Powered by Practice: Linking LIS and library life | Editorial

The struggle to improve the affinity between library schools and applied librarianship has just gained a powerful ally. In June, the University of Washington’s Information School (iSchool) announced the appointment of its first Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, Susan Hildreth. She is one of the most experienced and visionary librarians in our ranks, having served stints as a library director, state librarian, head of consortia, and, most notably, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

RebeccaWebEdit2015The struggle to improve the affinity between library schools and applied librarianship has just gained a powerful ally. In June, the University of Washington’s Information School (iSchool) announced the appointment of its first Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, Susan Hildreth. She is one of the most experienced and visionary librarians in our ranks, having served stints as a library director, state librarian, head of consortia, and, most notably, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

I am excited to see how Hildreth’s comprehensive experience, ability to foster alliances, and understanding of libraries’ collective impact will influence the future of the professional credential. I feel certain it will strengthen the connection between theory and practice.

This news arrived as I was preparing to participate in a panel called “Sharing Our Good Work,” focused on strategies to surface scholarly research occurring in library and information science (LIS) in the broader library world. The conversation among the panelists in advance of ALA highlighted how remote LIS research can seem to be from the everyday experience of librarians.

Of course, there are excellent efforts going on in these schools—both research and instruction. As the annual LJ/ALISE Excellence in Teaching Award has demonstrated, there are extremely talented educators already devoting themselves to this problem.

Sometimes, the link to practice is inherent in the teaching lineup, a reality I enjoyed at Pratt Institute when pursuing my MSLIS. There, complementing some talented full-time faculty, adjuncts from libraries throughout the New York City metro region made lessons vivid. Not all schools have such access to a variety of real-life librarians, however, and the curriculum must make such links the standard rather than the exception. A leader such as Hildreth in place will likely help speed the plow.

“I am not sure that I am familiar enough with any of the LIS curricula to identify gaps yet,” Hildreth told me on the heels of the announcement. “The opportunities and challenges that are open particularly to those who work in public libraries may not be as clearly articulated as they should be. Librarians have a chance to change lives, to make their communities better, to partner to address civic issues, to be engines of social justice, and to deal with societal problems on a daily basis. It will be engaging to reframe the skills, interests, and abilities that are necessary to provide staff who can succeed in 21st-century digital community hubs!”

The iSchool is in the right place at the right time. “The development of this program arose from conversations with leaders of the Global Libraries Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” iSchool dean and professor Harry Bruce told me. (The iSchool’s Technology & Social Change Group [TASCHA] is one of three legacy partners of the Global Libraries Initiative that will carry on the foundation’s mission as it exits the library space.) “As we worked with our partners at the foundation, we expressed a shared commitment to deepening and strengthening the connection between innovation in library practice and research and teaching in the academy,” Bruce says.

Hildreth will be the first of a series of people to hold this position, Bruce confirms, with each in place for at least two years. “Each professor of practice will teach, design courses, and complete a practice-based project that will be widely disseminated. Each will contribute their unique experience, vision, and expertise to shaping the position and its impact on students and the future of the field,” he says, adding that the funding is secure for ten years, after which the goal is “to sustain the role through private support from alumni and friends.”

The appointment allows Hildreth to “test and develop some of the concepts presented in the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on the Future of Libraries,” she says. For the school itself, she hopes to “create a framework [that] will be flexible for future colleagues and provide insight that will [produce] sustainable change and improvement in the iSchool curriculum.”

No doubt that will influence the field, but no single person is going to make all the changes needed. The field as a whole must continue to prioritize building bridges between what is learned and taught in library schools and what happens in libraries. ALA and ALISE, for instance, can collaborate more closely to innovate on curricula that train talent ready for the real world of libraries. In turn, researchers can try to share insights earlier and more often in popular venues. Practicing librarians can reach beyond poster sessions to seek out applicable research. Together, these endeavors will strengthen the value of the degree and deepen the capacity of the profession.

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Cynthia Orr

Kudos to the University of Washington for this move, and congratulations to Susan Hildreth. What a great choice. I would like to offer an immediate "gap" that should be addressed, and that is Readers' Advisory Service. Many, if not most, public library directors would say that having taken a course or more in this subject is important for success in their libraries. But many schools do not teach it at all, and for those who do, most of the courses are taught by adjuncts who do a great job, but don't do research. The library school professors who are best known for their research into the subject have already retired, or are approaching retirement. The profession needs RA research to continue to improve in this area. But some of the very few professors working in this subject have expressed frustration that there is no interest in this specialty in library schools, and find their interests looked upon with disdain by other professors. In many schools, professors research their own favorite topics, then teach classes in library science that have no relationship to what they are researching. There is almost no research in reading done in library schools these days. All the new research is done by educators or brain researchers. This situation by itself is appalling, but what makes it worse is that even many of the adjuncts who are teaching the subject (myself included) are themselves aging. With the professors retiring, and the adjuncts aging, we desperately need younger people to step up and work in this area which is crucial to public libraries. I have no doubt that there are many talented younger readers' advisors who will step up and teach as adjuncts, but I am very worried about the lack of research done by library school professors. There are many opportunities for research, from what reading does to your brain to how people choose what to read, to categorizing types of readers and what reading means to them, to using big data to analyze the popular books that people read with enjoyment. Since books are the brand of public libraries, it is especially disappointing that very little research is being done in library schools in this area. I think we are approaching an emergency in this field, and I hope library schools will pay attention and reward professors who are willing to do research in reading and readers' advisory service by awarding them tenure track positions.

Posted : Jul 11, 2016 06:30

Joneser

RA coursework is essential for anyone thinking about working in a public library.

Posted : Jul 11, 2016 06:30


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