Magazine article Online

That Darned L-Word. (Online Spotlight)

Magazine article Online

That Darned L-Word. (Online Spotlight)

Article excerpt

One of the fascinating things about having been a librarian (or now, perhaps, a lapsed librarian) for a quarter-century is that I have watched our profession try to figure out who the heck we are for a long time. Back when I attended graduate library school at the University of California, Berkeley, the yearlong controversy was the tech-heads versus the kid-lit people. The programming and information technology courses were routinely three and four units, whereas the children's literature and other traditional library courses were often just two units, which meant that students on the traditional track wound up having to take significantly more courses in order to graduate. We tech-heads, of course, responded that we were stuck debugging UNIX programs at 3 a.m., so we deserved those extra units. We never did resolve the debate, but we all emerged with our shiny new MLS degrees.

Fast-forward to the late 1990s. Two friends of mine were adjunct professors at the local library schools, and both noted that the enrollment in online research courses had dropped precipitously. Why? Because students already knew how to search the Web, so what else could they possibly learn from a course? Fortunately, that trend seems to be reversing itself, and enrollment in professional online search techniques is again at a level that reflects its importance in a librarian's skill set.

But I also think about how library schools define their roles and what they think their students need to know. I'm seeing more graduate programs dropping the L-word from their names; UC Berkeley has the School of Information Management and Systems, the University of Washington has the Information School, and my local University of Maryland has the College of Information Studies. Interestingly, the schools all still teach many of the core subjects that I took way back when. Cataloging 101 is now Information Organization & Retrieval or Information Structure--expanded to include the idea of organizing nonprint content in a wide variety of settings and structures.

What library schools also need to look at, though, is whether their current "product" is relevant and appealing to college graduates and whether it truly prepares them for the information environment they will be entering. I frequently hear library managers bemoan their difficulty in finding entry-level librarians. We are an aging profession and the 20-somethings are not flocking to library, er, information schools to enhance their job prospects. Sure, part of the problem is that entry-level salaries are notoriously low; who wants to go into debt for $20,000 or $30,000 and know that it will take decades to pay off those student loans? …

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