February 17, 2018

Task Force’s Recommendations for LIS Accreditation Criticized

By Norman Oder

Information-oriented organizations says rules are too prescriptive

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  • ASIS&T, iSchools in opposition
  • ALISE wants more input
  • COA to seek comments

The American Library Association (ALA) Task Force on Library Education that issued a set of eight competences for LIS graduates also in January issued a set of recommendations for accreditation of LIS programs (which now number 57), and, as ALA’s Committee on Accreditation (COA) considers them, several groups of library educators have expressed opposition and dismay.

Notably, organizations like the American Society for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T) and the iSchools/iCaucus object to the prescriptive nature of the recommendations, while the broader Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) has expressed concern that no opportunity was provided for ALISE to have input as the recommendations were being formulated.

In recognition of such concerns, COA Chair Richard Rubin plans to solicit ALA member feedback on the recommendations Task Force’s recommendations, via a blog. ALA President Jim Rettig, in his May American Libraries column, noted that he encouraged COA to get such feedback.

Among the recommendations:

  • that ALA incorporate the core competences and ALA’s Core Values of Librarianship into its standards for accreditation of Master’s Programs in LIS
  • that the standards be mandates, not suggestions
  • that, while there’s no core curriculum to be prescribed, standards should concentrate on outcomes
  • that a majority of the permanent full-time faculty teaching in the LIS program are “grounded in librarianship by virtue of their educational background, professional experience and/or record of research and publication"

ASIS&T response
The changes in standards presented in this set of recommendations are problematic on several fronts,” commented ASIS&T. “First, these changes represent a significant narrowing of the LIS field, at a time when the need for information professionals is burgeoning in all areas of human enterprise. At present, almost 30% of LIS graduates do not enter library jobs and the proposed prescriptive emphasis on specific competencies will displace content that addresses non-library-related knowledge and skills.”

“Second, the requirements for faculty educated in LIS and library-centric curricula strongly restrict the diversity and interdisciplinarity of LIS programs,” the letter said. Also ASIS&T criticized the changes as prescriptive and not incorporating the views of diverse stakeholders in the LIS programs that ALA accredits.

The iSchools’ response
“Stability of any ‘core curriculum’ is infeasible during such a period of rapid change as we are currently witnessing." wrote the deans of the iSchools—25 schools, 15 of which offer accredited LIS programs—and members of the iCaucus, in a letter that assumed there would be a core curriculum.  

"In addition, the diversity of professional goals among the current generation of LIS master’s students requires curricular flexibility, particularly in light of the relatively short duration of a master’s program," the letter stated. "Unless the substance of the core curriculum, and its articulation, are annually revisited and subjected to debate among educators, researchers, and practitioners, the curriculum will become outdated.”

The deans suggested that “the most efficient means of achieving the outcomes that you desire would be to conduct empirical research.”

While the recommendations focus on programmatic inputs (e.g., LIS Ph.D requirements for faculty), the deans proposed a focus on programmatic outputs (quality of students, placement, faculty research publications, etc.). The letter concluded, “We are not, however, persuaded that the kind of accreditation program recommended by the Library Education Task Force will serve either our institutions or our profession well.”

Debate increases
There’s been much discussion and debate on the JESSE electronic mailing list. Responding as an individual LIS educator, not as president of ASIS&T, Donald O. Case, professor at the College of Communications & Information Studies, University of Kentucky, criticized the recommendation regarding faculty “grounded in librarianship.” He asked, “Do they believe that working in the information industry always requires a traditional library background?”

In response, Bernie Sloan of Sora Associates, who noted he was a member of an earlier ALA Presidential Task Force on Library Education, commented, “There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by belittling this recommendation. It doesn’t even apply to a whole LIS school. It only applies to those programs within an LIS school that are intended to educate future librarians.”

“No one can deny that the diversity of preparation and experience brought to the educational process by scholars who are not ‘grounded in librarianship’ is of value to the library profession,” commented Lee Shiflett, Chair, Library & Information Studies, University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “But the degree programs are accredited by the American Library Association and are recognized by the library profession."

 While many law graduates do not enter the practice of law, Shifflett commented by way of analogy, “for the most part, members of the full time teaching faculty at law schools continue to be educated as lawyers.”

Librarians and the i-word
Scott Barker, Chair, Informatics, at the University of Washington’s Information School, offered a real-world example of an information industry job that is not quite for computer science students or library students. Microsoft Program Managers “talk to users and customers and they design new products or new features to meet user needs. In their role they need to be able to communicate well with people, define information problems (very much like a reference interview), design systems based on that input, build prototypes, and work with programmers as their design is built and tested.”

Ken Haycock, professor and director, San Jose School of Library and Information Science, observed, “Although at San Jose we educate professional librarians who may or may not work in libraries (and many take positions in the high tech industries of Silicon Valley), and although librarianship in our view does encompass information management and use, and although we do favor the ALA accreditation process, I am nevertheless concerned by the underlying contradiction here of emphasizing outcomes for programs (with which I do not disagree) and the prescription of outlining how one is to achieve those outcomes.”

Mary K. Chelton, professor at the GSLIS/Queens College/CUNY, commented, “Amid all the protestations of  ‘prescriptive’ and ‘descriptive’ standards, it looks like the I-schools want three things: places for their Ph.D students to find teaching positions; to keep the MLS/MLIS programs in their schools accredited by ALA so they will continue to have students in those programs; and the freedom to ignore librarianship if it suits them. I don’t think these things are compatible, and I hope ALA has the backbone to follow through on this, despite the ASIS&T protest.”

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