Practitioner Engagement in LIS Education

Check out our post on HLS today too! Callie Wiygul, ACRLog FYAL blogger, compares the challenges of graduate school to her experience in the academy in “The Perils of Seeing a Job as Your Endgame.” See more information about the HLS/ ACRLog collaboration here.

Elizabeth Lieutenant is a current MSL(I)S student who will be graduating in May 2016. Her research explores how higher education structures, systems, and processes can be used to  promote reflective praxis, student agency, educational equity, and organizational change. Elizabeth has presented her research on LIS student engagement in systematic planning at the Second Rutgers iSchool Research Invitational for Master’s Students, the Association for Library and Information Science Education 2016 Annual Conference, and the forthcoming Catholic University of America Eighth Annual Bridging the Spectrum Symposium and iConference 2016, respectively. Elizabeth was asked to write about if (and how) practicing librarians should be engaged in LIS education.

As a current LIS student, constituent engagement in higher education is one of my passions. Most of my attention has focused on improving student engagement in LIS education. I’ve spent the past year researching LIS student engagement in systematic program planning: The methods used to engage students, how systematically these methods are employed, and the types of programmatic changes implemented based on student engagement. Some of my most rewarding pre-professional experiences have been improving student engagement within my own LIS program: Organizing engagement sessions and meetings, creating and disseminating surveys and analyzing their data, and collaboratively leading various systematic planning initiatives to improve our students’ educational experiences. I will graduate in a few months and will soon be a practicing academic librarian. Shifting my focus from student to practitioner engagement in LIS education is a natural extension at this point in my career.

Practitioners, students, faculty, staff, alumni, employers, and university partners should each play an active and substantive role in LIS education. Each of these constituency groups has unique areas of expertise, perspectives, and needs that, when coupled together, can inform improvements to LIS education programs. The inclusion and engagement of diverse perspectives in LIS education ensures that program initiatives better serve their community, decision-making processes effectively respond to constituents’ needs, and collective praxis facilitates the educational formation of LIS students. Typical approaches to practitioner engagement in LIS education are usually confined to practica supervision, guest lecturers, and LIS student mentorship. However, these methods do not provide practitioners opportunities to engage in LIS education as broadly or substantively as they could.

Substantial practitioner commentary on LIS education exists, but most of this discourse is confined to informal venues: Blog posts, Twitter conversations, or advice to individual LIS students. There exists a far smaller pool of practitioner-led research on LIS curricula, the professional and educational preparation of LIS students, and the staffing needs of libraries and information centers. Recent scholarship on LIS curricula coverage of assessment and evaluation (Askew & Theodore-Shusta, 2013), copyright and intellectual property (Schmidt & English, 2015), and financial management (Burger, Kaufman, & Atkinson, 2015) revealed substantial deficits in preparing students to engage in professional practice. This type of research provides actionable data for LIS programs to benchmark their strengths and weaknesses and develop new curricula to respond to the profession’s needs.

Practitioner educators can also contribute a wealth of practical knowledge and expertise to LIS programs. Academic librarians who also serve as adjunct faculty are able to more deeply engage with a greater number of LIS students than they feasibly could in almost any other capacity. The mentoring relationships fostered with LIS students who take courses taught by adjunct faculty can be particularly rewarding for both parties (Brown, 2007). While I don’t support poorly compensated academic labor or precarity in higher education, practitioners who have the economic privilege to assume an adjunct teaching appointment play a critical role in enhancing LIS education.

Engagement in LIS program governance is another avenue for practitioner to substantively contribute to LIS education. Unlike informal dialog between practitioners and educators, committees, boards, and other governance bodies are structured, sustainable, and oft-times privileged venues for engaging in LIS education. Based on the most recently published ALISE Statistical Report (Albertson, Culbert, Snow, Spetka, & Hollenkamp, 2015), 17.6% of the 51 reporting schools included alumni representatives on their curriculum committees and 15.7% included practitioner representatives. These numbers fall far below staff (49.0%), student (60.8%), and faculty (100.0%) representation. Clearly, there are opportunities for LIS programs to improve practitioner engagement in program governance.

In my former position as an graduate assistant, I collaboratively initiated a number of processes that strengthen my own LIS program’s relationships with its constituents, including reestablishing the LIS Advisory Board. In recruiting eight new members to the Board, the LIS Department Chair and I ensured the Board included representatives from each of our constituency groups – students (now alumni), full-time and adjunct faculty, program administration, practitioners, alumni, employers, and university partners – to reflect our diverse community. Practitioners do not need to have an established relationship or formal alumni/instructor affiliation with an LIS program to serve as governance representatives. We all have biases, preferences, and limitations; representatives without an established affiliation can provide a impartial external perspective on a particular program’s strengths and weaknesses.

I have outlined a few opportunities for practitioners to be engaged in LIS education, but a program’s organizational culture – defined by its leadership and decision-makers – may preclude constituent engagement. Academic privilege, exclusionary practices, and personal biases all play a role in who is or is not invited to engage. As one of the presenters at the 2015 ALISE Annual Conference succinctly stated, “constituent engagement is important, but if your faculty and staff don’t want to engage, it’s not going to happen.” Even those who are invited to the table may be silenced by those in positions of power. Those few who do speak in this type of culture may find their knowledge dismissed, their contributions disdained, and their perspectives marginalized.

These types of exclusionary practices can have deep ramifications for LIS programs. A lack of constituent engagement in LIS education can lead to degradations of program quality, perceptions of irrelevancy to the profession, and, as the ALA’s Task Force on Library School Closing concluded, dissolution (Jeng, 2006). Yet even with these negative implications, LIS programs may still struggle to engage. LIS students at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Pratt Institute have publicly expressed concerns about their respective program’s lack of constituent engagement. It is not my intention to single out these two programs as negative examples of how to engage constituents – each LIS program has its strengths and weaknesses – but it does underscore the importance of program transparency, inclusivity, and communication.  

I personally support these types of student-led initiatives to the hold their LIS programs accountable and sometime wish that LIS practitioners were more proactive in doing the same. My own work in trying to reestablish constituent engagement methods and relationships would have been far easier if other constituents had worked together to ensure that those relationships had not been neglected for years. While it may be easy for practitioners to dismiss the relevance of LIS education to our profession’s needs, it is those dismissals that contribute to LIS failing the future of our profession. Just as academic librarians must work with their constituents to better contribute to their scholarly communities, LIS programs and their constituents must work together to better contribute to our profession.

Of course, LIS programs cannot act on all suggestions, implement all improvements, or address all aspects of the profession. That would be akin to assuming that academic librarians can provide their scholarly community with unlimited access to all published scholarship, a heroic yet impractical ideal. However, there are opportunities to strengthen LIS education, and constituent engagement in LIS education can be a primary motivator for programs to improve. My own scholarship aims to motivate LIS programs to adopt decision-making processes that are inclusive of their students’ perceptions, voices, and needs. LIS programs cannot (and, I would argue, should not) reinvent themselves based on the suggestions of a few constituents. While I am realistic about these limitations, I am also optimistic that my contributions will have a tangible positive impact on LIS education.

As an aspiring academic librarian, one would undoubtedly assume that I assess LIS education based on my professional and intellectual needs. While there are particular experiences I wish my LIS program provided me, I don’t have a prescriptive vision for what LIS education should be, nor should I! I believe LIS education should be defined at the local level. My vision for LIS education is for programs to reflect the needs, values, and perspectives of their community. Actualizing that vision requires the engagement of members of all constituency groups: practitioners, students, faculty, staff, alumni, employers, and university partners. Whether the needs and values of a program’s community require a traditional approach to entry-level librarianship or a radical, forward-thinking approach to the information professions does not matter to me. What matters is having a LIS program’s community collaboratively provide its student with the preparation needed to ensure they graduate equipped to better meet their needs of their own constituencies.

I am personally grateful to the many professionals and fellow students who have played a role in my educational formation. I would not still be a student in my program without their support, guidance, and encouragement. However, our traditional approaches to practitioner engagement in LIS education – networking, mentoring, guest lectures, and resume reviews – is not enough to support LIS students. Those few who have played an active role in my LIS program, who have been engaged in my program, who have advocated for our students to be provided the opportunities and experiences we need, who have amplified our student’s voices, who have fought for an inclusive educational community, those are ones to whom I am forever indebted. Those are the ones we need more of. Practicing librarians should not just play a peripheral role in LIS education. Practitioners must be fully engaged in LIS education to better support the educational formation of our students, for it is our students who are tasked with creating the future of our profession.

So, how will you support the future of our profession?

References

Albertson, D., Culbert, C., Snow, K., Spetka, K., & Hollenkamp, J (Eds.). (2015). ALISE Statistical Report 2015 [Data set]. Retrieved from http://www.alise.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=415.

ALISE 2015 annual conference. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.alise.org/alise-2015-conference.

Askew, C. A., & Theodore-Shusta, E. (2013). How do librarians learn assessment? Library Leadership & Management, 28(1), 1-9.

Bajjaly, S., Burnett, K., Hastings, S. K., Hirsh, S., Marek, K., & Most, L. R. (2015, January). Representation for all: Including stakeholders in LIS program governance in a changing world. Juried panel presented at the meeting of the Association for Library and Information Science Education, Chicago, IL.

Brown, S. W. (2007). The adjunct life. Library Journal, 132(11) 42-44. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.uconn.edu/libr_pubs/9.

Burger, R. H., Kaufman, P. T., & Atkinson, A. L. (2015). Disturbingly weak: The current state of financial management education in library and information science curricula. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 56(3), 190-197. doi:10.12783/issn.2328-2967/56/3/2.

CUA LIS Advisory Board. (2015, November 23). Retrieved from http://lis.cua.edu/about/LISadvisoryboard.cfm.

Hackney, S. (2015). SILSSA and the School of Information. Pratt SILSSA: The Student Association for the Pratt School of Information. Retrieved from http://silssa.prattsils.org/silssa-and-the-school-of-information/.

Helregel, N. (2014). Administrative transparency & LIS education. Hack Library School. Retrieved from http://hacklibraryschool.com/2014/12/11/administrative-transparency-lis-education/.

Jeng, L. H. (2005). Final report (2004-2005 ALA CD#48). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/offices/sites/ala.org.offices/files/content/hrdr/abouthrdr/hrdrliaisoncomm/committeeoned/Library%20School%20Closi.pdf.

Schmidt, L. & English, M. (2015). Copyright instruction in LIS programs: Report of a survey of standards in the U.S.A. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(6), 736–743. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2015.08.004.

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