Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Practicums and Service Learning in LIS Education

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Practicums and Service Learning in LIS Education

Article excerpt

Schools of library and information science (LIS) routinely offer their students experiential learning opportunities such as internships or practicums. These courses are viewed as a means of introducing students to the realities of the workplace and of fostering a sense of professional identity and values. Service learning is an increasingly popular and distinct form of experiential learning. This paper selectively reviews literature related to experiential learning and service learning and discusses the unique aspects of each as applied to general LIS education.


Education for library professionals in North America reflects a divide between librarians working in libraries who value practice and those operating in classrooms who emphasize theory. The model developed from one that was grounded in apprenticeship to one that is more theoretically oriented. Today library education is bifurcated, one part dedicated to training master's level practitioners, and the other focused on more scholarly research at the doctoral level. Library and information science (LIS) school administrators often view practice as the purview of adjunct rather than tenured or tenure-track faculty. Morehead1 and Crowley2 have written about the tensions between library practitioners and educators in what those authors believe to be an ongoing struggle between theory and practice.

Recently, American Library Association (ALA) past president Michael Gorman roundly criticized library school faculty as concentrating too much on esoteric research and ignoring the real needs of the profession. He held open forums on library education, published articles3,4,5 on the "crisis," made numerous presentations and generated much discussion on the topic. Although LIS curricula continually change to keep pace with evolving professional roles, values, and technologies, as well as with societal trends and priorities of the moment, practitioners may not always deem those changes sufficient. Library teaching faculty, defined as those employed as full-time faculty members in a school of library and information science rather than as academic librarians with faculty status, may find that experiential learning, particularly service learning, can be an effective vehicle for responding to criticisms that LIS education is too removed from the profession and does not inculcate core values.

How then are experiential and service learning characterized? Coleman defines various terms used for types of experiential learning.6 Practicum and fieldwork are used interchangeably here to signify what Coleman characterizes as:

A relatively short-term, professionally supervised work experience offered as part of the school's curriculum and taken during the academic sequence. The practicum is typically pursued in the same library or information agency for the total experience. Other than incidental expenses, the practicum student does not receive a salary.7

Over the past few decades a subset of experiential learning has developed called service learning. Instead of being a standalone experience like an internship or practicum, service learning is embedded into standard course offerings.8 Service activities are tied to specific learning objectives and are reflected upon throughout the semester in order to enrich student appreciation of course content.9 Through service and reflection, students gain a stronger sense of their personal and professional values and develop a stronger commitment to civic engagement.10

Given recent criticism of library education as out of touch with practice, a selective examination of literature on experiential learning and service learning seems timely. This paper first examines general literature on the topic and then writing specific to librarianship. The capstone experience is not considered here because its requirements vary from one institution to another and because it does not consistently include a fieldwork component. …

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