September 18, 2017

The Transparent Library School | Office Hours

LIS faculty, administrators, and other stakeholders could take a lesson in transparency from their students. At the “Hack Library School” blog (bit.ly/eAeELW), students in various LIS programs around the country offer up opinions, insights, and some useful truths about their LIS education. Recent posts have compared information architecture courses across schools and addressed the divide in classes between students whose focus is user services and those focused on technical services.

The posts are open, straightforward, and reflective. The discourse is ­­transparent.

Individual student blogs like Ben Lainhart’s also offer a glimpse into the detailed workings of LIS coursework. In his “Is Online Education Still Stuck In 2001?” (bit.ly/hpCr5k), he writes about taking an online course that featured an out-of-date textbook as well as a less than engaging delivery: “I do not want to take any more online classes that are exactly the same: sign into BB, read the ‘lecture,’ read the articles, make my obligatory posts on the discussion board and occasionally write a paper. How ­uninspiring!”

Later in his post, Lainhart adds, “I am convinced that there have been days that I have learned more on Twitter than from an entire class.”

Here comes everyone
Education should be inspiring for all involved. Learning should be filled with discovery, encouragement, and experimentation—both with ideas and tools. The best online and in-classroom experiences can and should be enhanced by the online LIS professional commons.

Apparently, some LIS schools need a big dose of radical transparency. The issues and ideas relating to openness and communication in libraries that Michael Casey and I explored in LJ in The Transparent Library column apply equally to LIS education. Library school students deserve a less opaque educational environment, too.

From admission to graduation and beyond, students should be encouraged to engage with faculty and administration in open forums about everything related to their programs: coursework, curriculum, accreditation standards, long-range planning, and faculty hires. School committees made up of all stakeholders should post their minutes and plans to the web for comments and sharing.

The big picture
Course evaluations alone are not enough. We need ongoing “big picture” program evaluations presenting students and others with a chance to weigh in on issues beyond individual classes and professors. Schedules of courses, environments for learning (even “the classroom was always freezing!”), and IT infrastructure might be some of the issues ripe for feedback. Appropriate administrators would be expected to respond openly, with the opportunity for further sharing and conversation.

Students would benefit from coauthoring/cocreating class resources with faculty. For many courses, a stale textbook might give way to a collection of web resources, online articles, and the voices of practitioners shared via social media.

Curriculum itself should be nimble and easily adaptable to changes in the profession and technology. One seminar section a semester might focus on bleeding-edge ideas or trends and how libraries might respond to them. Professors might guide the group, but students would be on equal footing to present information and perceptions.

Imagine a seminar on local community support building, or one on dealing with budget problems on a local level where students hear from some of the key players and get to discuss possible solutions in a more real-world environment and not isolated in a classroom. Transparent discussions in practical decision-making would be invaluable.

Global sharing
Beyond these mainly internal changes focusing individual schools outward, the next step is to take the conversation global. I’d like to see a community site like “Hack Library School” include students, professors, deans, and others, plus those who will be hiring new grads. Here’s where an organization such as the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) might play a role, as might library schools and associations from other parts of the world.

With such transparency also comes radical trust. Yes, anonymous comments might encourage a negative, slam book “Rate My Professor”–style environment on the school blog, but most students given the chance to engage would do so positively and with respect.

Just like libraries, the transparent library school needs only to create guidelines for the use of communication tools. Fear of open communication or too much emphasis on command and control does not create the encouraging environment needed to foster 21st-century information professionals.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Assistant Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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