If you follow Seth Godin’s blog, watch videos of his presentations or read his books, you know that he tends to have his finger on the pulse of the latest trends driving forward business, culture and society. You may also know that he encourages us to find our inner leader in order to advance our organizations or tribes. And if you follow Seth Godin, as I do, you’d probably want to attend one of his presentations, an opportunity that rarely happens. When EDUCAUSE was in Philadelphia, I was able to attend Godin’s opening keynote address.
An outdated system
Godin is highly critical of higher education—and just about any other form of education in our contemporary system. Rather than truly educating students, Godin argues that we support classrooms and structures that simply turn out more cogs for the wheel. That’s because our teaching and curriculum are still rooted in the industrial age, and we prepare students to function in a world—and more specifically, a work environment—that is rapidly disappearing. Instead of focusing on technical competencies, says Godin, we should be preparing students for a world in which those who succeed will do so by understanding how to (1) solve challenging problems for which there are no obvious answers and (2) have skills for the “connection society,” in which people succeed by discovering niche opportunities through networking. The goal is to be remarkable, not normal.
Realistically, we don’t all have the talent and capacity to meet Godin’s expectations. He does challenge us with these ideas, though, and I wonder what Godin would have to say about the way our LIS programs educate our future professionals.
Learning in the connected age
I’ve taught, fairly recently, a course in an LIS program, and I know some of what’s happening in the curriculum, yet I lack significant insight to say that the programs are out of touch with the real skills needed to produce leaders for the future of librarianship. I hope that is not the case, and the impressions I’ve taken away from some amazing LIS students I’ve met suggest the programs are on the right track. I think Godin would support my belief that what’s making a difference is the way our LIS students are learning outside the classroom-in addition to what happens in it. In this connected age, today’s students are learning from each other, and from professionals, in ways that enhance their transition to the profession.
New venues for learning
This connected learning is happening in a number of ways. More students are lurking and asking for assistance from professional colleagues on traditional discussion lists populated by academic librarians. These give students a view into the real-world challenges of librarians, and demonstrate that no one librarian knows all the answers. We all need to tap into our colleagues’ knowledge.
Students can also participate in informal librarian networks such as Library Society of the World. I’ve noticed that a LIS student named Derrick often asks for advice on anything from assignments to job preparation to course suggestions to membership in ALA. It gives students an insider’s view of the library profession, and may help prepare LIS students for the world beyond the i-school.
While savvy students are developing their own networks, professionals can visit Hack Library School to find out what students are working on and thinking about these days.
All of these things would be impossible in the unconnected world in which I came of age as a librarian. All we had were face-to-face professional meetings—certainly worthwhile, but too formal and infrequent for real learning, and such venues were often off-limits to LIS students. Thanks to the connected age, Derrick is having a far more robust education than I ever did.
Supporting the connections
I’m not sure what Seth Godin would have to say about contemporary LIS education-he seems to have strong opinions about libraries and higher education, so when you put them both together, look out. However, I do have a sense of what he might say about our traditional library professional associations. I think he might be alarmed that they are suffering from the same problems as higher education.
Just as students can now find knowledge beyond the traditional college or university—by tapping into open education and using their connections to find people who will help them learn—students and librarians now have other, informal options beyond library associations for professional networking. Associations might look at these informal networks to better understand what librarians are getting from them.
A role for formal associations
The good news is that formal associations can also play in this connected world. They already have existing networks with LIS programs, such as school-sponsored student chapters or regional chapters, which can serve as a building block for future relationships. In the connected age, academic librarians can assume some responsibility, formal or informal, to connect with our future professional colleagues.
When “normal” is not quite what it used to be, and “new” is the way to get things done, it’s time for academic librarians to connect with a whole world of new possibilities for learning.