They Kept It Civil

I tuned in to the College of DuPage teleconference on “Confronting The Crisis in Library Education” that aired on Friday, June 9. You can link to the page describing the program to get the particulars on who presented and what was covered. Did the program offer a library practitioners versus library educators style clash over who’s responsible for turning out qualified library professionals? Not quite. Michael Gorman seemed far more diplomatic than one would have expected given some of his previous rhetoric on the issues. When he started off by saying “Perhaps the word ‘crisis’ is too strong” I thought “Oh boy, we’re in for some kind of lovefest here”.

My main reaction is that there was an air of unreality to the program. By that I mean it didn’t seem to reflect the true degree of disconnect between library practitioners and library educators. It felt as if the presenters danced around a core issue in this debate, that being that most library practitioners perceive that what is being taught at library schools is mostly about information science, that LIS program faculty care little about what practitioners do or need in the way of well-prepared professional librarians, and that most LIS faculty are far more focused on publishing arcane theoretical articles about information science in order to get tenure than they are in finding out what library practitioners need from their students. I’m not saying that’s how I see it, but am basing my statement on comments I see in discussion lists and things I observe and hear at library meetings. Librarians have more angst about library education then you would have judged from this program.

That said I think the program was mostly beneficial in that it laid a good foundation for starting conversations between the two camps so that we can better understand each other and perhaps lay to rest some unhealthy perceptions that have persisted for some time. In fact the idea of “building bridges” was nicely expressed in a short segment from Richard Dougherty, a notable academic librarian and Emeritus Editor of Library Issues. One of the presenters made a good point. She likened LIS program grads to pieces of wood that come with a single coat of varnish, (Ok – maybe not the greatest metaphor) and that it was up to library practitioners to provide the training and development that would add more coats of varnish to bring the wood to a fine polish. As stated previously at ACRLog, it is unrealistic for practitioners to expect LIS programs to turn out finished products. So while it would have been interesting to see some verbal fisticuffs break out on this show, the presenters kept it civil and who knows, maybe this will lead to some better collaboration between library practitioners and educators.

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