Friday, January 24, 2020

The Truth About Library School, Part 3 - What Needs to Change

The Truth About Library School, How LIS Needs to Change, What's wrong with library school

In Part 1 of this series, I summarized my experience with library school and gave some things to consider when thinking about library school and selecting a program, and in Part 2 I gave some tips for surviving and getting the most out of library school. In this third and final installment I would like to talk about some of the things that I think need to change.

Some of these things may be specific to online programs or my program, or may apply to higher ed in general, but all are based on my experiences as an MLIS student and discussions with other students. As always, others may have different views based on their experiences.
  1. DISCUSSION POSTS - Please, can we just drop the charade that discussion posts in any way replace a live classroom discussion or enhance learning and get rid of them? Seriously! They are a complete waste of time and serve no purpose, as indicated by the number of memes floating around about them. And if programs are going to insist on having them, the instructors should at least take part in the discussion as well, and give interesting, controversial topics that will really invite discussion and differing opinions.

    1. FEEDBACK - If I am going to all the time and effort to do quality work on projects and papers, I would like at least a sentence or two of genuine feedback that shows the professor actually read it. I don't want someone to be nit-picky, but I also don't like feeling like I wasted my time trying to do high-quality work when it seems like the professor just gave everybody a 100 without even reading them (in one class, everyone got 100 on everything, even on some assignments they didn't do!). If you take off points, I want to know why, specifically.

    2. RESPONSIVENESS - Many instructors need to do a much better job of maintaining a presence in the class and responding to students' questions in a timely manner, especially as assignment deadlines approach. In most cases, I think it is reasonable to expect an answer within 24 hours, 48 at the most. Going a week or more without checking in and forcing students to turn in assignments without ever getting answers to questions is not acceptable. Grade assignments in a reasonable amount of time. Get the first assignment graded as soon as possible so students know your expectations. Getting grades back within a week is ideal, within two weeks is understandable, but beyond that is unacceptable.

    3. PROFESSIONALISM - Instructors and programs need to be held to a higher standard of pedagogical professionalism. Ghosting on classes, not responding to or giving snarky responses to students' questions, being extremely disorganized, inconsistent and contradictory instructions and due dates, making major changes in assignments after they've been given, not updating course content, taking weeks to grade assignments, and telling students they should be happy with whatever they get because they pay lower tuition than at other schools are all examples of unprofessional behavior I have experienced. Part of the argument for requiring an MLIS is to learn professionalism and ethics, so then shouldn't the faculty be modeling professionalism in everything they do? (This is not to imply all faculty are unprofessional by any means, but I had too many that were).

    4. TENURE - The ONLY thing I learned in my nightmare of a cataloging class is why tenure should be abolished. The instructor was a total disaster, and was MIA for 80-90% of the course, forgetting to upload material for weeks, then dumping it all on us at once, when it was too late to be helpful for the assignments, not answering questions, taking weeks to grade things, sometimes not at all. According to students in a prior term, they ended up just giving everyone an A for the class because he never turned in final grades. And this behavior had gone on for years, but when students complained, the chair would just throw her hands up and said there was nothing she could do because he had tenure. Tenure protects the lazy, incompetent, and unprofessional.

    5. OVERSIGHT & ACCOUNTABILITY - There needs to be much more oversight and accountability for faculty, especially in online programs. The online environment seems to encourage complacency and downright unethical and unprofessional behavior in some instructors. Department heads and administrators need to pay more attention to what is going on, take student complaints and reviews seriously, and hold faculty accountable for their actions. Don't make excuses for them, don't imply students don't have the right to expect professional behavior because they pay lower tuition, don't just throw your hands up and say there's nothing you can do. There is always something you can do, even if it comes down to stepping in and taking over, or at least facilitating, the class yourself. Don't leave your students twisting in the wind once you've gotten their money.

    6. PRACTICAL ASSIGNMENTS - Please give assignments that help expand practical skills and knowledge that translate to real-life library work, not busywork. And in order to do that, the faculty needs to be in-touch with modern libraries of all types. If you are going to be teaching students that will be working in public libraries, then you need to have an understanding of what public librarianship is really like. Yes, teach theory as well, but practical assignments are much more engaging and useful in the long run.

    7. PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE - MLS programs need to include more opportunities for practical experiences and do more to facilitate those experiences, especially for those who will be working in public libraries. Research is great, and I admit I enjoyed my research methods class and project, but the reality is that the vast majority of public librarians, particularly children's librarians, do not have the time nor opportunity to do research, even if they would like to. Research methods is very important for academics, but public librarians would be much better served with doing a co-op or practicum. Not everyone already works in a library, and students need to gain practical experience to be competitive on the job market. It should not be possible for a new graduate to start a position as a new children's librarian without ever having any real experience with children, but it is. LIS relies much too heavily on the assumption they come into the field already having that experience, but that's not always true.

    8. PUBLIC LIBRARIANSHIP & YOUTH SERVICES - Faculty need to be more in touch with today's public libraries and do more to prepare future public librarians for the realities of serving the public, especially in youth services. Youth services classes need to be taught by someone with significant experience working in youth services in a public library setting, and they need to stay in touch with modern trends and give assignments that relate to the services and programs children's librarians will be expected to do.

      Reader's advisory is a big part of a children's librarian's job, so instead of making students write boring book summaries and reviews, the time would be better spent having them put together themed bibliographies on different topics, or targeted for specific audiences; give them RA scenarios to come up with book suggestions for. Forget the book trailers and fancy libguides; children's librarians don't have time for such things in real life, and patrons have little interest in them.

      Library programming is another huge part of a children's librarian's job, sometimes it is the whole job, and library programs are NOT like classroom lessons. Keep in touch with what the current trends are in library programs, have students observe and critique several different programs for different ages. There is a lot more than storytime going on in today's public library! The expectations for program design assignments need to be realistic, developmentally appropriate, and appropriate for a library setting. Don't tell students to plan an hour-long program for toddlers! Don't expect a program plan to be like a classroom lesson plan.

      And finally, remember that children's librarians have to be prepared to work with children and are expected to have knowledge of child development and be able to apply it to designing and delivering library programs and services (ALSC, 2015). However, LIS programs often don't do enough to support this competency. A course in child development should be allowed to count as an elective towards an LIS degree for those in who have never had one, and practical experience should be integrated into the youth services curriculum.

    9. STOP FLOODING THE MARKET - There needs to be fewer programs, and they need to stop being so greedy and accepting so many students. Online MLS programs have proliferated since ALA's big push for the "professionalization" of the field, and are churning out way more degreed librarians that the job market can support. The idea of an upcoming "librarian shortage" is a myth that has been tossed around for at least 20 years. People are having to wait longer to retire, and when they do, their positions are often eliminated or replaced with a part-time paraprofessional.

    10. DROP THE MLS REQUIREMENT - An expensive graduate degree should not be required for an entry level position in a low-paying field. Yes, academic librarians may need it, managers and department heads maybe, directors definitely, but for an entry level children's librarian in a public library making $35,000? I would like to see an alternate path to librarianship for public libraries, particularly youth services, perhaps modeled after the teaching field. Some kind of additional coursework, perhaps a 5th year program, that would be at the undergraduate tuition rate and be more practical and job-oriented, and include practical experience. Teachers can get a full-time job with benefits with a bachelor's degree, so that they have a steady income, health insurance, and are putting into retirement first. Then they can work on getting a master's degree. I think this would be a better avenue for public librarianship that would reduce the amount of student loan debt and increase diversity in the field, which is desperately needed. Recognize those performing librarian duties as librarians with appropriate pay, then give a pay bump if they get an MLS, and require the MLS for advancement.
    Well, this last installment was largely cathartic for me, but I hope it is at least somewhat interesting to others, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!

    And in case you missed either of the first two articles in this series:


    1. I graduated from a Canadian library school in 2008, so I'm fairly out of date, but I have to say, my bricks and mortar library school experience was entirely different! It's also impossible to bankrupt yourself doing library school here, which helps.
      I would entirely recommend my library school (SIM, at Dalhousie University), and I feel it was 100% the best thing I've ever done, and the best way to prepare myself for a library career. So yeah, online is easier and means you can work through it at an established job, but I honestly feel really bad for my colleagues who are doing it that way, because they are missing out on what I found to be a really terrific experience that has given me so many wonderful friends and colleagues as well as so much really valuable and relevant education and experience (but I know lots of people who did not-online programs at other universities, and loathed it). So to all who want an MLS, please move to Halifax and go to SIM, it's the best, and no, they don't pay me to say that! :)

      1. So glad to hear some feedback from someone who (1) had a brick & mortar experience, and (2) had a good experience.

        Library school has been such an entirely different experience from my previous master's degree in another field, and I've often wondered if that was because of the field, online vs. traditional, the particular program, or representational of an overall decline in higher ed over the years. I suspect a combination.

        Thanks for your comments!

    2. I can relate to a lot of what you have written. My perspective is from a VERY small town public library. What my job as a director looks like is very different than a lot of what is being taught. It would be so meaningful to me if the instructors could observe for a day or two rather than thinking that we just don't understand what a "real" library is. About half of my courses relate to reality of what I do, and they have given me information to improve. Meanwhile I feel like the role we serve in a small town is so much bigger and more important than what is being taught. Thanks for putting it into words.

    3. This is just what I needed. I’m two weeks into my first MLIS online class and so much of what you have written resonates deeply. The time waste is incredible- the inane discussion posts, especially. But what really gets me is the MLIS requirement. I have undergrad and grad degrees in education, and 15 years of teaching. I’ve worked as an associate children’s librarian for over two years and feel I do my job just as well, if not better, than the MLIS holders in my community. I do a ton of RA, several packed story times a week, in addition to STEM and collection work. I’m lucky to love my job and co-workers at the moment, but I can’t advance, learn new skills or make more than $18 an hour without spending four years and thirty grand on another master’s degree. I’m horribly frustrated but in for the long haul because it’s necessary to get where I want to go. Thanks for the commiseration and the knowledge that I’m not alone in these feelings.

      1. It helps once you get a feel for the minimal effort you need to put into the stupid stuff, and save your energy for the more meaningful assignments. But forming some kind of student support group is essential. I'm in a similar situation; love my current job, co-workers, and patrons, but I can't afford to keep working part-time and without benefits. Hang in there! If they would get rid of the stupid discussion posts it would make a huge difference. I've had two classes that did not have weekly discussion posts, and it made such a huge difference, allowing me to focus all my energy on more meaningful and useful assignments. One was the only class where I really felt we were treated as graduate students.

    4. Spot on, Jen! One big time-waster you missed is the dreaded group projects for online courses. OMG. While these may be a valuable tool for the experience of working with a team, I think they absolutely are ridiculous unless you are face-to-face with classmates. If an assignment is worth a large portion of my final grade, I will not let it be dependent on no-shows or slackers. Get rid of these along with the discussion board posts, and life would be easier!
      Thanks for sharing!!

      1. Yes, group projects suck in general, but especially online! I didn't think to mention that because I haven't had a group project in most classes, only the first two. The first one was relatively painless, but the second took 5 times longer to do as a group than if I'd just done it myself. Luckily, no more since then! But, yes, they suck. And I didn't learn anything I didn't already know about group dynamics. Thanks for sharing your comments!