Office Hours: Goals of an LIS Educator

Presenting at the Educause Learning Initiatives (ELI) conference last January in Austin, TX, was a seminal moment for me. I found my tribe of like-minded educators and technologists examining what it means to be teaching and creating learning environments in the 21st century. What I didn’t find was too many librarians; roughly seven to eight percent of the 500-plus attendees were librarians. (Note to readers: put this dynamic conference on your radar. We should be there to represent and participate in the conversations.)

Beyond the benefits of finding like-minded thinkers, ELI forced me to articulate my personal goals as an LIS educator. On day one a tweet went up in the conference back channel: “Digital literacies discussion brings the same concept to the surface each year: Sure, you want to use tech but what’s your GOAL?”

That tweet sent me back to work on my upcoming presentation about the technologies I use in teaching at Dominican GSLIS. I spent the night updating my slides to frame what I was doing within a larger context. This exercise helped me clarify my philosophy of LIS education. Some of my goals include:

To prepare LIS students for a decidedly digital future in libraries. With titles like Digital Strategy Librarian, User Experience Librarian, or Strategy Guide, jobs being advertised speak to an evolving skill set that not only includes a solid understanding of the core values of LIS but a strong knowledge of information architecture, online user behavior, and the ability to build networked resources and services. We do our students (and programs) a disservice if they graduate with only a cursory understanding of library tech–emerging and otherwise.

To remember that 20th-century policies don’t always work in 21st-century learning/sharing spaces. I still post library signage on Tame the Web that shows how backward some library policy is. There’s just too much competition from other third places for us to greet our user communities with placards proclaiming No this and No that. Beyond signage, do our user policies extend the library to our constituents in ways that benefit them? Is the library usable? (See Aaron Schmidt’s LJ column, The User Experience, for more on this.)

To promote truth and open communication. For over two years, Michael Casey and I wrote The Transparent Library column in LJ. Transparency–open planning and open communication–should be key in managing our organizations in this post–Web 2.0 world. Institutions bound in secrecy and controlled information flow cannot thrive. New graduates with different mindsets can be change agents–hire them.

To give students environments for exploration and experience. With Dominican GSLIS grad Kyle Jones, I’ve built online communities for each of my classes. I want my students to experience writing on the open web and not behind the firewall of Blackboard. New grads will find few jobs where all of their time will be inside a firewall or hiding in the back of the library. As a service-oriented profession, many of our services have, or will have, an online component. Other jobs/services will take the librarian physically beyond library walls into academic departments or the community.

To immerse students in the spaces and communities where they may work upon graduation. What better place to explore these realms than throughout the curriculum. I applaud the classes I see running in Drupal on the open web or taught via Facebook and Twitter. The tools will change, but the ideas behind them will not. With this comes a chance to reflect on privacy, anonymity, and how best to represent oneself to the professional linked-in world.

To acquaint students with the human connections created by social media. Beyond shiny toys, the tools at our disposal can enhance and augment human relationships. When the technology falls away, we’re left with two or more people having a very human conversation. Anyone can write a blog post touting the library’s next event; it takes some talent to craft a post that prompts users to respond and share. The more we learn what works to engage and enlighten our communities–virtual and physical–the more we can tap into them.

To help students create their own personal learning network. This is key. Actively participating in various channels that create a learning network–like blogs, Twitter, Facebook group–sets them up to be more connected, to garner interviews and that first professional job. Wouldn’t you rather hire someone who understands the ins and outs of the dynamic community of practitioners available to us online–globally?

To learn by doing. The sage on the stage model of lecture no longer flies. Students should explore, play, experiment, and figure things out for themselves. As a teacher, I should serve as a trusty guide, giving them some resources and ideas to spur thinking and set them free. That’s the type of learner we want steering our libraries in the future.

That’s the goal toward which we should also be striving. To prepare all learners/patrons/users for a decidedly digital future.

This post was originally published as “Goals of an LIS Educator” in Library Journal.

Stephens, M. (2010). Goals of an LIS educator. Library Journal, 135(19), 32.