Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Librarianship in the Proprietary Education Context

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Librarianship in the Proprietary Education Context

Article excerpt

For a variety of reasons, many of us have never considered librarianship in the for-profit sector. But as proprietary education continues to expand its reach, providing information services in that environment affords a range of new possibilities. In this column, Eric Rector presents an overview of what it's like to manage a library at a for-profit institution. In a well-crafted overview of the proprietary context, he highlights both its challenges and opportunities. His frank perspectives offer a worthwhile alternative to working in a traditional-education setting. Rector makes a compelling argument for proprietary librarianship, suggesting that it may well be worth thinking about.--Editor

It wasn't my plan to work in proprietary education. Then again, it wasn't my plan to work for a consortium, or a database provider, or as an IT director at a medical school whose charter class had not yet matriculated. I chose those positions because each one provided an exciting opportunity to grow professionally and because they captured my imagination. Similarly, my move to proprietary education did not disappoint. Whether you are a new librarian in search of your first position, or a seasoned professional seeking a new challenge, proprietary education may be worthy of consideration.

The goal of this article is to discuss the challenges and benefits of being a librarian at a for-profit institution, to provide some idea of what you might reasonably expect from the sector, both as a manager and as a subordinate, and to present some ideas on delivering quality reference services to the populations you would likely be serving. Of course, the ideas presented here are based on my own experiences--saying all for-profit schools are alike would be like saying all liberal arts colleges are the same--and each institution will have its own unique elements.


So just what is proprietary education? For starters, there are two broad categories: public and private. Not unlike publicly traded companies, public for-profits have a board of directors and shareholders who participate in determining the institution's direction, whereas private for-profit institutions are owned by individuals or small groups and do not publicly trade their stock. While I use the terms "for-profit" and "career education" interchangeably in this article, the two are not necessarily synonymous. Proprietary education spans every level of higher education, from trade schools and technical colleges to career colleges and doctoral-granting institutions.

The curriculum itself may be delivered completely online, in-person, or using a hybrid model. As for the libraries at for-profit institutions, I have little doubt that many of them still resemble the libraries that Davis, Adams, and Hardy describe in their evaluation of academic libraries in the for-profit sector. (1) However, the political and economic pressures of the last decade, coupled with rising technological fluency across the population, are leading administrators of these schools to make, or continue to make, enhancements to library services, leading to an exciting time of change and growth in proprietary librarianship.

Although vocational/career/trade education has had national support in the past, over the last decade it has gained the reputation of being, at best, slightly below board and, at worst, predatory. (2) While it's true that some players in the market have behaved badly, others are sincerely engaged in the "business" of providing streamlined education for those who need or desire it, many of whom might not attend college otherwise. Among career academics, there seems to be a sense that the for-profit sector is "other," but, in my experience, there are strong similarities between for-profit education and traditional higher education, school media centers, medical education, and, not surprisingly, the corporate environment. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for larger universities to have research parks and technology incubators, and there is no doubt that college sports are money-making enterprises. …

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