Magazine article American Libraries

The Coming Crisis in Education for Librarianship: While We Focus on Filling LIS Classrooms, Who's Ensuring There Will Be Professors Behind the Podiums?

Magazine article American Libraries

The Coming Crisis in Education for Librarianship: While We Focus on Filling LIS Classrooms, Who's Ensuring There Will Be Professors Behind the Podiums?

Article excerpt

There is always an air of crisis around education for librarianship. Somewhere, somebody is always up in arms about what the ALA-accredited programs are doing, or not doing. ALA President Michael Gorman is so concerned that he has made education for librarianship one of the central themes of his presidency (AL, Sept., p. 5).

One hates to cry wolf, but looking at some evidence gathered over the last three years, we may indeed be facing a crisis of sorts--one that is not easily solved by tinkering with the curriculum, or complaining about the names of schools, or any of the other myriad solutions that have been proposed over the years. There are some things that can be done, but first let us consider the problem.

Not too long ago, the date of my retirement changed from "somewhere out there ..." to a fixed date in the not-too-distant future, a fact that got me wondering about what education for librarianship might look like down the road.

My initial question involved the research interests of the 2003-04 crop of LIS doctoral students. Presumably one of them would be my replacement not too long hence, and I wanted to have some idea of what they knew and who they were. What I discovered over two years' time is that real-life librarians seeking the doctoral degree--our future faculty--are rather fewer than seems healthy for the future of the field.

2004: Web pages and a survey

At the 2004 and 2005 conferences of the Association for Library and Information Science Education, I presented evidence to that effect based on several research ventures. The full text of my original 2004 presentation is available online at and my 2005 research at Skipping all the noncrucial bits, the resulting story follows in three parts, after which I have some commentary.

My first question involved a theoretical librarian thinking about getting a doctorate. Being an information-literate type, the librarian immediately figures out from the ALA website which LIS programs award doctoral degrees and which do not. The question now becomes, which school? Our librarian is interested in libraries, and looks at the web pages of all 27 programs in the United States that offer the doctorate. Where will our theoretical librarian find an appropriate program, based on the online evidence? In simple terms, do the programs appear to be librarian-friendly?

We immediately enter an area of wildly subjective judgment calls. There are several possible categories into which the 27 LIS websites can fall. Like any categorization scheme there are doubtlessly fuzzy edges here, but for simplicity's sake, we will use the following typology, in order of frequency of occurrence, for describing doctoral programs:

1. Seven schools, in describing their programs, strike a balance between library science and information science.

2. Five schools are information-oriented to the exclusion of libraries.

3. Four schools offer communications doctorates, one of which leans toward libraries.

4. Three schools are library-oriented.

5. Three schools offer interdisciplinary doctorates, one of which leans towards libraries.

6. Three other schools describe the process of arriving at a doctorate with little or no attention paid to focus or area.

7. Two schools acknowledge the existence of a doctoral program, but say little as to either process or content.

So, by a generous definition, of the 27 schools offering the LIS doctorate, 12 seem to offer some possible home for a library-oriented librarian seeking that degree. (Remember: I am weighing the information presented by the schools' websites, which is not necessarily how the schools regard themselves.) Our doctorate-seeking librarian does not have a huge field from which to choose, based on the information visible on the computer screen.

The second part of my study in 2004 was a survey of doctoral students, conducted so that anonymity was assured. …

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