I’m working on a committee to evaluate my school’s core courses. Steeped in foundational knowledge, these courses present the basic tenets of our profession, such as the reference interview, the Library Bill of Rights, rules of access and cataloging, and overviews of the “information society.”
I did a quick scan of a number of library school websites and found the core is evolving: required cataloging has morphed into “information organization and collection development” at some schools and some reference courses have disappeared altogether, replaced by a focus on user behavior and information theory. Can we assume that professors are no longer wheeling book carts full of reference titles into a stuffy classroom for a show-and-tell followed by a scavenger hunt?
What should the core look like in 2012 and beyond? For sure, it will always include an overview of our history and foundations. Our core values remain, even as delivery methods and priorities shift. Beyond that, I envision core courses focused on three important areas: how people access, use, and create information; how technology impacts and extends our world; and how librarians can show leadership in these two areas to serve and better their communities.
Piece by piece
User studies—research concerning patterns of information use in our everyday lives, in times of crisis, and as members of certain populations (students, the aging, etc.)—define the first part of this core. Appreciating the diversity of cultures in relation to library service should come early, as our grads will be citizens of the world.
Second, the core would include an emphasis on the ever-changing technological landscape. This might include coding, hardware, and all those things once deemed the realm of the IT department but would also include understanding the architecture of participation and the fostering of usable environments for information access and creation.
Communication technology has advanced in ways I never imagined as a library student or public librarian. The world is changing faster than ever, and the ease and depth of information flow is part of that change. When hundreds of thousands of tweets can be gathered and archived for study at the click of a button, Twitter simply cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the way people access, create, and use information, especially when it is one of the eight most visited sites worldwide.
Serving the community rounds out the three core components. Here I’m reminded of the “Salzburg Curriculum,” a project that began last year at the Salzburg Global Seminar and now continues via an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant. Described as transformative social engagement, this area of the curriculum focuses more on active participation with our communities. The project is led by Syracuse University’s David Lankes, and I’m serving as an advisor to flesh out the curriculum and bring it into library and museum education.
Flavor of experience
I would want these courses to be as experiential as possible, more of that “on your feet”–style engagement I wrote about in September at the R-Squared conference. Problem-solving, real world exposure to current issues in library environments (see the joint Office Hours/User Experience column for more) and active creation of plans for advocacy and user-centered policies might replace annotated bibliographies and yet another research paper on copyright.
Another part of this new, imagined core would be ample room for sharing. I want to know what the students bring to the table, and we should begin hearing from them as soon as they start classes. Don’t tell me they do not know anything or don’t know what they don’t know—they know lots! Consider returning students who have had careers as attorneys, pastry chefs, or journalists (all have found their way to my class). I learned just as much from them and their view of the world as I hope they learned from me.
And what of textbooks? I’ve used Matthew Battles’s Library: An Unquiet History for a historical exploration of libraries, reading it in weekly installments like a book club. Battles’s take on library history through the years is engaging and a fun read. Other intro texts seem to be out-of-date the minute they roll off the press; the perfect world for me would be to let go of texts like this and teach entirely via open source articles, websites, and student/faculty–generated entries in a communal LIS site.
What’s not present here is the doom and gloom that seems to sneak into discussions of the future of libraries. I truly believe the future is bright for the emerging model of community-focused librarians who seek to effect positive change with their constituents. With the right focus, we can have a lasting, positive impact on people’s lives, and transform our practice to promote access, engagement, and collaboration.