Reinventing the MLS

On LinkedIn there is an ongoing discussion that revolves around reinventing library education. The specific question is:

“If you could reinvent library education how would you start?” 

I have been following the discussion and considered posting a reply directly to LinkedIn, but remembered that I had yet to write a blog post this month and thought this might be a good topic to cover.

Awhile back I wrote about how we can attract more LIS graduates to the dark side of medical librarianship and I more recently wrote an update about my library school experience in which I said:

In order to stay relevant in today’s tumultuous world of library and information science, they need to start offering an MLIS, as well as concentrations that integrate informatics and computer science into the MLS curriculum track (perhaps offering a Systems Analysis and Design track, a Knowledge Management concentration, or even a Digital Information Certificate).

Now, this was about my own graduate program at Emporia State University, but I do think it is relevant to many of the graduate LIS programs in the United States (I will be honest and admit my ignorance regarding international LIS programs). Many of the graduate programs I have looked at tend to have a very overarching approach to teaching information science. You learn about the foundations of library science, information transfer and all those delicious information science tidbits that come with the degree. Most of these programs offer basic concentrations, but I have found–albeit my experience is limited–that these concentrations are often too broad to provide in-depth training. The difference between the “Leadership and Administration” concentration and the basic library MLS curriculum is 9 hours (3 courses). In fact, at Emporia, the difference between all of the concentrations and the standard curriculum is 9 hours (3-4 courses). I don’t know about most of you, but to me that seems like a fairly shallow difference between a general degree and a concentration. I know most Master’s degree programs average between 2-2.5 years, but perhaps vamping up the curriculum to 2.5-3 years would be beneficial to LIS graduates. If you look at the first 1.5-2 years as the foundation years, you are then giving students the opportunity to really invest themselves in a concentration over the next 1-1.5 years.

In order to garner interest in the concentrations, they should be focused on specific areas of librarianship or on building technical skills. Web authoring, database design, information literacy education, and data management are all areas that librarians could excel. While there are many areas where LIS education could be reinvented, concentrations (and specializations) would be the beginning of the reinvention of LIS curricula (1).

Other ways we should consider reinventing LIS education:

2. More stringent admissions requirements. 

One suggestion was a “5 year moratorium on Library School matriculation,” and while many librarians would probably jump for joy at having less competition for positions, I think that this would be a terrible idea. Turning people away from a career just to make it easier on those who have already graduated is not fair in the slightest. What is fair, is to produce the best possible candidates for the positions that are available in order to strengthen our profession across the board.

Instead of a moratorium, library school programs should consider:

  • requiring at least 2-3 years of library experience prior to acceptance to a program
  • letter(s) of reference from an LIS professional
  • GRE score of (the school would decide)
  • either a written essay and/or;
  • face-to-face interview with the candidate

Library experience should be a top priority for acceptance into a graduate program. I’m not saying that the candidate should have a full-time (or even a part-time) job at a library, but volunteer experience at least shows interest in library science and provides an applicant with some basic knowledge before applying. This would weed out those people who are just “going back to school to get an ‘easy’ masters for career advancement.”

3. Greater emphasis on field-work and internship opportunities.

This really depends on the library experience of each LIS graduate. If a library manager is pursuing a MLS degree, they probably don’t need a summer internship at the circulation desk. If, however, a graduate is only coming into a degree program with 2 years of volunteer experience or a library page is accepted, an internship (or practicum) program should be a requirement in order to graduate. Now I know this is difficult. While librarians are constantly championing collaboration, it’s incredibly difficult to find libraries willing to take on a practicum student or a summer library intern. This has got to stop! If we want competent–and confident–individuals graduating from our programs we need to provide them with the experiences they need to make professional decisions.

Library programs should look at medical schools for inspiration. In the 3rd year of medical school, students rotate through multiple “core clerkships.” Library programs could consider placing students on rotations in a similar fashion. Consider the following:

Suzie Librarian has completed her first year of library school. She has a fairly solid LIS foundation, 1 year of library page experience and 1 year of volunteering as a library “teen wrangler.” Her LIS program wants to help her make an informed decision about the type of librarianship Suzie may be interested in, so they send her through 2 months of professional development training at multiple libraries. During this part of her schooling, Suzie will get to experience a (1) week in an academic library, a (1) week in a public library (either rural or urban), 2-3 weeks in a special libraries (location dependent), and 1 week in an archival setting. If Suzie is interested in school librarianship, she can add an extra week of shadowing a K-12 librarian.

This may not be done in two consecutive months, but shadowing for a few days throughout the program would definitely be beneficial to library school students.

As someone who has already graduated from library school, I wish this had been something offered to me. Even though I knew going in that I wanted to do something in the medical sciences, it would have been an invaluable experience to learn about other librarianship opportunities.

4. More intense focus on research methods and statistical analysis.

Everyone that graduates from library school should be able to not only provide assistance to researchers, but to also conduct their own academic research. In order to further the field of library and information science, we need to produce graduates who are interested in contributing to our field of study. Doctoral research isn’t for everyone, but those with MLS degrees can still provide valuable insight into information science theories, user services, and pretty much any aspect of modern librarianship.

To add to this, librarians should be graduating with a basic understanding of statistics and a rudimentary understanding of how this applies to research methodology. This may not be as relevant to public librarians, but it should be incredibly important! Their understanding of how to produce actionable research could possibly be tied to funding for their library, and could save them from having to shutter their doors/windows in the future. The designing and assessment of patron surveys could prove to be an incredibly valuable skill, and this skill should be taught in library school.

5. Increasing alumni participation in graduate courses

When you’re in library school, you can develop a sort of tunnel vision regarding employment after graduating with your MLS. Bringing alumni in to lecture, present, or even just network with current students can be invaluable to the success of the student following graduation. After I received my MLS, I continued to work in a medical library until a better offer presented itself. In library school, any one trying to change my mind about medical librarianship would have been hard-pressed to do so. This was because my mindset was, “If I get my MLS I have to work in a library…” While I understand this is the goal for many people, it can be difficult for those with just the MLS and limited/no library experience to find jobs after graduating. I now know MLS grads that work within academia as instructional designers or technologists, or in non-profit organizations, consulting firms, web development companies, research facilities, and even marketing for corporations. In all these instances, they graduated from library school expecting to work in a library. What happened, however, was that they realized the skills they had learned in their graduate program prepared them for numerous positions outside of the library environment. Bringing in a diverse group of MLS alumni would serve to help students see that there are many different avenues to employment.

While I would love to see library programs adopt these initiatives, I understand that higher education–and this includes graduate library programs– still need to make money. By accepting fewer applicants to programs and increasing the number of faculty, schools stand to cut profits or they might just increase tuition to offset this loss. This is obviously not what they, nor future applicants, want to happen. If even one of these initiatives could be implemented across the board, I really think that MLS programs could help prepare the future workforce and increase the number of competent LIS graduates.

I do look forward to the future of LIS education, but I also hope that changes are made in the present that propel libraries and the study of information science,  into a more stable future.

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Library School: A Look Back, Or Why You Should Do A Lot of Research on the MLS Program You Are Interested In

I started my MLS program at Emporia State University in January of 2013. I had just moved to a new State, started a new job, and ended a ten (10) year relationship. It was a time of extraordinary change for me and I was tentatively excited for what was to come.

One of the reasons I was originally interested in the program was due in part to the fact that they had electives that aligned with my interest in health science/medical librarianship. Even though it was part of Emporia’s nursing program, the courses were as close to medical librarianship as one could get (at least in the Midwest). It wasn’t until after I had been accepted to the program that I found out you had to physically be on the Emporia campus to take the courses. I had been lead to believe that the courses could be integrated into the hybrid face-to-face/online format the program had instituted, which was one of the main reasons I chose Emporia over The University of Missouri-Columbia. This left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was excited to start my program and as I progressed through the curriculum, I focused most of my research on aspects of librarianship that affected medical libraries.

The MLS program at Emporia follows a pretty standard format. The first two semesters are devoted to “Core Courses” and as you move further into the program, you are allowed more freedom when it comes to taking electives. In the first semester you are required to take Foundations of Library and Information Science and Information Seeking Behavior and User-centered Services and you have the option of taking Technology Skills for Graduate Students. I opted out of the technology skills class, and found the Foundations course to be very dry. Some of the history majors in my cohort said that they enjoyed the course, but overall I did not feel that the course was very challenging or interesting. While I understood the reasoning behind the course, studying the ALA Code of Ethics and learning about the history of libraries was not really my “cup of tea.”

Group Projects

It was also in this course that I had my first graduate school group experience and let me just say this…it was very unsatisfactory. My group mates did very little work and did not understand how to collaborate online. Further, one seemed to have a very difficult time coming to terms with the workload of a graduate program, and the other went on vacation halfway through the project without letting anyone know. In fact, we showed up at class to present and she wasn’t there. When we told our professor she said, “Oh, she didn’t tell you?” No…she didn’t tell us, but thanks. Needless to say, the experience was painful and I prayed I would never have assigned groups again.

In case you don’t want to read about my full experience…

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TL;DR

1. When considering a MLS program, make sure you really do some thorough research into the programs you are interested in. Email faculty, talk to recent graduates and don’t take the program directors word as law (i.e., make sure a course that they say is online is actually online and does not require you to be at a particular campus).

2. Do some general research into what type of librarianship you may be interested in and use the ALA’s Directory of ALA-Accredited Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies to help inform your decision.

3. Once you have been accepted to your program, don’t be afraid to speak up when you find the experience less than satisfactory! During my program, I emailed the director of our program to let her know that I was disappointed by the decision to dismiss one of our professors, and I also made full use of the professor/course evaluations at the end of each semester. Make sure that you help shape the future of MLS/MLIS programs by voicing your informed opinion!

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The second (2) course, Information Seeking Behavior and User-centered Services was team-taught by two very different professors. One had a very laissez-faire attitude about the course and interlaced a lot of personal experiences into her lectures. I really enjoyed when she taught and looked forward to class when she was the main presenter. The second professor was incredibly dry and I found it difficult to pay attention when she was lecturing. However, when the course was split into two groups, I was in the group with the second professor and was pretty bummed out for the rest of the course. Overall, the course was actually interesting and I still utilize a lot of what I learned in the course when helping students/faculty.

Semester two (2) was also dedicated to core classes: Organization of Information and Research in Library and Information Science. This was by far my least favorite semester in the program. While the Organization of Information course had interesting content, the professor was the same dry professor from my previous semester and lectures were painful. Thankfully I had an amazing group for the group project and we ended up creating a Prezi about organizing shoes. This was also the first semester we were really introduced to literature reviews, and even though I had done a few in my undergraduate work, they were never as in-depth as the first two reviews we were assigned in grad school. I chose to continue my research into health science librarianship by focusing my literature review on Medical Information Retrieval SystemsEven though the review was drawn out over multiple weeks, I thoroughly enjoyed the research experience and was proud of the finished product.

Organize Something Presentation

At the same time we were completing the review for Organization of Information, we were also assigned a literature review in Research in Library and Information Science, except this was a group review. My group was amazing, and I had the best partners in crime a library student could ask for, and we worked really well together. Even though collaborative literature reviews are horrible, we were able to pull together a great review by the end of the assignment. Originally, I was excited to take a research methods course and was hoping that we would allowed to really dive into data-driven library research. Unfortunately, our professor was less than satisfactory and we ended up learning very little about utilizing data in libraries. I supplemented the course with Research Methods: The Key Concepts and Knowledge into Action: Research and Evaluation in Library and Information Science, even though I had taken plenty of research courses during my undergraduate education. Overall the second semester was rough, but I did complete several usable work products that added depth to my portfolio.

By the third (3) semester Emporia allows you to start taking some electives.I opted to “start getting technical” and took Introduction to Metadata and Advanced Metadata Applications. Both courses were beautifully taught and I learned so many things that I have been able to apply to my jobs. The courses were both very intense and you had very little “goof off” time. I was able to work with the same individuals I had been paired with for the collaborative literature review and we aced the final project by creating BGMAP (Board Game Metadata Application Profile). If you plan on taking a metadata course, I highly suggest purchasing the book for the class and bookmarking the schemas the class is covering. I also took Collection Development and Management, with a great professor who was originally from Florida State University. During the course she allowed us to participate in a poster presentation (a sort of mini-conference) and incredibly I was assigned medical libraries as the topic of my research!

BGMAP Landing Page Markup

The fourth (4) semester is similar to the third (3) in that you can take an elective paired with a core or two electives. You still have to complete Leadership and Administration of Information Organizations, but there is some leeway on the order in which you take the rest of your courses. I decided to take the Leadership course (to get it out of the way) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though I have never desired to be in a management position (Guru track anyone?), our professor was incredibly engaging and provided us with a lot of context for why managerial roles are so vital in organizations. Unfortunately it was this particular professors last course before he was stupidly (yes I said it) dismissed from Emporia State University. This particular management course had us create a strategic plan for a library, which is apparently something LIS graduates are normally not well-versed in doing. The second course I was enrolled in during this semester was Introduction to Informatics, which–while interesting–also provided an absolutely terrible group project experience.

My last two semesters were by far my favorite in the program. I was enrolled in a total of five (5) courses over the entire two semesters. The second to last semester I took Information Technology, which I will sum up by using a tweet from a group mate…

Kat Tweet

I paired Information Technology with Information Retrieval and Customization, both of which were taught by the same professor. I found this particular professor to be horribly disorganized, and I could not for the life of me tell if she was actually technically proficient or not. Since most of the work was completed online, I didn’t have enough interactions with her to see if she was really comfortable with technology. After taking three of her classes, my ultimate vote is no.

My very last semester in the program I enrolled in Teaching in the Information Professions (wonderful course that should be required of all librarians, especially those interested in academic librarianship) and Project Management in Information Organizations, as well as my Capstone. While I would suggest taking a project management course, make sure that your professor actually understands how to teach project management and that it isn’t just a hobby of theirs.

Every semester I could I tried to take Database Design, but every semester it was dropped due to low enrollment. This was a major drawback of the program! There was not enough variation among electives to satisfy those of us not on a track. I wanted to take the following (but many were never offered during my cohort):

  • LI844: Database Design
  • LI866: Intro to Copyright and Licensing
  • LI809: Introduction to Archives
  • LI827: Preservation Strategies
  • LI835: Information Services for Academic Libraries
  • LI840: Structure and Organization of Information Technology
  • LI848: Web Design and Development
  • LI890: Advanced Research Strategies

This lead to me really only getting to choose 5 (4.5 really) electives throughout my entire program. I would have loved to “test out” of Information Technology (which was required) and taken a course where I would have actually challenged myself instead.

Overall I would give the SLIM program a C+ (B- on it’s best day). They are way behind when it comes to integrating technology into their curriculum, and are still offering concentrations in Children’s and Young Adult Librarianship. In order to stay relevant in today’s tumultuous world of library and information science, they need to start offering an MLIS, as well as concentrations that integrate informatics and computer science into the MLS curriculum track (perhaps offering a Systems Analysis and Design track, a Knowledge Management concentration, or even a Digital Information Certificate). The school currently offers a completely separate informatics degree, but the program just came into existence in 2015.

See TL;DR for a concise summary.