Ah, those soft, lazy library schools, says the Beerbrarian. Whatever are we to do about them?
Let’s look at the Beerbrarian’s complaints and suggestions one at a time.
The Affair of the Mistaken Acceptance looks like simple clerical error to the Loon. It happens. The Loon isn’t inclined to think it symptomatic of anything much besides overworked front offices. So much for that.
With respect to graduation requirements, then, we first have the classic “let’s make it look like Regular Graduate School” suggestions, comps and theses.
Let’s not. Seriously, honestly, the Loon says with all her black wizened heart: let’s not. Regular Graduate School, especially in anything humanities-like, is a soulless bankrupt moribund enterprise. It prepares its students poorly for academe (where its placement rate is disgraceful), and not at all for anything else. Library schools shouldn’t ape this. Library schools should damned well improve on it.
But that’s an appeal to emotion and personal philosophy, not practicality, so let’s go back to square one. How often do working librarians take timed tests? Ah. Right. They don’t. So comps are inherently artificial. Adding an artificial hoop to LIS programs helps how, exactly?
As for testing knowledge, it’s impossible for comps to test anything much beyond the required core (which at the Loon’s school is quite small), because the electives students will have taken vary enormously. Again, the Loon doesn’t think this variation inherently problematic in any way; a future youth-services librarian should take quite a different slate from a future scholarly-communication wonk. That it’s difficult to test doesn’t mean it’s wrong (something the Loon wishes education-policy wonks at all levels of government would learn).
As for theses, they make a certain amount of sense for future academic librarians, many of whom will have to do research and write scholarly(-ish) papers. For the future youth-services librarian, they’re just as artificial a hoop as comps would be. The Loon has the same reaction to theses in library school that she does to dissertations in Regular Graduate School: why? Why do these shambling malformed monsters exist? If academe is all about books and/or articles, why isn’t the masterwork (in the medieval-guild sense) a book or a set of articles, for pity’s sake?
It’s worth noting, too, that theses tend to put library schools on the wrong side of the theory-praxis divide. The Loon gets enough flak on that; she’s tired of it. It inclines her rather strongly against thesis requirements.
The Loon agrees with the Beerbrarian that job-placement stats should be monitored closely by ALA accreditors. What’s more, ALA needs to specify quite straitly how these statistics are to be collected, lest schools count store clerks and unpaid interns as working professionals. (Mind you, ALA will have to be careful not to dump non-traditional professional positions into the non-professional bucket. One of the Loon’s first and best students works for a commercial educational-technology firm. Professional? Damn skippy she is.)
This, however, is quite likely to come out in the wash. If ALA doesn’t insist on it, students will, as well they should.
So if comps and theses aren’t the way, what might be? Believe it or not, ALA accreditors are trying to think this through, and they’re forcing library schools to as well. The Loon isn’t wholly enamored of ALA’s methods or its rhetoric, but she thinks it’s important to point out that ALA is actually considering these questions, and ALA members can and should participate in the process.
The Loon is seeing (and herself pondering) some combination of the following:
- Clearer statements of student-learning goals, ideally ones with teeth. The Loon could argue with how this is playing out; ALA is asking for such piles of “evidence” related to stated goals that a) schools are actually reducing their goal lists, and b) schools are being intimidated out of claiming aspirations that they’re not entirely sure they can meet. Still, thinking these questions through is no bad thing.
- A capstone experience. This could be a thesis, and for some students arguably should, though the Loon (again) would prefer a published article, conference poster, or conference presentation. For others, another sort of masterwork artifact makes sense: a dynamic website, a properly-accessioned collection, a sensible new collection-development policy for a library needing one. For those students pursuing careers of ongoing day-to-day service—reference, instruction, cataloging—a meaningful-length practicum makes eminent sense. The only real problem with capstones (and the Loon doesn’t have any offhand solutions for this) is that no one fails them that the Loon’s aware, though a few actually should.
- Portfolios. These are not a panacea when poorly implemented; ALA is leaning on schools to implement them in a great hurry, which the Loon thinks is liable to turn out poorly. Still, the basic idea is sensible: make students become aware of and reflect on the program’s student-learning goals from an early date, make them build their programs to achieve those goals, and make them show and discuss what they’ve learned in (semi-)public. Even better: schools whose students put crappy portfolios proudly up for all to see will lose quality applicants, as they absolutely should. Again, the question hanging fire is whether schools should refuse to graduate students who survive their coursework but turn in a sub-par portfolio. We shall see.
Two other problems raise their unhappy heads with sufficient frequency as to deserve comment. The Loon calls one “union-card syndrome,” and the other might be characterized as extreme Dunning-Kruger effect with respect to standards of professional conduct. Neither of these is simple to correct.
Union-card syndrome happens when a library-school student skates through on the easiest courses he can, because after all, “the MLS is just a union card.” A coherent subset of union-carders avoids technology courses specifically; this frankly makes the tech-instructor Loon quite happy, because union-carders are disdainful, entitled, and lazy in the classroom—but the Loon also knows that they will suffer for it on the job market, and they don’t lend their alma maters any lustre either.
At her own school, the Loon is working on this problem through her own advising practices (though for whatever reason, she doesn’t seem to have acquired any union-carder advisees), through various student-orientation hoops she’s working on, and through generously sprinkling job-market realities throughout her teaching. Fundamentally, though, the Loon can’t prevent union-carding. Some library-school courses are pretty easy for anybody (though “easy” does not necessarily mean “valueless”); others can be skated through by those with particular life experiences, such as the Loon’s intro-tech course for existing programmers and sysadmins. Dorothy Parker’s well-known bon mot riffing on horses and water applies.
Dunning-Kruger is commonest among those who are young, whose baccalaureates are still ink-wet, who have yet to hold down a real job, and who haven’t really thought about what acquiring—much less holding down—an information-professional’s job entails. (It’s not limited to such folk, mind, but it is most common among them.) They don’t know how to write a résumé, but they don’t come to résumé-writing clinics because they don’t know that résumés are actually rather hard to do well. They have often internalized the standard brain-dead societal stereotypes about librarianship, such that they don’t think landing a librarian’s job will be in any way difficult. Worst of all, they can be simultaneously arrogant, terrified, and fragile of ego: the type who won’t go to a résumé clinic because someone might actually criticize their résumé, and they’re not sure they could handle that!
Union-carders could survive once upon a time, but the Loon’s strong sense is that that time is mostly past. As for the Dunning-Krugers, any library search committee can tell you they apply in droves, are roundfiled in droves, and wind up bitterly complaining on mailing lists and blogs that library school failed them. Who failed whom? is the Loon’s usual mental response.
Here’s the problem, from where the Loon is sitting. She doesn’t know how to recognize a union-carder or a Dunning-Kruger from their application packages. (Sure, she could theoretically refuse to admit every just-graduated applicant, but that’s just wrong.) Once they’re admitted, she tends not to see them (they avoid her classes, both because of the tech and because the Loon is reputed to be a challenging instructor) and so can’t help them much. So they jump through the hoops—they tend to be good hoop-jumpers, offering just barely sufficient effort to get through—and they graduate, and they’re never hired because they don’t deserve to be, and what could the Loon have done to save them?
(Please, if you believe nothing else, believe that the Loon would save them if she could!)
The Loon thinks that library schools have very little choice but to graduate some flotsam, for reasons rather deeper than the usual “they’re just taking fools’ money” canard leveled at them. The sheer amount, now, that could do with reduction, to be sure, and in the Loon’s estimation, the larger the library school, the more gimlet-eyed ALA should be about it, just because of the numbers involved. (Bias disclaimer; the Loon’s school is rather small as schools go.)
She does think that service learning, assignments grounded in the real world, portfolios, practicums and other capstones, and the like do help. She also thinks that practicing librarians and other information professionals can help, too, and she wholeheartedly invites them to.
- The nuts and bolts of DIY journals
- Purposes of the library-practitioner literature