive, frustrating training and help from the paraprofessionals on the job being paid half their salary)

    2. The people in the paraprofessional/lower echelons of library service would be there BECAUSE they wanted to progress in the industry, only making customer service and libraries in general better. If the only way to become a librarian is to apprentice as a Library assistant, and be sponsored by a library system, the people who sought libary jobs would be shooting for a career rather than just a “job that sounds easy.”

    3. In a trades-apprentice type program, the amount of candidates could be kept even with the amount of positions, and, (speaking of ideal and impractical solutions) everyone would be the best at their job because they had to earn it.

    Just some food for thought. Having a lot of experience working in large public libraries is making library school somewhat ridiculous and excruciating. But it also makes me very aware WHY all those newly-graduated hires are so useless and that it really wasn’t their fault. It’s how they were trained before they got here.

  • char booth

    how right you are. i think formal apprenticeship is just the ticket, and if done correctly could be incredibly mutually beneficial to library institutions, working librarians (from a skillsharing/mentorship angle), library students, and mlis programs. academic libraries are replete with undergraduate student employees, and while many are amazing my own research shows that they tend to provide service that leaves a lot to be desired from the user standpoint. library students skew in the opposite direction – they are self-motivated and have an incentive to learn and produce. i’m positive that the opportunity exists for building more reciprocal work/education relationships with public and academic libraries as well as archives and more specialized institutions… the foundations are already in place on a smaller scale, i’d wager. i personally plan to investigate whether any such programs already exist… if anyone knows of successful examples please share or contact me directly.

  • Nicolette

    I received my MLIS from the iSchool at University of Washington in 2004. I can truthfully and honestly say after sustained reflection that all of these objectives were met by the program in which I enrolled. I came out prepared to take on this most inspiring and shifting of professions. I was employed as a result of the experience and preparation I received there, and never a day goes by on the job that I do not remember some experience that helped get me ready, from course discussions, to real-world projects, to collaborations, to practica.

  • Lucian

    Some very biased and opinionated observations from an old curmudgeon…

    Traditionally, any ‘science’, after Aristotle, has involved a mixture of theory, practice, and technique. Library schools are continually revising their curricula – they were when all of today’s practitioners were at school. The accreditation process makes this crucial in the US and Canada. I know that CILIP is doing some amazing things in the UK, and knowing Oz to be a crucible of innovation, I’m confident that things are in hand there too. I’m willing to assume that continual revision is happening across the globe. (This particular set of assertions can be backed by empirical evidence).

    Regarding the “craft” aspects, I’ve always been reminded of a distinction my medieval history prof made between the stonecutter and the master mason. The master masons who built the great cathedrals of Europe had the “big picture”, based on careful study and analysis, theory as well as practice and technique, while the highly skilled craftspeople knew only their own specialties, though, of course, they knew them very well. The master masons were probably crude stonecutters, but their edifices – as wholes- still stand. Library schools are meant to develop masters.

    However, citing the wisdom of C.S. Forester’s ‘Captain Hornblower’, “The men won’t respect an admiral who’s no sailor.” One of the main criteria for working in a library, as on a ship, must be “learning the ropes”. iSchools mustn’t forget that.

    However, the reality of today’s higher education scene is that departments and schools are battling one another for survival. This has been happening since just after WWII. Arguably, the ‘theory’ side translates more easily into grant-money, at least in the minds of administrators. As well, junior academics _must_ put research and publication ahead of teaching, or they will not get tenure. Those things are true in every academic discipline, not just LIS.

    I’d suggest that the change that’s needed within academia is not isolable to iSchools. The professorate as a whole has to reclaim the notion of ‘faculty governance’, which has been its bulwark at least since the revolts of the Paris Masters in the 13th Century. Otherwise, departments like library science, English, and others in the humanities and social sciences, will be forced to merge themselves into oblivion.

    Scholars in their respective fields – in the natural and social sciences and in the humanities- and not the bean-counters – need the latitude to define the norms of their disciplines. Otherwise, that which is ‘science’ will be determined by short-term fiscal objectives, not by lofty principles like the increase of knowledge or the good of the profession(s), their publics, and society as a whole.

    The university is the place for free and open investigation. Societies can afford that – it’s relatively cheap. In fact, they probably can’t afford _not_ to enable it. (There’s a good premise for a thesis or two – the long-term payoff of higher education?).

    Finally, by the time one reaches graduate school, one should be interested enough in a discipline to take some responsibility for one’s own learning process. Your personal inquiries are _not_ limited by what’s in the curriculum. If something excites you, pursue it!

    As librarians, we pay a lot of lip-service to our being ‘leaders’ – so lead. [And yes, learn to follow too. Good leaders must learn what it means to be good followers. But don’t just follow]. The professorate can lead the horses to water. But they have to want to drink.

  • TechieLibStudent

    What about the right not to be belittled by professors? Can we add that one in, please? Or how about not scattering assignment info across the four corners of Blackboard? That would help quite a bit, too.

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