Library Science Programs Move Largely Online for Fall

As universities and colleges across the United States grapple with the best way to proceed with fall terms given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, American Library Association–accredited library science programs are providing a variety of options to their students. Some are going fully online while others are offering hybrid courses with online and in-person components.

young woman in front of laptop with mask lowered, raising handAs universities and colleges across the United States grapple with the best way to proceed with fall terms given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, American Library Association–accredited library science programs are providing a variety of options to their students. Some are going fully online while others are offering hybrid courses with online and in-person components.

 

HYBRID OPTIONS

The University of Michigan’s School of Information will move to a hybrid model for the fall term. The school’s degree programs for library science are traditionally held only in person, though the school provided other online offerings, such as online training for public librarians across the state. But because of the virus, the School of Information will provide online, in-person, and hybrid classes for the fall. Hybrid classes will have both online and face-to-face components, such as meeting in person every other week.

Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Yakel explained that students have the option to take a course entirely online, even if the class is in-person or hybrid, since students may have health issues or care for high-risk people in their household. Ultimately, she is letting faculty and staff determine what is best for them. “I trust my faculty to do the best with the courses that they know best,” Yakel said.

The University of Texas–Austin will be moving from predominantly in-person classes to predominantly online for the fall. About 75–80 percent of classes will be online, explained Dean Eric T. Meyer of the School of Information, and around a quarter will be hybrid classes, with in-person and online components, depending on the professor’s decision. Meyer says that approximately half of the students will be taking at least one hybrid class.

For in-person sessions, the classrooms will be at 40 percent capacity and equipped with hand wipes, air filters, and masks. The plan was made based on surveys sent to faculty and students in May and early June. The administration has also been meeting with faculty and staff and hosted a town hall with students to discuss concerns. There are plans to go completely online if circumstances require it, as they did in the spring.

New York–based private Syracuse University will also provide both online and in-person options for its library science students. The university already provided both options, but now the in-person option will be an accelerated semester. Students started on August 24 and will end on November 24, with online exams in December and classes over Labor Day. The online version will remain unchanged for the fall term.

Brenna Helmstutler, librarian for the School of Information Studies, explained that “it’s important to have a variety of different offerings to accommodate [people’s] situations.” Some in-person classes may meet twice a week with the half the class in attendance if the class is big enough. Helmstutler stressed the importance of flexibility, understanding, and compassion.

 

FULLY VIRTUAL

Some library science programs are going entirely online for the fall term. Boston-based private Simmons University’s library science program will be going fully online along with most of the rest of the university. (A few classes will be held in person if they have a practical component, such as nursing and social work.) Normally, the library science program has both a fully online program and in-person classes in Boston, South Hadley, and Amherst.

The decision to go fully online for the fall term did not take long, Sanda Erdelez, professor and director of the School of Library and Information Science, explained. “We were primarily concerned about the safety of students and faculty and by observing trends and information...we concluded that things will not be resolved in the fall,” she said. The transition was not hard since Simmons already had a full online program.

Erdelez credits library science for being a leader in online learning, making the transition before many other disciplines. “We are the people of the information age,” she says, “and have been offering these courses…for a long time,” so LIS faculty were ready for the pandemic even if they didn’t know it.

That head start is important, Erdelez pointed out, because online classes take time and effort to put together. At Simmons, she said, “We have a very detailed process pedagogical and structural design program to transform individual courses from the in person to online format.” Simmons even has instructional designers to help transition courses to facilitate this work. “[All of t]his effort is what it takes to create a good online experience,” Erdelez explained.

Simmons did initially offer a hybrid program it its South Hadley campus, since the classes tend to be smaller, said Erdelez. Effectively, students voted with their feet; there was not much enrollment so the school opted to make everything online.

Florida State University, a public institution in Tallahassee, will be moving entirely online for the fall. While most of its classes are already online, there were one or two classes per term that met in person to fulfill visa requirements for international students, explained Kathleen Burnett, director and professor of the School of Information. Thankfully, the visa requirements were loosened for students already in the United States, so those classes can meet online. However, international students who were going to start in the fall are either taking their classes online from their home countries or have had to defer.

Based in Columbia, the University of South Carolina’s (USC) masters of library science program will see some tweaks in the upcoming fall term. About 98 percent of the classes are already online so the only real change is that the semester will be shorter than in other terms, since the university’s calendar is ending after Thanksgiving. The school does have one or two in-person/hybrid classes, related to special collections and archives, and those will move forward in the fall, though they’ll work around the library’s restrictions, according to R. David Lankes, director of the School of Information Science.

The larger issue is the fieldwork experience/internship requirement for the masters; Lankes says they have been “work[ing] with the schools in the state and the area to figure out modifications and alternatives to how they get that field work experience,” whether physically in person, online, or hybrid as necessary. He credits the state for working with them to adapt in these unusual times.

The River Forest, IL–based private Dominican University is also going fully online for the fall term. Before the pandemic, the library science program was one-third in person, one-third online, and one-third hybrid. In the spring, the program shifted to online quickly before other programs in part because of the pre-existing online program. Summer was also completely online. The decision for the fall was made early in June, said Kate Marek, director and professor. “We wanted to make sure we made the decision early on,” she said, because so many students have families, work schedules, etc.

Marek sees the move to online in general for library science as beneficial, since librarians and information professionals are now delivering more services to communities in different ways, in person and online. Marek points out that library work is becoming remote, so it’s helpful for students to have experiences working in the online environment. But creating community within the populations librarians serve is also essential.

Dominican is tweaking the structure of the online classes that are normally in-person or hybrid for the fall. “For some of our classes that are usually face-to-face or hybrid, when we have moved them to fully online, we have kept the established meeting dates and times and have the meetings synchronously online rather than face-to-face,” Marek pointed out. “Most of our fully online classes are still asynchronous, with some Zoom meetings held and recorded for scheduling options, but holding synchronous Zoom sessions for some of the classes gives more of the traditional feel for students and faculty who prefer that structure.”

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR LEARNING?

How these adaptations will impact library science curriculums remains an open question. Professor Yakel from the University of Michigan noted that the shift online would result in more material being available in the format, such as recordings of experts or recording classes for students missing classes. Syracuse librarian Helmstutler thought that more classes may become more hybrid than they were in the past even after the pandemic is over. And Dominican librarian and professor Marek felt that these changes may result in more classes going fully online going forward, especially since she believed that the work week and commutes will likely be changed moving forward. “People are going to appreciate the convenience more,” she said.

The biggest change may be within the curriculum itself. “This is a chance for us to think about what the new normal is,” Lankes at USC said. “If we are not bringing that into how we are preparing the next generation of libraries, that’s malpractice on our part.”

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