Wednesday, August 01, 2007

'Zero Based Library School' idea begins

I had hoped to keep this 'under wraps' until I had a better grasp on it, but the gentleman over at Library Juice has posted about our Facebook group so I feel as though I need to give this idea of Zero Based Library School some clarification and direction.

I came up with this idea at the Peabody Professional Institute for Academic Library Leaders (see my earlier posts) in July 2007. We were discussing the future of higher education and the focus on outcomes and assessment, and the role of librarians as community builders and teachers of information literacy. One presenter brought up the fact that most things in higher education are based on the past (for instance, oh- here's podcasting. Let's offer a class on that). The person noted that at the current rate of information creation and technology development, what a student is learning today will be out of date 3 years from now.

So here is the question: What do we want our Library and Information Science students to learn in this day and age? What classes do our students need to take, and what competencies do they need to have in order to excel as librarians? How much of the traditionalist approach should we take, and where do we draw the line on new tools and technologies? Said another way, are we relevant to users when we rely too much on our tradition, and are we ignoring our core services when we bring in the latest technology only for the sake of looking hip?

We librarians have been 'keepers of the flame' for quite some time now. The Alexandria library faded into memory after several fires, the Iraqi National Library suffered tremendous losses in recent times, and there have been several travesties in between those events. Yet we librarians remain. We serve our constituents, be they government officials (who allegedly know how to read), corporate board members, clergy, students, public citizens of a local community, etc. That is what we do. That is what we have done for thousands of years, and will continue to do.

The Zero Based Library School (ZBLS) idea is relevant today because of the incredible rate of change that is taking place around us.

With the ZBLS idea, I plan to turn over many stones in the library profession, including:

  • Perform a study of accreditation of US library schools by ALA since its inception, focusing on the closings of programs in the 1990's and the current state of accreditation.
  • Reserach the training that librarians received in the US before 1876.
  • Examine library education practices in several countries around the world, to be determined.
  • Survey students, MLS degree holders at varying stages of their careers, non-MLS professionals, and the constituents of several different types of libraries.
  • Take into account what we need to know and why we need to know it (theory vs. practical).
This could easily be a life's work, and at this stage in my life (I'm quite young as the profession goes) I'm willing and eager to chart the course. I challenge you to come with me. Friend or foe, bring forth your voice. If you have constructive criticism, please share it. We are engaged in this profession because we enjoy helping people. Let's keep our users in mind.

A word about naming- we can spend lots of time trying to convince others (and ourselves) that we are 'information technologists' or 'information brokers' or 'information gurus,' but we know that at the base of it all we are librarians. We are blended librarians, embedded librarians, but above all, in order to survive, we must be proactive librarians.

Please comment on Zero Based Library School. We may not find any new answers, but there will be some excellent questions and discussions along the way. Help me refine the idea and make it something tangible and relevant so that we may better serve our end users, wherever and whoever they may be.

There will be a blog devoted entirely to this idea, and perhaps a wiki, soon.

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