Thursday, August 02, 2007

Can LIS education learn something from CS?

It seems the discussion about what can and cannot, and what should and should not be taught as part of an LIS Master's degree has a life all its own. From time to time, the same issues boil up over and over - often centering around this one: how do we give students the experience they need during the course of a professional degree to actually get a job? I'm a big believer in practical experience as the best teacher, and in the past have thought internships and other practicum-type setups were really the only way to get that experience.

But seeing some discussion recently about whether or not some of the more technical positions in libraries should require an MLS, I'm wondering if there's something we can learn from the CS community. Technical jobs commonly require a BS in Computer Science (note: NOT a graduate degree, whether it be research-based or professional), or demonstrated expertise in the task at hand, say, programming. That expertise can be demonstrated through that degree, through various certification programs, or by showing code one has written. While I suspect some would argue that the MLS is equivalent to those certification programs, I'm not so sure. A certification program for, say, Windows server administration, would be based on many practical tasks, and we don't see many of those in our library schools.

While I do agree we should be teaching the theory of things and then apply the practice on top of it, I see our library schools failing our students by ONLY teaching the former and providing no opportunity for the latter. Even single undergraduate programming classes manage to teach both. Can't we learn something from that?


Nicole said...

How very interesting! And something I just wrote about today on the AUTOCAT Mailing list. I'm very disappointed in my library education. I learned more on the job than I ever did in class - with the exception of Resources for Children - which I'm taking for fun not for job purposes.

I've been saying for years that not just Library education, but all education needs to incorporate work - it's the only way people will gain the skills they need to succeed in the real world.

Dorothea said...

Hope so. :) Keep an eye on the blog to see why.

Gerrit said...

One difference I see in the way computer programming works and how LIS courses are carried out is the attitude of perfectionism absent in computer science. Computer science is all about troubleshooting until the product is in working order (software is sold initially with *known bugs*! Companies issue patches online on a monthly basis for new products). Librarians are different. Our profession’s attitude is “do it right the first time” at best and “don’t even bother to do it if the program won’t be flawless” at worst. Librarians are not troubleshooters, we are perfectionists. Librarians don’t want the students actually getting their feet wet and hands dirty because the students “don’t know anything yet” so they could “mess things up.” The most that happens in a Reference Course is a discussion on whether reference is still a valid service – a professor of library science would be extremely reluctant to set up a time when a student could be actually answering real Instant Messenger questions from real patrons (part of this also stems from the unlikely probability that the reference librarian would allow a student to take over his IM hours – even for just one hour). A cataloging professor would think twice before lettting her students actually log into OCLC and create real bibliographic records – no, “you need an MLS for that” is always the attitude. For some reason library scientists have to do all of the work themselves. This is why internships and mentorships are so problematic – only a select group of library professionals actually know how to and *want* to delegate tasks to learners.

In recent years the concepts of Web 2.0 (particularly ‘play’) have slowly crept into the profession. This is a good thing. We are encouraged to practice and actually troubleshoot products to see how they might be implemented. More and more libraries are trying new things without waiting to see if at least five other institutions have done the same thing with success for one year and a number of studies have been published about the product's implementation at various libraries that no one can stand to read. Hopefully the education of library students will likewise evolve from endless scenarios and role-plays to hands-on application.

Anonymous said...

When I held my first position, I wished that library school could have been more practical and less theoretical.


LaDonna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dorothea said...

Hi, Jenn,

I've got a student in my intro-tech class who wants to do a final project on a music repository. I'm going to try to shoot him in your direction to talk about Variations, so here's a heads-up.

S. said...

I am right now bungling my way through my first attempts at creating a digitization project on a university scale, and find this post very interesting. At what point is it OK for me to realize my limitations as a Librarian and not try to be a programmer, too?

Diane Hillman at Cornell wrote this: "More important for a librarian than programming is to understand things like data formats and encodings and how they work in a data processing context. Knowing what XML, XHTML and RDF are and how they relate, where they’re used, and what their limitations are is as critical to a metadata librarian as in-depth knowledge of MARC is to a traditional cataloger. Even better is being able to look at an XML expression of data and know enough about the structure to figure out what might be wrong with it..."

As I am currently a one woman shop, I can't help but wonder - Is it a better use of my time to learn how to write RDF queries, or be able to articulate and advocate for somebody who does to be brought onto staff?

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