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Christina's LIS Rant
Saturday, September 10, 2005
  Library School as trade school vs. library school as information research institution
The conflict or at least dichotomy:  Library School as trade school vs. Library School as information studies research institution.

My alma mater for both of my degrees is a state school.  As such, it provides trained school media specialists for the state as well as for adjoining states without local library schools.  It also provides most of the librarians for the public libraries in the state (at least 25 systems – 23 counties, city of Baltimore, town of Takoma Park).  Many attendees of the school are looking for very practical things.  They want to a) be certified – public library librarians require certification, too, b) be eligible for higher pay and promotions c) they need to effectively answer the information needs of their customers.  

In many cases they are willing, if not happy, to learn the general theories that are important to the field.  This is one way they become librarians – they learn the jargon of the profession and some of the theoretical underpinnings.  Then, when they are in the field, they do continuing education credits and go to conference to learn new applications, update practical knowledge, and solve management problems.  To this group, library school is a trade school – it prepares you for a career in librarianship.

For others, library school is pursued to understand the nature of information, its seeking, and its use.  They thrive on learning the underlying theories from psychology, sociology, education, anthropology, communications… and applying these theories to users from diverse groups.  Once they have enough background in the literature, they eagerly learn how to design studies and create frameworks to describe what they see.  (Of course, they may also be studying the organization of information that can tend to the philosophy or information retrieval that can tend toward computer science.)

This presents a problem for library schools – especially those in “research institutions.”  On one hand, they need to bring in grants and do serious research.  On the other hand, they need to train the practitioners.  It’s a professional school like medical school.  Most people who go through medical school go on to be practicing doctors – not researchers – and it’s the same way with library schools.  It used to be perfectly valid to be a teacher’s college – they trained teachers.  Now everyone has to be a research institution because that’s where the money is.

So my alma mater (and current school) is going through this realignment right now.  The new dean is not a librarian (although extremely well qualified to run the program and a very well-respected researcher).  They’ve closed the information science library and they’re trying to hire more researchers.  They’re reorienting the program to look more at e-gov’t and things like that when we’d been known in part for our study of children.

I think that the key is really balance (as with everything else in life!).  CLIS had become almost a trade school (there was some research going on but much of it was actually conducted in other departments by professors who have joint appointments) and now it looks like they’re trying to become an i-school (see this from the listserv).  I wonder how the training of librarians is done in other i-schools and about the overlap with computer science departments.  I guess we’ll see.
 
Comments:
This post was a Ringleader's (Editor's) Choice for the Carnival of the Infosciences #6 which can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/chqkr
 
Christina, this is a well-written post. I hope the Save Wasserman blog picks up on it. And thank for pointing me to the note from the dean. I'm not on any of the CLIS lists, so I don't see this stuff.

I graduated from CLIS a long time ago and have fond memories of it. I learned a lot there. I remember trooping to the various libraries in all types of weather. And I remember the comradarie that existed in the CLIS library. It was the noisy library. (Students from other programs on campus shushed us!) It was home.

I hope the space is used wisely for the students' sake. And whatever CLIS does ovrall, let it do it for the sake of the students.
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

Laurel , Maryland , 20707 USA
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