My Thoughts on Library and Information Science Education

It's weird sometimes how one topic can pop up in a bunch of different places at once. There's been a debate going on in my library management class right now about library education, and the real value of the MLS degree. A few of my fellow students (and I'll admit, I include myself in this group) are frustrated that our classes are focused a lot on theory and that we're not getting very much practical experience (or that any practical experience we might have is discounted because we don't yet have our degrees). Then I come across two very thoughtful blog posts from folks about the current state of library education and the value of the MLS degree, and some of the issues that arise from a degree that's focused more on theory than practice. So, please, before you read on and hear my thoughts, go read this post by Josh Neff and this post by Nicole Engard. I'll wait. Josh made the point that as the new grad, his more experienced colleagues are fond of joking whenever some sticky situation comes up, that "I bet you didn't learn about this in library school." To which I only have one thing to say: Why in the name of God aren't we learning how to handle real-life situations in library school?!?!?! We're getting a degree that is to prepare us for professional practice, so why on Earth is it assumed that we don't need anything more than a theoretical background to enter professional practice?

Nicole mentioned, "We need to require on the job training like they do for teachers (student teaching). The professors instructing us (most of the time) haven’t been in a library in a while and don’t know about the real changes that are going on - by making students work while they go to school we can hope that they’ll get more out of their education." To which I say I absolutely agree!

To make my point a little clearer, let me offer a couple of other examples from still other professions. When you go to Medical school you have to learn theory, but to get your MD, you also have to get practical experience with, you know, real patients. When you get your nursing degree, you have to learn theory, but you are also required to to get practical, clinical experience. In my opinion, this does a lot to engender my respect for those professions. I know that even if my doctor is just out of med school or the nurse assisting with some medical procedure is just out of nursing school, I am *not* the first patient they have ever interacted with. This gives me some confidence that even if they're new, they have some experience behind them and they know what they're doing.

So, why do we send MLS grads out into the world thinking that the theoretical background we get in library school is enough? I do *not* (I emphatically do *NOT*) dispute the need for MLS grads to have the theoretical background we get - part of the point of getting an advanced degree is that it's supposed to give you that deeper, advanced theoretical background. But I think we do ourselves a disservice as a profession that we don't also see the need to give people entering the profession the same kind of practical experience that is part and parcel of the training in other professions.

It's not that we don't need the theory and the understanding of the role of librarianship that we're getting in our library education programs. We do. But if the point of being a professional, is the ability to apply theory to practice, then we're getting only half an education if all we're learning is the theory. Medicine, nursing, and education are three professions that understand the value of practical training as an integral part of the educational experience. I sincerely hope that librarianship will learn this same lesson soon and start beefing up their requirements for practical training (making internships a requirement of graduation, instead of just an optional course would be a good start) as part of library science education.