Educating Future Academic Librarians: An Analysis of Courses in Academic Librarianship

By Bailey, Edgar C. | Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview
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Educating Future Academic Librarians: An Analysis of Courses in Academic Librarianship


Bailey, Edgar C., Journal of Education for Library and Information Science


This study reports the results of an analysis of the syllabi of courses in academic librarianship solicited from faculty or located on the Web. It examines who teaches the courses and what subjects are covered, as well as required textbooks, assignments, and pedagogical methods. The list of subjects covered is compared to a list generated by an ACRLog survey asking readers which subjects they felt should be included in a course on academic librarianship as well as to skills and proficiencies identified in the recent library literature as desirable for academic librarians. Results indicate that, although the list of subjects most frequently covered matches the ACRLog list fairly closely, a single course probably cannot be expected to develop all desired proficiencies.

Keywords: academic librarianship, LIS curricula, proficiencies, content analysis

On May 12, 2008, Steven Bell, moderator of ACRLog and Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, posted a survey on the blog seeking to determine what his readers believe are the most important topics in a course on academic librarianship. ACRLog, whose primary purpose, according to its mission statement, is "to discuss the issues of the day in the field of academic and research librarianship" (Association of College and Research Libraries, n.d.), seems an appropriate place for this survey. Bell, who teaches such a course, received over 100 responses. The survey asked readers to classify thirty subjects as essential, important, or marginal for inclusion in the course and to suggest additional subjects. About a month later, Bell posted a summary of the responses he received. Among the subjects most frequently cited as essential (see Table 1) were higher education, academic freedom/tenure, standards, public services, information literacy, collection management, and scholarly communication. Important topics included accreditation, organization, faculty status for librarians, technical services, the library as place, e-resources, faculty issues, and career advice. Topics considered marginal were leadership, management and budgeting (Bell, 2008, June 10).

In his summary of the results, Bell asserted that, "We are all stakeholders in the LIS education of our future academic librarians" (Bell, 2008, June 10). Although Bell's survey appears to be the only study focusing specifically on the recommended content of academic librarianship courses, there have been numerous studies of the skills, proficiencies, and personal qualities considered necessary for successful academic librarians. To date, however, there has been no examination of the actual content of courses to determine how closely that content matches both Bell's list and the proficiencies identified in the literature. The study reported in this paper is a first attempt at such an examination.

Literature Review

Content Analyses

Although no published study of the content of courses in academic librarianship was identified, there have been many content analyses of LIS courses in other subjects. These were reviewed primarily to identify an appropriate methodology for the current study. Three general methodologies were identified: an examination of course catalogs and class schedules; a questionnaire sent to LIS deans or to faculty identified as teaching the relevant course; and examination of course syllabi. The first method has been used primarily to determine which programs offer a particular course and how often. Obviously, little actual information on course content can be obtained this way. The latter two methods have both been used to examine actual course content and pedagogy.

Examples of research based solely on examination of catalogs and course schedules include Westbrook's (1999) study of user education courses, which determined that 26 of 48 accredited schools offered "full, regular, focused courses" (p. 94) on the subject.

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