One of the most frequent complaints about the job LIS education programs are doing is their inability to produce graduates that are workplace ready. That would be a great trick, but can any professional school meet that challenge? In an opinion piece written for the Chronicle of Higher Education (March 10 issue) Arthur Levine, President of the Columbia University Teacher’s College, writes the following about the criticism that gets fired at education programs for turning out poorly prepared teachers:
Education schools are asked to turn out “finished products.” That makes no sense. Teaching is one of the few professions in which brand-new professionals are expected to know everything on the first day. Schools take them and immediately place them alone in a classroom and say, “Teach.”
Yet upon graduating from medical school, new doctors are not rushed into the operating room and asked to oversee open-heart surgery. Instead they go through an internship and a residency, gradually gaining knowledge and experience under the guidance of experienced practitioners. New lawyers who join a law firm do not enter a courtroom right away to serve as lead counsel in a murder case, but work for a partner and get experience and increasing responsibility. New journalists are not assigned to interview the president, and the new M.B.A. is not asked to direct a corporate division.
What is also different about the teaching profession is where the “finishing” is expected to take place. Law firms do not say to law schools, and corporations do not say to business schools, “We just hired your graduate, so we expect your school to stay with her for the next year or so to complete her training.” They want to train their new hires in their own way.
So replace “teachers” and “teaching” with librarians and librarianship and I think you see the point. I agree with Levine that it’s unrealistic for library employers to expect the LIS programs to turn out finished products. However, Levine’s remarks also point out the importance of getting LIS students into internships. We’ve all heard the gripes of newly graduated LIS students who thought their degree alone would be their key to a library job. Turns out many employers want real workplace experience as well. I think many academic librarians expect to put the finishing touches on their hires that are recent LIS grads, and we probably want, as Levine says, to train them in our own way. Clearly academic librarians need to better connect with LIS educators to create more opportunities for LIS students to gain the “authentic and varied” practice that is an absolute necessity to the learning process – and to work within our own institutions to create more internships. Even if we put these learning opportunities into place, we need to recognize that LIS programs cannot – and perhaps should not – focus their energies on creating finished products.