Library 2.017 Conference Reviews LIS Education and the SJSU iSchool Measures Up Strong
Published: April 13, 2017
“We are educating for the future, not the present.” Experts identify the important qualifications for information professionals.
The Library 2.017 year of mini-conferences kicked off with “Expertise, Competencies and Careers,” in which experts discussed the changing landscape of libraries and the ways in which individuals can adapt their skills and educational institutions their curriculums to fit in with the future. I listened to the opening keynote address moderated by ALA President Julie Beth Todaro who started off the presentation by telling the audiences a little bit about what the ALA had been doing in its Libraries Transform campaign. Of significant highlight is the role that librarians play in transforming their communities.
Rethinking the MLS and MLIS
The first speaker for the opening presentation was John Bertot, co-director of the University of Maryland College Park’s Information Policy and Access Center (iPac). He focused his talk on the changing socio-tech-economic landscape and rethinking our higher education ecosystem. Bertot asked, and then sought to answer, two essential questions for the profession:
- “How do we as a profession respond to these consistently changing contexts?”
- “How can we (as educators) prepare graduates of our programs to handle this very fluid and dynamic environment?”
Bertot went on to discuss the vast and extensive amount of both internal and external pressure institutions face to assure the MLS relevant and useful. As I was listening to the presentation, I noted here that Bertot was discussing many of the ways in which technology would play a part in the shifting landscape of libraries and yet the degree being discussed (a Masters of Library Science or MLS) does not include the technical nor information science element necessary today. However, he did highlight how institutions that incorporate information technology into the MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science or MLIS) degree, like the one offered by San Jose State University’s iSchool, was essential for keeping up the with shifting landscape of technology. So as I listened to Bertot talk, I felt confident that I had chosen the right school!
As librarians and libraries work to justify their existence, Bertot noted that the equation is changing from “we are valued because we are used” (measured by quantifiable data like circulation records and/or library use) to “we are valuable because we make a difference,” (measured by the impact on the quality of life in the community). Justifying our necessity and existence in today’s political environment is also tricky, especially considering the dwindling value that is being put on art, culture, and the veracity of scientific research. “Facts,” Bertot noted, “seem to be optional.” At the end of Bertot’s presentation, Todaro emphasized the importance of advocacy and being politically savvy as a librarian. The iSchool seems to be in step here as well, having just added a course in Political Advocacy the curriculum.
A New Role for Today’s Libraries
Valerie J. Gross is the president and CEO of the Howard County Library System in Maryland and an alumna of the SJSU iSchool. Her presentation focused on a librarian’s ever-evolving expertise. Gross stressed the librarian’s vision as not just “keepers of books,” but as the all-encompassing and worldwide valued symbol of education. “Public libraries are educational institutions, on equal footing with schools, colleges, and universities,” said Gross. “Our motto is not just ‘we support education’, we are education.” She went on to discuss the new motto of Libraries = Education and its three pillars—self-directed education, research assistance and instruction, and instructive and enlightening services.
Essential Skills for Today’s Information Professional
Eileen G. Abels, the third and final speaker for the opening keynote address is one of three librarians working on the project “Educate to Innovate: Re-visioning Library and Information Science Education.” This project brought together more than 50 leaders from a variety of backgrounds to talk about the information future and how to provide appropriate education. In 2015, these experts determined the following knowledge, skills, and abilities to be some of the most important qualifications for information professionals:
- Critical thinking
- Data analysis
- Advocacy, political engagement
- Understanding social issues and social change
- Entrepreneurial attitude
- Interdisciplinary approaches
- Rapid responsiveness to community concerns
- Space planning
- Graphic design
These skills were listed in order of highest priority and new skills presented by these same experts included change management, research methods (like the iSchool’s Info 285 course), project management, diversity and inclusion, copyright, and foreign languages. Abels stressed the importance of design thinking. “We are educating for the future,” she reminded listeners, “not the present. LIS education needs to prepare graduates to successfully lead and shape our information future.”
How Does the iSchool Measure Up?
In looking at the list above, I inventoried the skills that I have developed here at SJSU’s School of Information. Am I lacking? Do I need to hurry up and grab a couple of these abilities before I graduate in May? Critical thinking, technology, and teaching are all an integral part of the iSchool curriculum, beginning with its core courses. Advocacy and political engagement? I took the Info 282 Political Advocacy course earlier this semester and am currently interning for EveryLibrary. Marketing? This blog, of course! Thanks to the iSchool and its constantly updated curriculum, it looks like I’m going to be right in step with the marketable abilities employers are looking for these days.
“At SJSU School of Information,” says iSchool Director Dr. Sandra Hirsh, “we provide our students with new and updated courses (e.g., technology, advocacy, youth, management, and other courses), career resources, and leadership opportunities to help them develop the expertise and competencies they will need as information professionals. We keep up with the changing information landscape and needs of the LIS profession by regularly consulting with experts and leaders in the field, reviewing job trends, and talking with employers.”
The iSchool curriculum is reviewed on an ongoing cycle based on a specific set of criteria developed by the Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard. The core competencies that one must fulfill through their course work and the writing of their e-Portfolio are informed by field experts, review boards, faculty leaders, and the American Library Association (ALA) and its associated groups. If you’re interested in what the job market looks like, what employers are looking for and what job descriptions look like for your particular career field then you should check out the Emerging Career Trends Report that’s put together every year for iSchool students.
In case you were worried about being prepared for the working world, you can put those worries to rest—the iSchool’s got you covered.
For related content about the Library 2.017 Virtual Mini-Conferences and iSchool curriculum, check out these articles:
Library 2.017 Explores Skills Necessary for Successful Librarianship