March 23, 2018

Bridging the LIS/Library Divide

Michael StephensIt’s a song you may have heard before. Are the majority of educators out of touch with the realities of the professions they support, including those in LIS? How do we prepare our students for a rapidly changing field?

Scott Walter, university librarian at DePaul University, Chicago, recently tagged me in a Facebook post pointing to an article from Inside Higher Ed titled “The J-School Bubble.” Highlighting a Poynter study, the article notes that “96 percent of journalism educators believe that a journalism degree is very important or extremely important when it comes to understanding the value of journalism,” while “57 percent of media professionals believe that a journalism degree is key to understanding the value of their field.”

Howard Finberg, the author of the journalism study, shares two “big takeaways.” For the academics, he believes “journalism educators should start experimenting and innovating and using digital tools and more innovative teaching methods.” Current J-School students and professionals, he notes, “have a stake in their education, and they need to raise their voices as to what they want and need to see in [journalism programs].”

What about LIS?

I share Walter’s question, posted with the link: What would the same study show in LIS education? My answer, after some consideration: the results would probably be similar on both sides. But maybe the deck is stacked. Of course professors and those teaching in LIS programs would maintain that the degree is valuable and necessary. Professors want job security, too. Those in the field—hiring librarians and administrators—might not feel as strongly about the professional credential, and doesn’t it seem that those in practice might feel that their education hadn’t prepared them for the realities of the work they do? Google “what I didn’t learn in library school” for further insight.

I would argue that our field is not in the same position as journalism. The impact of the Internet may have moved the newspaper industry toward extinction, but I see many librarians evolving with the sweeping sociotechnical changes brought on by the web.

I’d also argue that the benefits of the study above are in the takeaways Finberg identifies. Yet, these too seem familiar. Of course we want LIS educators who are innovative and cutting edge, flipping their classrooms, responding quickly to changes in library services, and moving to collaborative, project-based learning. In this column I’ve also charged LIS students with taking control of and responsibility for their education. “Coasting, in library school and in our jobs, is not an option,” I wrote in “Seek a Challenge.”

Beef up CE

Other professions (though not journalism) have strict continuing education (CE) requirements. CE, mostly carried out by consortia and state or national associations, is not as formalized for us. Consider this another call for professional development “with teeth.” Professional librarians should be expected to be always adding skills and knowledge as part of their duties. Formalizing a rigorous process says we mean business. Wafting through a few conference sessions, sitting with a group for a webinar over the lunch hour, or spending a desk shift doing “professional reading” should yield to more active and transparent forms of learning. Could massive open online courses (MOOCs) for CE be an avenue to explore? I’m hoping to know more about that after our Hyperlinked Library MOOC this fall.

Other actions might address the divide between educators and those in practice or those studying to join the field. LIS professors should follow Finberg’s advice above but also actively engage with those in practice on an ongoing basis to ensure their teaching areas are current and aligned with changes in the field. I’ve long advocated for librarians to be visible to their constituents, but the same goes for LIS educators. The ALISE Part-Time Faculty SIG (which could encompass a large number of working professionals) and the ACRL LIS Education Discussion Group are examples of opportunities for conversation. If you’re on the advisory board of a library school, be sure to participate in the conversation, ask the difficult questions, and request follow-through and reports for strategic and curricular initiatives.

Currently, I’m working on disseminating the Salzburg Curriculum, a document created at the Salzburg Global Seminar during an event cosponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture.” We’re launching a website for LIS educators and practitioners to review the curriculum and share ideas related to its implementation in library and museum education. Please join the conversation. See “The Age of Participation” for more.

I would like to see a study of this caliber replicated in our profession. Survey responses and qualitative data from open-ended questions might be powerful and persuasive for guiding future changes to our professional degree. Bridging that divide may be a key factor in the evolution of library education.

This article was published in Library Journal's September 15, 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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  1. I agree that the gap between LIS educators and practicing librarians needs to be addressed. I recently worked with Brianna Marshall from Hack Library School to put together a survey of employers, where they could talk about the ability of the MLIS to prepare librarians for employment, as well as their ideas of the skills and experiences that MLIS students should have.
    We’ve received 291 responses so far, and are still collecting, even though we’ve started sharing results. It’s been an interesting conversation between students, instructors and employers. We’re posting not only statistics and analysis, but individual responses here:

  2. Thanks for sharing that URL! I will share it on TTW as well.

  3. Monica Luce says:

    In the print version of LJ, this column directly follows the Reinventing Libraries feature A Tale of Two Libraries. I couldn’t help but get stuck on this line from the column: spending a desk shift doing “professional reading.”
    What I want in the librarians that I hire is that they not have unrealistic expectations about how hard they will have to work to serve our students and serve them well. They need to be actively collaborating with the discipline faculty, engaging with our campus community and providing leadership within the library. It is not an easy or simple job, and it can often be overwhelming. It should be overwhelming sometimes, because our goals should be lofty.
    My faculty librarians tell me that our Information Commons/Reference area is so busy that often they don’t have time to check their email even once during a desk shift. My thought in response is “Good!” Anyone who comes out of library school thinking that a desk shift might be a good time to catch up on professional reading is more likely to be helping to create that library in “the worst of times” than “the best of times.”
    You’re right: coasting is not an option.

  4. Sue Searing says:

    Thanks for plugging the ACRL LIS Education Interest Group! We’re just a little over a year old and welcome anyone who wants to explore the intersection of LIS education and academic libraries. Learn more at, or sign up for our email list,, at

    Sue Searing, 2013-14 convener

  5. At the program that I attended, the administration was extremely anxious to avoid being seen as a “trade school” and being too “technical” in its curriculum. (This was at an iSchool, where most of the administrators did not come from a library science background.) How do we bridge the gap at programs such as these?