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.
As a part-time library science educator I pay attention to trends in LIS education. A notable one is the increase in courses that spend an entire semester introducing students to web 2.0 and other trend technologies. I ask ACRLog readers, many of whom are the future employers of LIS students, if this seems like a good idea to you. A typical LIS student gets to take 12 courses, maybe fewer if he or she receives field experience credit. What is the value for you in having your future employees spending 12 to 16 weeks learning how to create and use blogs, wikis, social networks and podcasts? This may be one of those “it depends” type questions as in it depends what is really being learned and how will it be applied in the workplace.
Now maybe I’m being narrow-minded here. Yes, right now these technologies are all the rage, and you could take the perspective that the courses are focusing on teaching students to be risk takers who can experiment, take chances, exploit new technology, etc. All good lessons indeed. But does that require a semester long course? Could a week dedicated to the topic of hot new technologies communicate the same information, especially in the context of a broader course about developing skills that will allow for constant adaptation to the latest technologies. Are there better ways to ingrain these desirable skills in our LIS students?
Personally, I’d much rather see more LIS programs introducing instructional design courses that would give students a far more powerful understanding of how and why to incorporate technology into practice – and knowing when it is and isn’t appropriate based on field assessment. This approach would be far more likely to give our future employees a theoretical foundation that informs their practice and pedagogy, and which provides them with a skill that can be applied to an endless number of technology innovations over the course of their careers. As the use of educational technology ramps up in higher education, those entering academic librarianship today need to think of themselves not simply as librarians using technology to promote information storage and retrieval, but as learning technologists who apply technology to help faculty and students achieve academic success.
The current web 2.0 technologies will no doubt be bypassed by disruptive new technologies before we know it, and then what will our library 2.0 savvy students be left with from these courses. Put another way, are you still using those skills you learned in that course you took on putting cd-roms and laserdisks to practice in libraries? On the other hand, I suspect you learned how to search DIALOG. As an academic librarian you probably don’t use that system anymore, but you do make regular use of all the skills you developed related to online information retrieval. It was the theory that informs your practice. Those are the types of courses we need, the ones that teach an understanding of the practice of academic librarianship that will be of value to students in a landscape of shifting technology and user expectations.