Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Library Education: putting our money where our mouth Is

At the recent 2012 BC Library Association conference in Richmond, BC, there was a strong sense that the tides are shifting. The changing face of information access, books, member expectations and technology are having a powerful affect on the library community. It is clear that attendees were interested in learning to become more nimble in the face of uncertainty and begin asking some very difficult questions about the future.

After having attended many BCLA conferences, it was the first time I heard such a concerted effort to use inclusive language when addressing attendees who work at all levels and types of library environments. Most notably, the Library and Assistant's Interest Group (LTAIG) was successful in gaining section status within the association in a unanimous vote at the AGM. Such activity strongly suggests that there is a shifting attitude about how library staff are going to navigate the future and a recognition that whatever that future is, we need to be more open in our discussions about how work will be done and how we will prepare for it.

Having extensive experience teaching and leading a library technician diploma program, it is clear to this author that the profession needs to participate more in the preparation of library staff for entry into practice. In addition, there needs to be a closer examination of how those who are in practice develop their skills and evolve their education. While there may be many ways to address such matters, I have had the opportunity to look at one, accreditation of library technician programs, as a means of encouraging industry input.

Not surprisingly, most people in the library profession are unaware how the formal entry into practice education system works. Although there are many reasons for this knowledge gap, the largest is likely due to the gradual acceptance that formal post secondary programs are preparatory for most professions. Unlike most other professions, however, library work does not have significant and cohesive rules around what is specifically required for entry into practice. Much of this stems from the incredibly rapid changes to the profession. This is followed by the pressures that exist within the field and a general attitude about library qualifications that has prevailed since the mid 20th century. Without going into a lengthy chronicle, it may be useful to reflect on the introduction of the Master's degree. Its introduction was intended to improve the status of library workers in the 1950s and was driven by librarians and not the community they served.* However, this was also a time of great clerical work and this work was undertaken by many without any post secondary education. The introduction of library technician programs during the late 1960s and 1970s reflects a need, at that time, for people with strong clerical skills to manage the daily, and often repetative, tasks of managing growing library collections. While some collaboration behind the inception of these undergraduate/college diploma programs would have occured, there is little collaboration going on 50 years later. It was only in 1982 when the first Guidelines for the Education of Library Technicians was published by the Canadian Library Association, While there have been two revisions since then, there has been little leadership from the national association on the matter of library education for non-graduate programs. While it may be argued that this is not the role of CLA, this author wonders whose role it should be, then?

Venturing into the cloud of silence...

While there are those who graduate from ALA accredited Master's programs, the remaining 43% of library workers do not. How they end up in libraries has not been adequately explored. While many come from library technician programs, many others do not. Yet, even in 2005, the 8 Rs research indicates that 78% of the work once performed by those who graduated from ALA accredited schools is being performed by other library staff. ** Since few in the profession would argue that the work performed in libraries has become LESS complex or less valuable, it is a mystery how this profession has avoided open discussions about how people a) are selected to enter practice and b) are prepared for entry. Further to this, it is also not clear how the profession is able to adequately inform education programs of what it needs with anything more robust than advisory committees and good intentions by program leaders. This is not to suggest that those who administer library techncian programs do not do good work. However, it does suggest that if any value is to be placed on the role of libraries and the people who work in them, more open discussion and examination is needed by all stakeholders. For example, are library technician programs moving in the right direction for the needs of the future? Are they recruiting students who will enter practice as leaders, problems solvers, and dynamic contributors to the profession? Is it the sole responsibility of those programs to act as the gateway for entry into practice?

It is not without some consternation to see that the 2008 CLA National Summit on Library Human Resources Association*** did very little to address such questions. Indeed, the focus of the summit seemed to reside in discussions about how retiring library managers and leaders would replace themselves and how graduate programs would recruit a new generation of graduates. Ironically, the people who might be interested in growth and advancement were not discussed. Again, the 8Rs research reveals that while some paraprofessionals felt too old to seek advancement, a number of others felt there were structural barriers to advancement. It raises the other issue of what is the profession doing to serve the life-long and professional development needs of its members? Indeed, that same research also indicates that 50% of those who graduated from an ALA accredited graduate program had been in the profession for more than 15 years along with 44% of paraprofessionals who worked in surveyed libraries.** In addition people are delaying retirement and the profession needs to consider how it is looking after the educational needs (formal and informal) of its employees.+

Response from my recent presentation at the BC Library Association Conference Shapeshifting: Library Education, Work and Expectations for the Future was not only overwhelming but it was clear that participants recognized the hypocrisy of being institutions that encourage enlightenment and betterment in their membership but often fail to provide the same opportunities for its employees. This is not to say that employees do not get access to some things like workshops, conferences, and courses but it is evident, from this author's experience, that it is limited, at best.

When the media regularly runs stories examining "jobs of the future", it is most obvious that library work is not the only field doing some soul-searching. A Vancouver Sun article, "What are the jobs of the future? To be honest, we don’t really know" from May 3, 2012 illustrates that that the future is anything but clear. Yet this is no reason to run from it. Not only does this profession need to examine how it prepares those ENTERING practice, it needs to spend some serious time looking at how it prepares people already IN practice.

What do we do?

While there is no "silver bullet" that will magically solve these issues for us, we do have a lot of work ahead of us because we have not been proactive for far too long. We must stimulate discussion and put these difficult issues on the table for exploration. We must call on our associations to help us negotiate through these problems and we must have a candid discussion about what are our CORE values as a profession as well as talk about what we need to do to prepare and improve. Below is a link to a proposal for accrediting library technician programs. This is simply one attempt at opening up discussion and finding ways to encourage input from the professional community. It is intended to stimulate discussion and to experiment. If accreditation of LIT programs is part of the solution, it should be noted that even this process will require "tweaking". Please examine the document, whether you are an educator or a practitioner and reflect on what it is you think will help the profession meet the demands of change.

Renowned Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan's fifth law is "The library is a growing organism" and, I would add, so, too, are the people that work in them.++

*Swigger, Keith. (2010). The MLS Experiment: An Assessment After Sixty Years. Scarecrow Press.

**Ingles, E et al. (2005). 8Rs: The Future of Human Resources in Canadian Libraries. Retrieved October 10, 2011 from: pp. 11, 52-53.

***The Intersol Group. (Oct. 6-7 2008). National Summit on Library Human Resources: Report for the Canadian Library Association (CLA). Ottawa, ON: CLA. Retrieved October 12, 2011 from:

+Yves C. and D. Galarneau. (2010).Delayed Retirement: A New Trend? Statistics Canada. Retrieved May 16, 2012 from:

++ Gorman, M. (2000). As quoted in Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Centrury. Chicago: ALA, 19.

Other Resources for Examination:

Guidelines for Library Technician Programs in Canada. (2011). Retrieved May 15, 2012 from">CLA Guidelines for the Education of Library Technicians

Training gaps analysis for librarians and library technicians executive summary. (2006). Cultural Human Resources Council. Retrieved October 19, 2011 from:

Neigel, C. (2011). Accreditation for Library and Information Technology Programs: A Proposal.

1 comment:

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