March 16, 2018

LIS Education Q&A with Rebecca Knuth, 2009 Teaching Award Winner

Series sponsored by: proquest logo 200 LIS Education Q&A with Steven MacCall, 2010 Teaching Award Winner

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 second interview: Rebecca Knuth, Teaching Award Winner 2009. Knuth is a Full Professor in the Library and Information Science Program, which is part of the Information and Computer Sciences Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. Her research is focused on international, interdisciplinary and comparative inquiry into censorship, intellectual freedom (access to information as a human right), international librarianship, literacy, the history of books and libraries, nationalism, book burning, genocide, and the link between extremism and cultural destruction.

What are the most important or urgent current issues in library education?

Hitting the right balance in developing technological, professional, and social/people skills. Maintaining focus on access and the library as a place for individual and community development. Fostering people skills, leadership, and an advocacy orientation in librarians. Internalizing and actualizing change and reinvention, making libraries vital places, and reaching out to the community.

Are there too many people graduating with an LIS degree?

I don’t think so. The number of jobs waxes and wanes and when the economy recovers, so will the job market—especially in the face of a wave of retirements.

Are there too many library school programs?

No. It is important that programs are accessible in many models and locations, deliverable both physically, online, or in combination. Each LIS program has its own flavor and variety and sense of localism and how best to serve regional needs (in addition to espousing broader perspectives). I would hate to see a homogenization of LIS curricula and programs or a one type fits all model.

Is there any significant difference between online courses and in-class programs/mixed programs?

I think there are significant differences between individual online courses and in-class programs/mixed programs, and that a lot of these have a lot to do with the teachers and students. Some teachers are temperamentally and technically better at teaching in a certain mode. Just as some students prefer and do better in one or the other environment. I think we should provide a range of modes and choices of delivery. For online classes, it is especially important that the teacher is extremely organized and, as well, able to project an engaging personality and create a sense of community—to get the most out of the capabilities of a system.

I do think that some things are more difficult for students in a completely online program—making friends, developing collegial networks, participating in student organizations and service activities, and building a sense of community, and identity. For some, the disadvantages are balanced out by perceived advantages—especially for students who prefer or need to operate at a distance and/or have different social needs. But I think many students would miss the attendant human contacts that often happen in a physical classroom and common facilities—the informal exchanges that take place when in the same physical space. Online students may not have as much opportunity for developing oral and face-to-face communication skills in online classes—a loss since librarians often spend a significant amount of time in personal interactions.

Should one accreditation of a program cover both kinds of teaching and learning?

I think the answer is “yes.” All the factors important to accreditation must be provided by a program, regardless of the delivery system(s). There are certain outcomes that are essential.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing your current class of students?

The integration of technology and business thinking without losing sight of the humanistic, people orientation that has characterized librarianship.

What impact has the award had on your career?

It had emotional effects in that I was encouraged and reinforced in my teaching. It has had professional effects in that I could cite the award in grant applications and five-year post-tenure review processes. Also, the award reflected well on the University of Hawaii’s LIS program and brought the program positive recognition.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III ( is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.

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