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Volume 25, No. 6

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August / September 1999

 

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ALA Congress on Professional Education:

April 30-May 1, 1999

by Ann Prentice

Ann Prentice is dean, CLIS, at the University of Maryland. She can be reached there by mail at 4105 Hornbake Library, S. Wing, College Park, MD 20742; by phone at 301/405-2036; by fax at 301/314-9145; or by e-mail at ap57@umail.umd.edu

Editor's note: Dr. Prentice was ASIS' delegate to the ALA Congress on Professional Education.

More than 100 delegates representing a wide range of information professions and information professionals met in Washington, DC, for two days to "examine the initial preparation of professional librarians as a first step in studying the broader issues of education and training for librarians and other library workers." (American Library Association. The Steering Committee on the Education Summit. Progress Report to Council, January 1999, p.1). The Congress grew out of concerns voiced by members of the ALA Council about the direction of Library and Information Science (LIS) education, the role of the Committee on Accreditation and the extent to which LIS programs are responsive to the interests and concerns of practicing professionals.

In preparation for the Congress, the organizers commissioned papers that were made available on the Web site (www.ala.org/congress). Individuals and associations wishing to provide statements also posted them to the Web site. A bibliography of suggested readings was included as well. (This Web site will continue to be operational for a period after the Congress.)

It was evident from the outset of the Congress that this was well organized. The commissioned papers provided baseline information and an opportunity for the delegates to react. Delegates also focused on specific tasks in assigned, facilitated discussion groups. Finally, there was a summary session at which action strategies were prioritized.

The LIS Education Context

The first session of the Congress provided context. Ted Marchese, president of the American Association of Higher Education and editor of Change magazine, described the higher education environment within which LIS programs are located. He focused on two major issues in higher education. First, there is an increasing number of students (15%-30% more than today) to be accommodated within the existing institutions. Second, there are the effects of Web-based interaction on all aspects of the university -- from learning to managing student services and the business of the university. He stressed the need for each academic program to show how it contributes to the mission of the university. What counts most is the university's perception of what libraries are, what librarians do and how libraries and their activities fit into the new Web-centered learning environment.

Barbara Moran, UNC-Chapel Hill, placed LIS programs in this context and described how survival strategies in a technology rich environment have changed and strengthened LIS programs. There are now several models for LIS programs. There are more degrees than the MLS -- undergraduate programs and certificates are emerging. Distance education using information technology is becoming a standard component of LIS programs. The faculty is increasingly diverse, the curriculum has expanded as the knowledge base has expanded and graduates have many more career choices than before. Tensions between LIS programs and practitioners center around the following issues:

  • Lack of understanding that LIS programs serve two masters - the professions and the university
  • The balance between theory and practice
  • The "L" word and what its absence of in the name of the program may imply

To reduce tension, she advocates increased communication.

Marilyn Gell Mason, director of the Cleveland Public Library, viewed LIS programs from the perspective of the practicing professional. Recognizing that the market has changed, that LIS graduates have a range of career opportunities and that a shortage of librarians is looming, she recommended three solutions:

  • higher salaries for librarians;
  • reorganization and reclassification of existing positions to recognize new skills and new needs;
  • additional collaboration with LIS programs to assure that issues important to libraries continue to be reflected in the curricula.

Core competencies need to reflect the information world in which we work. While programs must be based on a core that reflects LIS values and skills, they must go well beyond them. The challenge is to develop such programs. As to the "L" word, she said that if LIS provides an educational program that produces the kind of beginning professional the field wants, forget about what the program is called.

Core Values

The breakout session that followed these lectures focused on values that should be in the core. From a long list, the following were highlighted:

  • information access skills;
  • ability to deal with information technology;
  • communication skills;
  • management skills; and
  • ability to deal with change.

While these focus on the skill area, values included intellectual freedom, professionalism of the individual, the service ethic and respect.

Accreditation

A second conference focus was on accreditation. Susan K. Martin (Georgetown University), Marion Reid (California State University– San Marcos) and Janet Swan Hill (University of Colorado) provided three practitioner views.

Martin compared ALA accreditation to that of other professional association accrediting bodies and criticized it for being process-oriented and not necessarily outcomes-oriented. She also criticized the lack of training of site visitors and further recommended that standards be more outcomes-oriented, that the theory/practice issue be addressed and that site visitors receive more rigorous training. In commenting on the "L" word issue, she approved of the greater inclusiveness that may emerge when the "L" word is absent.

Reid, speaking as a site visitor, made recommendations for ways in which site visitor training could be improved, while Hill's criticism of the Accreditation Standards was that they should be more prescriptive and more specific in such areas as defining a core and length of degree. At the same time she indicated that the accreditation process was too narrowly focused.

Comments from delegates at the end of the presentation clarified that the 1992 standards are outcomes-focused. The need to address site visitor preparation was generally recognized as an issue.

Curriculum

A third emphasis was on curriculum with three LIS faculty and one practitioner commenting on its present and future status. Marcia Bates (UCLA) led off with the statement that "in questioning curriculum we are questioning our futures." She went on to say that education for the information professions is revolutionary, not incremental. The railroads were in the transportation business, didn't recognize it and became marginalized. In order not to become marginalized, we must recognize that we are in the information business, not the library business. The core of the curriculum is people in relation to information, the information itself and the technology as an enabler. We need to produce graduates with sophisticated management and policy and planning skills and the vision to translate core values to today's and tomorrow's information world.

Toni Carbo (Pittsburgh) discussed the role of the professional association in curriculum and mentioned the KALIPUR Project, an overview of curriculum revision being conducted by the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) with funds from the Kellogg Foundation.

Mary Kay Chelton (Queens) brought to the fore embedded sins of the current curriculum including the following:

  • Theory of the user: Do we deal with the full range of users?
  • Theory of context: There are parallel universes of contexts in LIS programs
  • Theory of communication – cognitive and/or relational

She stressed that we need more crossovers within our curriculum so that the several areas are connected.

Brian Schottlaender (UCLA Libraries) said that as an administrator he expected LIS curriculum to provide a base, a way of thinking and the ability to connect the what and the why. His ideal graduate would be able to

  • think in multiple dimensions;
  • understand that organizations have behaviors and why;
  • understand that the description and organization of information is a means to an end, as is information technology;
  • recognize all aspects of resource management;
  • communicate;
  • be comfortable with change; and
  • be a practical risk taker.

Reinforcing and extending these attributes is done through continuing education and staff development.

The final panel on professional concerns provided participants the opportunity to respond to the earlier group discussion on desirable skills for graduates and barriers to success. There was general agreement that there is a core that should be part of all accredited programs and that there are numerous ways in which the core can be delivered. In these revolutionary times we need flexibility in what and how we teach. One panelist said that the theory/practice issue should be seen as a teaching for today/tomorrow issue and that, here too, flexibility is the key word. The absence or presence of the "L" word was less important than what is delivered. Partnerships between practitioners and LIS educators were seen as a key to future strength of innovative programs.

Strategies for Action

The final task of the delegates was to identify strategies for action, first in small groups and then as a whole. Strategies were then prioritized and assigned to particular groups or agencies. Employers were charged to conduct compensation studies, support continuing education, make scholarships available, market what librarians do and develop partnerships with LIS programs. The LIS associations would assist in research in identified areas, support recruiting efforts and provide ways to continue the dialog that has begun. Alumni should maintain an active ongoing relationship with LIS programs and give back to the profession through mentoring and activity in professional associations. LIS educators should cooperate globally with one another and locally with employers, alumni and other stakeholders. They should become involved in targeted marketing and recruitment.

Next Steps

A report by the committee responsible for planning the Congress will be prepared and sent to participants. The committee will also report to ALA's Executive Board in June 1999. This report should be one of the activities of interest at ALA's Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

As a delegate, what did I bring away with me to share with ASIS? The Congress provided a forum for discussion of issues dealing with LIS education and an opportunity for educators and practitioners to discuss them. I had anticipated that both more heat and more light would emerge from this discussion. Nearly everyone was so nice! The depth of feeling that issues such as those of accreditation, theory/practice, the "L" word can engender did not emerge. Very few people identified themselves as representing a particular constituency or point of view.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the list of attendees and categorized them, not by the group they represented, but by where they worked. Approximately a third were from academic libraries, a fourth were LIS faculty and a fifth were from public libraries. Others represented associations and for-profit agencies; only a very few came from school library media centers. Given that the impetus for the Congress came largely from the school and public library practitioners, it was a bit surprising to see how limited their representation was.

What happens next will depend on the ALA Executive Committee's use of the report that will come from the Congress. There will probably be a review of some aspects of accreditation and efforts to continue a dialog between educators and practitioners.

News from ASIS Chapters

The European Chapter of ASIS presented its 1999 Best Student Paper Award to Jane Reid, a doctoral student in the Department of Computing Science, University of Glasgow, Scotland. The presentation was made at the CoLIS3 conference in Croatia. Reid's paper is entitled, A New, Task-oriented Paradigm for Information Retrieval: Implications for Evaluation of Information Retrieval Systems.

 The New Jersey ASIS Chapter (NJ/ASIS) presented a program entitled Electronic Journals: Technologies, Marketplace, Pricing Models, Users' Views as its June meeting. The session featured presentations and discussions by publishers of a variety of electronic products.

 The ASIS Pacific Northwest Chapter (PNC) has honored three University of Washington students with the ASIS PNC Student Paper Award. Fred Brown, Tracie Timmons and Heather Wilder, all in the School of Information and Library Science, were named for their paper, Selection Behavior on the World Wide Web for LIS Students. The paper describes a study of user selection of links on World Wide Web pages, examining the effect of link order and the length of link text on user choices of links.

 The San Francisco Bay Area Student Chapter of ASIS invites visitors to its new Web site at www.sims.berkeley.edu/asis/

News About ASIS Members

Among the keynote speakers scheduled for the IEEE Advances in Digital Libraries held in May were Marc Krellenstein , CTO/VP of Engineering, Northern Light Technology, and Susan Dumais, Microsoft Corporation. The conference was dedicated to sharing and disseminating information about important current issues in digital library research and technology.

Jane Greenberg has joined the faculty of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an assistant professor. Recently, she had been a research assistant at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Fourth ACM Conference on Digital Libraries (DL '99), scheduled for mid-August in Berkeley, is well-represented by ASIS members. Among those chairing committees are Edward A. Fox, Virginia Tech, program chair; James C. French, University of Virginia, publicity chair; Robert B. Allen, University of Maryland, workshops chair; and Jonathan Furner, UCLA, posters/exhibits chair. Among those conducting tutorials are Fox ; Ian Witten, University of Waikato; and Dagobert Soergel, University of Maryland. Other participants are David Levy, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, delivering the keynote address; and session chairs Edie Rasmussen, University of Pittsburgh; Nick Belkin, Rutgers University; and Allen and Fox. In addition, Linda L. Hill, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Gail Hodge, Information International Associates, will conduct a workshop.

Roberta I. Shaffer, previously Director of Research Information Services at the law firm of Covington and Burling, Washington, DC, has been appointed Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin. The appointment is effective August 1.

 

Editor Sought for Annual Review of Information Science and Technology

The American Society for Information Science (ASIS) is conducting a search for a new editor of the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST), a comprehensive review and synthesis of yearly trends in the various branches of information science and technology. ARIST is published for ASIS by Information Today, Inc. The new editor will receive a five-year appointment.

The editor is responsible for organizing and managing the preparation of successive volumes of ARIST and for maintaining its high level of quality. The editor will be responsible for the following activities:

    1. Selecting topics that collectively reflect the field as it evolves;

    2. Enlisting well-qualified authors;

    3. Arranging for reviewers to provide expert and timely comments on authors' drafts;

    4. Sustaining ARIST's high level of accuracy in bibliographic citations;

    5. Delivering the manuscript of each volume to the publisher in an acceptable form in time for publication prior to the ASIS Annual Meeting;

    6. Appointing members to and consulting with the ARIST Advisory Committee, of which one member will be a member of the ASIS Board of Directors; and

    7. Working in close collaboration with the publisher.

Members of the search committee for the editor's position are Michael Buckland, chair; Gary Marchionini; and Pat Molholt. Inquiries and nominations should be sent to ASIS Executive Director, ARIST Editor, 8720 Georgia Avenue, Suite 501, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

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@ 1999, American Society for Information Science