Series sponsored by:
To reconnect with them and catch up with their current thinking, we recently sent five questions to each of the first five winners of the LJ Teaching Award. Their thoughtful responses will be featured in this online series sponsored by ProQuest.
Our first interview: Rick Block, LJ Teaching Award Winner, 2008. When he won the award he was head of special collections and metadata cataloging at the Columbia University Libraries, and taught at both the School of Information and Library Science at Pratt Institute in New York City and the Palmer School of Library & Information Science at Long Island University, Brookville, N.Y. He is now Metadata Librarian at Seattle University, and continues teaching online at the Palmer School.
What are the most important or urgent current issues in library education?
I think there is still a perceived disconnect between practitioners and educators. I always get questions from students asking “what are we expected to know on our first day on the job.” I try to give my students a mix of theory and practice, and hope I get the balance right. As both a practitioner and an educator I have always found the proper balance difficult to find. The landscape changes so quickly. I think that teaching actually forces me to keep more up-to-date than I would otherwise, but I always worry if I truly am remaining current. I also think there will be a continuing need to assert the continuing relevance of libraries, librarians and the advanced degree.
Are there too many people graduating with an LIS degree? Are there too many library school programs?
I don’t think so. The job market is certainly weak at the moment. A library school education is an investment but I truly believe it gives you a unique set of skills that can be used (and marketed) in so many different settings.
Is there any significant difference between online courses and in-class programs/mixed programs? Should one accreditation of a program cover both kinds of teaching and learning?
I have always been a skeptic when it comes to online course. I’ve changed my tune a little now that I am teaching online for the Palmer School of Library and Information Science at Long Island University. I’m enjoying teaching students who are 3,000 miles away and I think they get a lot out of my classes. I do miss the classroom interaction which I feel can’t be truly replicated in the online environment. And yes, I think one accreditation of a program should cover both kinds of teaching—graduates of a program should have the same set of skills no matter what method of learning they used.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing your current class of students?
I think the current job market is a huge challenge. I get emails weekly from former students asking for job hunting advice and that secret job I keep in my back pocket. I think a challenge for graduates is marketing their skills in non-traditional settings. Our grads have unique skills that can be used in all sorts of settings.
What impact has the award had on your career?
Well, it doesn’t hurt to have the award on my CV. One immediate impact was receiving congratulatory messages from former colleagues that I haven’t talked to in years. I feel very lucky to be teaching and working with undergraduates in my current position at Seattle University. As someone who has spent his entire career in technical services it is a pleasure to be able to do instruction and research consultations while still working in technical services. This is the first time in my 30 year career that I’ve worked with undergraduates. It is very enjoyable but very different from working with graduate students. Receiving the award made me think: “Wow, maybe I really am a good teacher.” I absolutely love teaching; it was great to get rewarded for something you love doing.