Gathering the tools: Preparing new Information and Library Professionals for Success

Preparing for ALA’s annual conference feels particularily important because it is  my first chance to catch up with the people, trends and research that I immersed myself in during school since becoming a full time librarian. For the last few days,  I have been thinking what it means to be part of the profession, and what facets of the degree and other experiences I and others have had that most enhance the work we do in a library. Therefore,I feel a strong need to spend time discussing what I feel the training and education of a 21st Century information professional could/should (and in some places already does) look like.

I loved library school. I was lucky enough to go to a school and be part of a program that encouraged, and truly required, looking at and experiencing all the different ways information and knowledge are created, used and shared . The degree wasn’t just about learning how to do a story time or plan a computer class, it was about organizing the information, people, and materials at my disposal to add to a person’s body of knowledge. It made being a librarian not just a job, but as a member of a profession. A profession with the goal of  helping craft and enhance the standards and tennets of information environments to better serve society.

Not all of this could be done in class. In addition to working in a library for my graduate assistantship, in one class I was required to complete a certain amount of service learning at a library or information environment completely different than where I worked. I received the theory in my classes, gained practice in one work environment (a public library), and gained even more practice in my service learning location (a high school library). From these experiences  I learned where the history and traditions of the librarian profession were still relevant, where they needed to change, and why a “one size fits all approach” was not appropriate.The curriculum made me feel like I could truly help craft a new dialogue for the profession to meet the cultural and societal needs of the present.

If I were told that tomorrow I would be in charge of creating a new library school there are several things that I would emphasize in the curriculum.  It is important to learn from the history of the profession, and use it to help adapt for the present and future. A librarian must not only  think critically, but also innovatively. Some of these suggestions may seem a bit far-fetched, but I believe that it is within the spirit of the ILP to push these sorts of boundaries.

(1) Cultural Competency Standards- Every class, every workshop, every training, would begin with a fundamental, and frank, discussion on what are people’s multiple literacies, cultural influences, and why and how people gather or share information. This would not be an exercise in political correctness; instead it would be the opportunity for students to begin to understand how to approach cultures that differ from theirs to make sure the information that is shared and gathered is done so in a responsive and respectful way.

(2) Cross-disciplinary coursework: For those in library school, I would want a core group of instructors who could speak to the history and tradition of the profession, teach the searching courses, the information management courses. But, I would also want to see that each student take a minimum of two other pertinent courses outside of the department; whether that be from the communications and management departments, the education department, health sciences, etc. Understanding how other subjects organize and distill their information can only broaden the student’s ability to navigate the information systems later, and have an idea of common terminology and practices to help them guide users.

(3) Service Learning or Job Switching: The act of going into a new space or position that is different from previous experiences helps break down the “silos” created by focusing on one subject or one department, and allows for a greater level of connection within the profession. For instance, a student who is studying to work in a public library would spend ten weeks dividing their time between the public library and a health sciences library. This sort of experience allows them to better understand the breadth and depth of the information profession. Working in a health sciences library would also help the student from the public library understand the vast amount of consumer and professional information streams, from books and digital resources to lecturers and outreach programs in the department. Additionally, when the archivist or the health sciences librarian or professional spends time in the public library, they will be able to see where and how their “behind the scenes” work can limit or enhance what the public knows and understands about a topic. It is from this kind of experience that the most critical thinking will happen for a studentI also think we should relax the requirement in many positions for an MLIS altogether. Ultimately, the student would understand where two traditionally different information environments could become strong partners.

This is not meant to be a defense of the MLIS, but rather an idea of how we can further enhance the kind of experiences students receive during their programs to augment the theoretical curriculum. I believe the cross or interdisceplanry aspect of the degree program in both the theoretical and experiential opportunities not only helps the student understand the larger picture of the profession, but fosters critical and innovative thinking. This kind of system prepares a student for interaction with many different kinds of information professionals, and see where the work of one may impact that of the other. And, as I will explore in future blog posts, the training and introduction of non-MLIS staff and professionals can also help propel the profession forward and provide many new and exciting opportunities for growth. But at this point, I am excited to see what transpires at ALA 2013, and what I may glean from the wide range of this great profession to better serve my community.

–Jacquie

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