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 third interview: Steven MacCall, Teaching Award Winner 2010. MacCall is Associate Professor, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.
What are the most important or urgent current issues in library education?
In my opinion as a professor of knowledge organizing, we should not veer too far into an “information” model for the 21st century library model because we need to maintain the necessary role for knowledge organizing particularly in light of several large scale efforts that are emerging including the HathiTrust and the Digital Public Library of America. In short: Are we effectively educating the 21st century librarian to work in this new hybrid environment of digital and material?
I am also concerned about losing the term “library” to other groups. For example, in the 90s, the NSF started a “Digital Libraries Program,” yet what they were calling “libraries” had no resemblance to what we do as professional librarians. Likewise, the Digital Public Library of America is not a public library nor is it even a library, yet they deploy the term “library.” These efforts can be confusing to our students, not to mention confusing to the general public!
Are there too many people graduating with an LIS degree? Are there too many library school programs?
Through most of the 20th century, library education has been preparing students for careers in a variety of information professions in addition to librarianship. I see a bright future ahead for MLIS programs in the 21st century through the continuation of this practice. We just need to keep the focus on the foundational importance of educating librarians as our priority.
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 think that online programs continue to fulfill a critical role in the education of librarians due to the fact that the current 58 accredited programs are not evenly geographically distributed across North America. In fact, LIS educators have a long history in alternative program delivery modes to address this problem. At the present time, there are a range of MLIS online program options that allow students to select their school based in part on their preferred mode of learning. At Alabama, we are very pleased with our approach to online education (“two-way VoIP”). We’ve been able to maintain high levels of retention and also success in student job placements.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing your current class of students?
I always tell my first semester students that they know more about their chosen profession than they realize, because they’ve all spent time in libraries for their entire lives. However, this is not necessarily true anymore as the nature of librarianship continues its evolution toward a digital primacy rather than an emphasis on physical materials (not to the exclusion of physical materials, though!). This means that many current students are preparing to work in libraries that may not function exactly like the ones they grew up in! This can certainly be a challenge for professor and students alike!
What impact has the award had on your career?
Knowing that this award was student-generated has kept me on my toes! By that, I mean that the award now serves as both a validation of past hard work and a reminder that future students deserve the same benefits of my hard work as my prior students, so I need to continue to work hard. This is a good thing! In short, I look at the plaque every day for inspiration.