MLIS Career Pathways: A Look at Information Intermediation and Instruction
Published: August 12, 2021 by Leslie Parry
If you haven’t yet attended a session, be sure to check out the iSchool Student Services Lunch and Learn webinar series. These virtual chats, held live over Zoom, give students a chance to interact with the Student Services team, ask the faculty burning questions, and learn more about opportunities for success at the San José State University School of Information. Of particular note are the webinars exploring different MLIS career pathways. Most recently the featured pathway was Information Intermediation and Instruction. Panelists included faculty members Dr. José Aguiñaga, Dr. Lili Luo, and Director of Online Learning Bethany Winslow. As Sheila Gurtu, the webcast host and Student Outreach Specialist, explains, this pathway prepares students for careers in reference services, instructional design and related information settings. Among the topics discussed were essential skills, recommended coursework and potential professions. Read on for highlights from this excellent discussion.
What kinds of skills are needed for a career in information intermediation and instruction? Gurtu recommends looking at the latest MLIS Skills at Work Report. She says, “Many of the most in-demand skills in LIS are part of the information intermediation and instruction skillset, both the soft skills and the library and information science skills.” Soft skills include communication, collaboration and interpersonal skills; the LIS skills include technology training, research and customer service.
Luo concurs, citing the balance of good research skills and understanding patron needs. “Research skills, research knowledge, the capability to conduct research, to understand user needs, to understand instruction, to understand how to better design education programs to train and deliver training – and to use research as a way to generate ideas for those – that’s a key skill,” she says.
Winslow adds, “In today’s world, with such large volumes of information that is subject to change very quickly, the skills to be able to analyze, organize, and present that information in different ways to different end users is a really critical skill.” She encourages students to “focus on the pedagogy, not the technology. Technology changes constantly. The principles of instructional design and learning theory evolve over time, but they’re more stable. Knowing how to use a technology tool is not the same thing as being able to effectively design a lesson that uses it.”
What courses should students in this pathway take? In addition to the required MLIS courses, the iSchool has created a list of foundational and recommended classes, including INFO 210, INFO 250, INFO 254 and INFO 287. Aguiñaga, who teaches INFO 210 and acts as a pathway advisor, says of his class, “INFO 210 is an overview of the type of reference services that are available, whether you’re interested in the academic path, school librarian path, public librarian path, or even special library path.” His class, in partnership with the JARS Program at San Francisco Public Library, offers a unique opportunity for students to answer reference questions from incarcerated people in the Bay Area.
Luo, who is also a pathway advisor, teaches INFO 285, a required course that allows students to choose from different topics. In particular she recommends the topic Evaluating Programs and Services. “I would definitely recommend this one to students who are interested in information intermediation and instruction. Program evaluation and service evaluation can be a big part of the job responsibilities in related domains.” Other topics, such as Research in Academic Librarianship and Survey Research, are also relevant to this pathway, as well as to many others. She adds, “If you have any questions about picking the 285 section that’s right for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and ask any questions.”
If you’re considering more than one pathway, or want to develop skills applicable to many, Gurtu recommends using the course intersection tool to see which courses pathways have in common.
Drawing on the MLIS at Work Skills Report, Gurtu points to sample job titles to illustrate the abundant opportunities for students in this pathway. They include Reference Librarian, Outreach Librarian, Scholarly Communications Librarian, Database Trainer, and Social Media and Marketing Librarian. She suggests creating job alerts from “Indeed and other job search aggregators with keywords, so that you can begin to see what types of positions, even in a non-library setting, may be available in your area.”
“You should inventory your skills and really cultivate being adaptable,” says Winslow. “There’s a really big overlap between LIS professionals and instructional designers. Very broadly speaking, we’re both working to achieve the very same ends, and that is to make usable information accessible to everyone.” She adds, “One of the things I really love most about the career is that it demands that you have a wide range, in terms of being able to be very good at big picture thinking all the way down to being highly detail oriented.”