Town Hall

Wednesday, June 15th 2005

Just got back from an interesting meeting.

While in the SIS (School of Information Sciences) building this morning, I noticed a sign that there would be a “Town Hall Meeting” tonight to address a number of student concerns raised recently re: the library science program.

The result was a discussion of some issues that I’d be willing to bet affect a number of library schools right now.

Primary issues discussed included class size and the lack of technology classes. The deans’ response to every concern raised was “we’re working on it”. So in the end I guess I’m not sure what the meeting accomplished – 90% of students there will be graduated and gone before any of the proposed improvements go into place.

A concern I’ve raised in the past, and I was pleased to see others do likewise, was the diversity of technological experience crammed into each class. I’m not being egotistical when I say that my technology skills were a few levels above most other people in my Digital Libraries class last semester. Its what my bachelors is in, after all. As a result, we spent so much time on remedial material that it took away from the planned curriculum of the class. I had to do a lot more outside class work on my own to make up for it.

I had similar experiences in every technology class I’ve taken. If my experience at Pitt is typical of your average library school, then we have a big problem here. Not only are technology beginners not being brought up to par, but students with the potential for advancement to more complex topics are being underserved.

As a solution, more professors need to be hired. With them in place class size can be reduced and content more specialized and level-appropriate.

To qualify, I’m not saying that I haven’t received a great education. I’ve just had to do more work towards it myself than I expected.

15. June 2005 by Chad Haefele
Categories: General, Libraries/Info Sci | 5 comments

Comments (5)

  1. I kind of felt the same way when I was briefly at Maryland. Take, for example, the Information Technology course I took. It was one of the core courses. I don’t have a CS or IT degree, or even A+, MCSE, Network+, or Linux+ certification, but I easily earned a near-perfect grade in the course. (In fact, the professor I had for the course is now at SIS.) For about the first two-thirds of the course, I didn’t feel like I was learning anything I didn’t already know. Furthermore, topics were not always put into a real-life library context. Immediately after I finished the course, it received a bit of an overhaul into a version that I would have much rather taken. The “new” course has context in mind from the start, and is a bit more challenging.

    There is no doubt that the landscape of the information profession is rapidly leaning more toward technology. However, for the foreseeable future, I still see the public or school library as the goal for the majority of students studying information at the graduate level. That means that the schools teaching the theories of information (because we all know that the practice of information can’t be taught) are going to put a far higher priority on the more traditional library curriculum than they would on improving the technology part of the overall curriculum.

    My guess is that most of your peers in library school will use technology as a tool rather than develop technology. It seems that in the recent past, the idea of a library school improving the technological experience provided to students has simply meant making sure the students get over technophobia. The average library school student is 30 upon beginning a program, which means that at best, most library school students grew up with local BBSes, Prodigy, Compuserve, and (a very early) AOL as the only ways to go online from home, using systems that were on the lower end of the 32-bit spectrum.

    I would argue that with technology and library school, one gets out of the experience what one puts in. I think it’s impossible to go into library school to study information technology (as it connects to libraries) or systems librarianship without having all the tools on the way in. I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but in the standard two-year, full-time MLS program, it’s far easier to learn from scratch everything about how to provide reference services in a typical public library setting than it is to learn from scratch everything about how to manage a library’s computer network, or how to design and implement large-scale database applications that provide information to the public or manage day-to-day activities. The technology just gets so deep that it’s impossible to work it all in at a very complex level.

    Pitt is well-known for its accelerated program. Pitt will have a lot of problems attracting the “casual” library student to more complex technology course offerings because such a student would likely not get enough out of such courses while breezing through the MLS.

    Marian sits at the reference desk, while Nick Burns fixes the computers. Sadly, that’s the standard arrangement, as it will likely be for at least a few more years.

  2. I think this may also be a grad school problem in general, as I am experiencing a similar situation in my MPH program. It’s not like undergrad, where most first-time freshman have the same or a very similar educational background. With grad school you get people like us straight from undergrad, those who have worked in the field for years, those who want to change careers, and both tech-savvy and non tech-savvy. I think the most frustrating part is to find a common ground for everyone without reteaching, which is unfortunately what appears to happen frequently. I expected my fellow students to be at least in the same book, if not on the same page. But this is not true and I’m glad to see I’m not alone in this experience. And sadly, I have no idea how they can fix this other than requiring a certain degree or background experience to enter these programs, which they will not do (at least not here).

  3. Wasn’t there talk about some kind of standardized entrance exam for schools of information/library studies? (I can’t remember which blog I read that on, but it was a few months ago…)

  4. Hi Julian – well said, you ironed out a lot of points I’ve been toying with.

    A standardized test for LIS admissions is an interesting idea. I don’t think I’ve run across it before, if you find the blog post please pass it my way.

    I think overall I’m a little frustrated with the lack of technological motivation among a lot of LIS students. They’re all very smart people, but most have no desire to learn about technology beyond the “how much do I need to know to do my job” level. As the average birth year of incoming LIS students marches upwards, I hope that will change. I didn’t fully get exposed to computers and the internet until high school really. I can only imagine what the kids who pick it up at age 5 are going to be able to handle as everyday use.

    But when I went to the Computers in Libraries conference in March, I discovered a whole different crowd. These were librarians who fully embrace technology, who see the potential it has to perhaps revolutionize our profession. I think the LIS schools need to cultivate this – instead of a basic “one size fits all” approach to required tech classes, provide tiers of them. Even if only two different levels were offered, the overall student body could be much better served.

    And Brandi I hear you on the idea of requiring a degree. That’d be hard to do in library school, since part of what makes the profession great is the wide background of people who can apply. You can be a librarian of anything, really. But I don’t think some sort of basic competency measurement would be out of line. Not to use as an admissions tool, but to identify who needs a more remedial level help both in and out of class. No potential librarian should be turned away due to being computer unsavvy, as we’d lose a ton of talent that way. Target and build them up instead.

  5. I agree with your idea of remediation. The frustrating part to me is not in the technology, but in the knowledge base of health in general. Sometimes I feel like we spend a ton of time reviewing the basics for the people who have no health experience. If those who had no health experience took even one basic “this is public health” course, it would alleviate a lot of problems. I like that we are diverse, it is always interesting to hear from the doctors and nurses in the room all the way to the medical writers. But if I hear “how does this relate to public health?” one more time… :)

    So yes, anyway, I wouldn’t exclude anyone based on their knowledge coming in, but I would be more strict in making them take basic courses to get up to speed. The diversity is what makes our fields so strong, and with a little bit of extra help, everyone who wants to do it can. I just don’t see my school, at least, doing anything to even out the playing field.

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