Category Archives: LIS Education

This Librarian’s Blog Name Says It All

In a recent Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts I asked – in a not so direct way – what ACRLog readers wanted us to write about – and a few of you shared your thoughts – though I really didn’t expect that. One comment in particular stood out and I wanted to share it with ACRLog readers. This one comes from Elizabeth, who writes:

I’m a newly graduated LIS student trying to break into the world of academic librarianship. I’m having an extremely hard time getting interviews, so I would love a little real-world advice. Most of my classmates are still unemployed, so I know there are many of us out there who love some first-hand advice on getting a job and what being an academic librarian is really like.

What made me most want to mention Elizabeth’s comment was the name of her blog, which tells you everything you need to know about her situation and her interest in the topic: The Adventures of an Unemployed Librarian.

Just the fact that we have a new-to-the-profession colleague coming up with a blog name like that should somehow concern us. It’s encouraging to know we have enthusiastic folks who want to break into our world of academic librarianship, but it’s disappointing that we have so little to offer them. Let’s see if we can help Elizabeth and her classmates by responding to her two questions: (1) advice on how to get a job and (2) what it’s like to be an academic librarian.

My not-so-original primary piece of advice is to start getting library experience early and often in your developing career. Take advantage of every opportunity to land an internship (in the Philadelphia region several academic libraries offer them) or possibly a part-time position. It may offer only limited professional experience, but more importantly you’ll be getting exposure to the environment and people. You need to start building your network early. If your region has any sort of local library association for academic librarians (in the past the Philadelphia region has had a number of informal groups that were not affiliated with ACRL) try to get involved – or at least attend meetings. It’s a good way to start connecting with other academic librarians who can provide advice and support. In my academic libraries course (which I’m unfortunately not teaching for the first time in seven years – being replaced by a full-time faculty member – for now) my project assignment requires the students to get out to academic libraries to interview librarians. If Elizabeth had an assignment like that at some point in her LIS education I don’t think she’d be asking, post-graduation, what it’s like to be an academic librarian. Our future professionals should be finding out the answer to that question while they’re in the LIS program. Meredith gave some advice that could help with respect to positioning yourself for letting potential employers know who you are and what you’ve accomplished in your career path to date. I advocate starting a portfolio of your work early on in graduate school, and keeping it up to date and accessible to potential employers.

Elizabeth, if you and your fellow unemployed students have heard all that advice before, you have my apologies for my failure to provide enlightenment. Let me see if I can do better on your second question. I could go on for several thousand words on what it’s like to be an academic librarian. In fact, I have. My first piece of advice is to take a look at an article I wrote a few years ago titled “Passion For Academic Librarianship: Find It, Keep It, Sustain It–A Reflective Inquiry”. PORTAL: LIBRARIES AND THE ACADEMY 3(4):633-642, October 2003. I think it will give you my perspective on what it’s like to be an academic librarian. But there are many perspectives, which is why you can help yourself by using time you may have now to go to academic libraries in your area to meet and talk with academic librarians. I know this sounds like an awkward thing to do, but I’m sure most academic librarians would be glad to have a cup of coffee with you and tell you about their job and their take on the profession. Try not to be totally random though; try to get recommendations from an experience colleague. So if you have any contacts in your area (if you don’t get in touch and perhaps I can find a good one for you) ask that person for some advice on good folks with which to chat.

A final thought about Elizabeth’s blog. I think it can help to have a thoughtful blog. As a potential employer I might like to see if someone is intellectually curious, and what sort of issues they are thinking about through the posts they write. If a potential job candidate is expressing an interest in academic librarianship, how is that reflected in their blog posts? I’d consider re-thinking the title of the blog. It might be better to have something with a more positive spin that reflects an interest in academic librarianship. What about “The Adventures of a Future Academic Librarian”? Or if you are really interested in what it’s like to be an academic librarian, start writing some profiles of academic librarians and what they do. Call the blog something like “What it Means to be an Academic Librarian”, and use it to learn about the profession as you explore the issues of the day.

What other advice do ACRLog readers have for Elizabeth and her classmates?

Assessment is the New Black

I’m teaching a course this semester for the Graduate School of Library & Information Science at Illinois called, “Libraries, Information, and Society.” Like similar courses, it presents an introduction to a number of core concepts for future information professionals, as well as an introduction to professional skills, values, and employment environments. This week, we heard an excellent presentation from my colleague, Tina Chrzastowski, author of “Assessment 101 for Librarians,” an essay that appeared Science & Technology Libraries in 2008. The point of the presentation, and the message that I hope my students took from it, is that the ability to design an assessment program and to use its results in planning and decision making is a critical skill set for any information professional. Assessment is the new black – it goes with whatever job you have, and it is relevant to every library environment.

Assessment may also the new instruction, though – a critical skill set for academic librarians that is not clearly and appropriately addressed in LIS programs. It is no coincidence that instruction librarians have been among the early leaders in assessment activities (I’m looking at you, Deb Gilchrist!): this reflects their connection to broader campus efforts to identify student learning outcomes, but also their experience in having to learn critical skills on the job that were not a focus for their professional education. The list of studies showing that teaching skills are required for a wide variety of academic library positions is almost as long as the list of studies showing that few LIS programs have ever made this a focus for their coursework or their faculty hiring (a shout-out to those who break that mold, including the University of Washington and Syracuse University). I imagine that a similar list of studies will find their way into the literature regarding the importance of assessment and evidence-based library and information practice for librarians of all types, and the need for greater attention to those skills across the LIS curriculum. As we remain concerned about attention paid to instruction in LIS programs some 30 years after those first studies started to come out, though, it may take a while to see real change. Of course, it may be that assessment is really the new knowledge management, in which case the courses will be available much more quickly!

As Chrzastowski’s article points out, there are many resources available to librarians interested in continuing professional education in assessment. The Association of Research Libraries has held two successful conferences on this topic, and there is an international movement in support of evidence-based practice that supports a journal and conference programs. As with instruction, there are “lighthouse” LIS programs, too; in this case the University of North Carolina, which offers a course on “Evidence Based Practices in the Library and Information Sciences”.

What can ACRL do? If assessment is the new instruction, should we see more attention to looking at assessment across the association, and to fostering the development of a corps of academic librarians (beyond assessment coordinators) who see this as a critical area of personal expertise? Since assessment skills are critical not only to public services and collections librarians, but also to technical services and information technology specialists, is this an area of functional specialty that could broaden our appeal across the academic library enterprise, or be an initiative on which we can fruitfully collaborate across ALA divisions?

I don’t have the answers, but I know you all look good in black!

What An Academic Librarianship Course Should Offer

A few weeks ago I invited ACRLog readers to participate in a survey which asked respondents to rate academic library course topics as essential, important or marginal. Respondents were also able to make suggestions for additional topics. Over a hundred readers responded to the survey. Here is what they had to say.

First, some information about the respondents. Over 50% have been in the academic library profession 6 years or less. We’ve had past indicators that ACRLog, like most library blogs perhaps, is read by the “new(er) to the profession” demographic, and this respondent data appears to support that. There was almost an even split on taking an academic librarianship course; 54% never took one and 46% did. Again, that sounds reasonable to expect. Not everyone who ended up in an academic library was thinking about it when they went to library school, so an academic librarianship course may have seemed less important at the time. Also, there are several LIS schools that have never, and still do not, offer an academic librarianship course.

The survey asked respondents to identify, by choosing from a list of 30 topics, what should be the most essential topics for an academic librarianship course. Respondents also indicted which topics were “important” and “marginal”. The topics most frequently selected as essential are:

higher education industry (current issues)
academic freedom/tenure
academic library standards
public service operations
reference services
information literacy
instruction/teaching
collection management
scholarly communication
student issues
future of academic librarianship

Those items that received the highest percentage of “essential” ranking were information literacy, instruction and higher education industry. I think this list confirms that most of the topics on my course syllabus are the ones that practitioners want LIS students to study. The one activity that made it into the essential category was “a required presentation”. I can certainly understand that because it relates to instruction skill, and the presentation is a crucial part of the job interview. I used to have students do a five-minute presentation on their class project (a study/analysis of a single academic library that the student visits and reports on during the course), but gave it up. The presentations were not well crafted or delivered, and I could see it was really painful for the students to sit through them. So I agree entirely that LIS students need to learn how to present effectively, but there’s just no room for that in most courses. My recommended solution is for the LIS programs to offer a number of short workshops, perhaps a full-day, where skilled practitioners would be tapped to offer a “how to” session to give LIS students these important skills that can contribute to interview and workplace success.

The topics most frequently selected as important were:

visit to an academic library
academic library field study
higher education accreditation
higher education organizational structure
faculty status for librarians
tech service operations
web 2.0 technology
library as place
e-resource management
faculty issues
career advice/keeping up skills
community colleges

Again, all these topics are covered in my academic librarianship course. In addition to what students can learn from the class discussion, recorded lecture content and supplemental reading, guest speakers cover many of these topics in their presentations. My course features both F2F guest lecturers and those who visit via distance learning systems. That visits to and field studies of academic libraries are considered important suggests that out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities are vital to the development of a future academic librarian. I heartily agree. Visiting academic libraries and talking to the academic librarians one meets there is a fundamental learning method, not just for LIS students but even veteran practitioners.

So what topics did the respondents think were just marginal for an academic librarianship course?

academic library leadership
human resources management
metadata services
special collections / archives
budgeting
higher education history

Of these topics, leadership/management issues comes as the biggest surprise. It seems to be much on the minds of practitioners so I expected it to rank higher as a priority. I do spend some time on higher education history the first night of the course as I think it’s helpful to have that foundational information, but the other topics are better covered in those courses designated to give LIS students a primer on administrative, leadership and management.

I received a lengthy list of “suggested topics” that an academic librarianship should include – those items not among the 30 from which respondents could choose. There are too many to list here, but here are some of those that appeared more than once:

publishing and presenting for tenure
how to survive your first year as an academic librarian
project management
decision making
grantsmanship
advocacy
organizational politics
writing skills
ethics
assessment
reading the Chronicle
instructional technology for teaching
copyright
marketing
green library practices
mission statements
liaison relationships
dealing with deadwood
pedagogy
course design
vendor relationships
involvement in campus activity

A number of these, while not listed on the syllabus as official course topics, do come up as discussion topics at any point throughout the course. Marketing would be a good example because the students explore that as part of the course project and there’s usually some discussion about their findings. Reading the Chronicle is also covered through class assignments. Again, some of these skills are covered elsewhere in the LIS curriculum, but they could certainly be discussed in the context of academic library environments. The mention of writing skills is interesting because I find my students’ writing to be all across the quality spectrum. Fortunately, most are quite proficient. While I certainly want to help those who need improvement it can be incredibly time consuming and beyond the scope of what I can realistically accomplish. Like presentation skills this is something, while quite important, that needs to be dealt with outside the course.

I don’t know about you but I found the responses to the survey most informative. On one hand it affirms that much of what I cover in my academic librarianship course are the topics that practitioners find to be most essential or important. What about others who teach these courses? What do you think? The responses also provide me with some new ideas for additional topics of discussion. Why not spend some time talking about how academic librarians can contribute to the green campus movement? So many thanks to those of you who took a few minutes to respond to this survey. We are all stakeholders in the LIS education of our future academic librarians. Practitioners, it seems, have much to contribute to, and much to gain from, the development of a quality curriculum.

What Matters In An Academic Librarianship Course

A few weeks ago I questioned the value of a semester-long course on trend technologies along the lines of web 2.0 applications. I appreciated the comments to this post. ACRLog readers shared the value they received from LIS technology courses. More than a few people acknowledged the importance of technology courses for LIS students but made distinctions about the nature of the technology taught in those courses. Now what about LIS academic librarianship courses? Hopefully we all are in agreement that a course in academic librarianship is important for a future academic librarian.

I struggle with deciding what to include in the academic librarianship course I teach. At the Drexel LIS program the courses are only 10 weeks long (they are on the quarter system), so with a limited timeframe the content must be carefully selected. Though human resource management, budgeting and other administrative subjects are valuable to cover I find them necessary to skip; there just isn’t sufficient time. I think it’s more essential to focus on the critical subject areas my students will be likely to encounter as entry-level librarians. From my perspective, becoming well versed in the structure and operations of a higher education institution is critical; you need to understand the industry not just the library. To contribute to their employment prospects I also equip them to knowledgeably discuss the issues of the day.

Major topics covered in my course, and other academic library courses I’ve looked at, include higher education history, organizations and key concepts, library organizational structure, accreditation, tenure status, public services, technical services, information literacy, instruction, e-resource management, collection management, scholarly communications, library as place, community colleges, academic library futures, and then a variety of “hot” topics are scattered throughout and one session is devoted to the latest issues. That sounds like a good amount of content but I don’t doubt some important topics are missed. The overall goal is to prepare the student for the academic library setting, with the ability to keep learning as they enter that environment (thus additional attention is paid to “keeping up” in higher education and academic librarianship).

But I’d like to know what you think are the most important topics to cover in an academic library course. I’ve prepared a brief survey for those who’d like to share their priorities. There are four questions. The first two are simple background information queries. The third question asks you to rate 30 topics/activities as either essential, important, marginal or unnecessary. With the fourth open-ended question you can add additional topics that you think are important. I hope you will take a few moments to complete the survey. I’ll report the results in a week or two.

The Chronicles of Academia

I had the great honor recently to be invited to speak to a class at my alma mater (the LEEP Program at the University of Illinois). The Instruction class, taught by Melissa Wong, was finishing up their work and had myself and Chad Kahl of Illinois State University dialed in for a little Q & A on the realities of instruction in academic libraries. I was definitely filling the “new guy” role, as Chad’s program at ISU has already reached the kinds of goals we’re still trying to aim for here at Norwich. But I’m fine playing the rookie, since I’m not too far removed from library school myself, and it has caused me (like Brett Bonfield recently) to marvel at what a long, strange year of transition it’s been.

The discussion varied from Chad and I each describing the kind of instruction we do and the programs at our schools, to the things we’ve learned along the way and our humorous anecdotes/war stories. We had questions on how we found ourselves in the profession, how we stay active and involved, and also what we enjoyed best about library school. The best question we received was asking the opposite, however: what was found to be missing from our library school experience as we moved into professional jobs?

The various thorny issues regarding the academic environment kept coming up as Chad and I each outlined our experiences in providing information literacy instruction at our separate institutions, but this question gave us the opportunity to speak directly to the fact that neither of us had a class that helped provide some kind of general academic library overview. We then got talking about what that class would look like, and about what aspects of working in academic libraries aren’t really covered in most library school classes. The scholarly publishing and research aspect should be covered a little by just being in a graduate-level program, and I personally learned a lot about how academic libraries work by just having a non-professional job at one while in school, so we returned to one main issue: working with faculty. We agreed that trying to make inroads with faculty regarding your instructional services and resources was one of the hardest parts of our jobs, and the part we were the least prepared for coming out of school. I remarked that when I started last fall I had assumed that I would be announced as the new Humanities Department Liaison, and then friendly faculty from the department would drop by the library to introduce themselves and chat about what kind of research help they and their students would need, possibly even taking me out to lunch after we’d been talking too long in my office. LOL, indeed.

Chad and I agreed that just having a few champions of library services can go a long way, but that being an effective academic librarian requires a lot of hard work in making your case with faculty again and again. I’ve learned, as simple as it sounds, that you really have to think about where they’re coming from and what’s important to them, and these are things that I’ve had to learn on the job and in the moment. I’m not certain that a library school class could be as effective as work experience, but it would be very valuable to incoming academic librarians to have more of a background in how the university environment functions (administration issues, inter- and intra-departmental issues, research versus teaching, budgets, faculty assumptions, campus hierarchy, etc.), as well as how librarians fit into the picture. Admittedly, the environment isn’t the same everywhere, but it’s a strange world that you will be thrust into at a whole new level (I worked in an academic library for almost four years but have a completely new perspective now that I’m a full capital-L Librarian) very quickly after graduation.

So, yes, it’s been a very fast and full first year for me. I wished the class good luck on their job searches, thankful that I’m through that uncertain phase and facing other challenges, including now serving on a search committee myself. And, I’ve got some faculty I need to sit down with before they disappear for the summer. I may get in a few more cracks before next fall’s crop of new academic librarian bloggers starts in, but thanks for reading if this is my final post.