The Crux of Our Crisis: We Must Pinpoint What Every New Librarian Must Learn, Lest We Lose Our Professional Way

By Mulvaney, John Philip; O'Connor, Dan | American Libraries, June-July 2006 | Go to article overview

The Crux of Our Crisis: We Must Pinpoint What Every New Librarian Must Learn, Lest We Lose Our Professional Way


Mulvaney, John Philip, O'Connor, Dan, American Libraries


Library and information science education is undergoing tremendous intellectual ferment, as is librarianship itself. Libraries are feeling the effects of the growth of information technology and changing methods of scholarly communication, as the volume of online information grows; with that growth has come a fundamental shift from ownership to access and in the skills librarians need to deal with this shift.

Meanwhile, education for librarianship is grappling with the development of i-schools, an influx of faculty from other disciplines, the rise of new programs in LIS schools, and an increase in the number of undergraduate LIS programs.

Understandably, this ferment has renewed tensions between educators and practitioners: As academics relentlessly push the profession toward theory and abstraction, practitioners pull with equal might toward day-to-day relevance. This article posits that one of the root causes of these tensions is the lack of a commonly perceived core both in library school curricula and in libraries.

Point 1

There is no core curriculum in LIS schools.

Graduates from ALA-accredited LIS programs haven't been required to master comparable suites of courses within recent memory. In fact, some programs lack a defined set of required courses that all students must take.

This lack of consensus has deep roots. Neither the 1972 nor the 1992 Standards for Accreditation of Master's Programs in Library and Information Studies (formulated by the American Library Association's Committee on Accreditation) deal with the notion of a core curriculum, much less require one. The 1972 standards state: "The programs of the school should provide for the study of principles and procedures common to all types of libraries and library services." The 1992 standards describe the curriculum as "concerned with recordable information and knowledge, and the services and technologies to facilitate their management and use." The curriculum does so by "encompass[ing] information and knowledge creation, communication, identification, selection, acquisition, organization and description, storage and retrieval, preservation, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, synthesis, dissemination, and management."

It is possible--although surely unrealistic--to turn these 14 areas of interest into a 14-course core curriculum of 42 credits. Since there is nothing to indicate which subjects deserve greater or lesser emphasis or which could be combined with others, that seems to be the only fair reading of the standards. For a subject to be core, there must be agreement on its definition and on the length and depth of its syllabus. Some schools cover in a week what others take a semester to teach; that renders the idea of a core meaningless.

Point 2

There are no core services in libraries.

Today, for various reasons, much of what the profession has regarded as the core functions of libraries are being outsourced.

* Cataloging has largely been outsourced for years to the Library of Congress and OCLC. More recently, OCLC itself and its network of regional providers began providing contract-cataloging services. Copy cataloging has long been outsourced to book jobbers and library support staff. Journal indexing has been outsourced from the beginning.

* Reference is being outsourced in many ways, from the development of web-based services by LC and OCLC to the advent of Google Answers. The development of interactive tutorials, the growth of the internet, and the rise of library instruction or bibliographic instruction all point to further outsourcing--in many cases to the end user. How long will it be before reference desk services are outsourced to overseas call centers?

* Acquisitions and collection development are frequently outsourced by means of approval plans and standing orders. Allocation of the materials budget to university departments in effect outsources collection development to faculty, and bundled electronic full-text databases outsource the provision of online resources to database providers. …

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