The Myth Of LIS Grad As Finished Product

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.

6 thoughts on “The Myth Of LIS Grad As Finished Product”

  1. I agree—it’s unreasonable for us to think that library schools can produce a “finished” product—I’ve been in the profession twenty years and I don’t think of myself that way!

    But library positions at MSU are tenure track. We work very hard to make sure applicants are aware of what that means (evidently that is not one of the items taught in library school). Most of our positions are entry-level and the folks we have hired are intelligent professionals from good library science programs. And yet, as chair of our Research Committee, I find that many of these folks are not familiar with the basic construction of a research article, have no idea of what constitutes a “scholarly” voice in writing, and even have difficulty identifying peer-reviewed journals in the field.

    These are not abstract concepts—as a library instruction librarian, these are all concepts I teach on a regular basis, especially to graduate classes. When applicants come into the program lacking these skills, it takes longer to get them ready to teach (and I would LOVE to see more emphasis on pedagogy in LS programs) and it is a real stumbling block to eventually making a successful bid for tenure.


  2. I agree: I did not come out of library school as a finished product. However, I was fully prepared to run a one-librarian institution library, my colleagues were prepared to run a one-librarian law library, one-librarian rural libraries, departments of mid-sized metropolitan systems and the Nigerian equivalant of a major division of a state library.
    All of us took advantage of our LS experience, learned from senior members in our regional library systems and our state library consultants, continued our educations and improved our abilities. We are all still learning, growing and contributing.

  3. For the past two years, I have been working at the College of DuPage as the “resident librarian.” The position comes with full-faculty status for two years, and the freedom to pursue research and teaching in a wide variety of disciplines. The residency has been a remarkable learning experience for me, as well as an opportunity to infuse concepts and ideas from graduate school into the College. Aside from the practical value of properly learning core librarianship skills, the residency has instilled within me a great respect for the mentoring relationship. I know of other librarians I graduated with who took the first (often only) job offer, and ended up in a position or library where they felt stifled, mismanaged or undervalued. Perhaps these types of situations are not examples of bad management, but rather librarians working in areas they are not truly passionate about.

    I feel very fortunate to have had an opportunity to determine what kind of academic librarian I have the potential to become. More residencies and fellowships are needed in this profession, and I would love to see the ACRL try to encourage libraries to create more residency-type positions.

  4. It’s much easier for a person with a PhD to claim he or she has been fully trained in the field – and even they have lots to learn when they go out into the world. But LIS programs as so short (compared to, say, a three-year law degree), and they don’t typically ask students to do extensive research in the form of a thesis or dissertation. One year is barely enough time to get the basics, much less become a thoroughly accultured citizen of a profession.

    Not that I’m arguing the programs should be longer. I just think we practicing librarians need to realize that we will need to pick up the slack. The College Library Section’s “Your Research Coach” program is one approach; so is portal’s post-submission mentoring, a great service to the profession and a model worth following.

    All this said, I will point out that we’ve had a fair amount of turnover in our small library and about half the librarians are new or newish to the profession – and they are doing a splendid job. I sometimes wonder who’s mentoring whom?!

  5. This is a pet peeve of mine. The library degree was designed as a technical degree … and still is. It tells you what to do with “stuff” — mostly various types of processing.

    Without a great deal of self-acquired background information (i.e. “stuff”)an LIS degree and a buck-fifty will get you a cup of coffee.

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