Friday, March 31, 2006

Article Note: On Crying Wolf about the LIS Education Crisis

Citation for the article:

Dillon, Andrew and April Norris. "Crying Wolf: An Examination and Reconsideration of the Perception of Crisis in LIS Education." Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 46 (4) (Fall 2005): 280-298.

I read it online here.

Mark Lindner, at . . .the thoughts are broken. . .wrote a critique of the article here, which is excellent in looking at many of the points the authors make, plus he adds value by linking to other commenters on the topic. Upon reading the article, there were a couple of points that stood out and that I think should be questioned.

In their literature review, the authors cite [Larry J.] Ostler, author of The Closing of American Library Schools (1995) in regards to placing the blame for the crisis on "the lack of suitable leadership within the field and the failure to market themselves adequately" (qtd. in 280). This moved me because one of the grievances that incoming librarians have is the significant lack of leadership opportunities. While there are leaders in the field of librarianship, it is important to note that in many cases the leadership is not being shared. More importantly, managers often have no succession plans and measures to train future leaders to take over their institutions when the time comes. I discussed some of that in another article note here, and I am sure a search in Technorati regarding generational issues in LIS will likely yield other writers on the topic. The lack in leadership is likely to continue as long as there is no significant training in place for those coming into the profession.

Dillon and Norris go on to perpetuate the myth of the expanding job market for LIS students. In here, I have to agree with Mark that there may be a conflict of interest with Professor Dillon being a Information School dean. I will admit that initially it seemed a bit mean to hold his position against the professor, but after reading this, I can see the conflict of interest potential. Of course a dean would promote this idea in order to bring students to the school. However, it is gradually becoming common knowledge that the so-called looming retirements are not happening, and the few that are happening may well be happening later. In addition, what no one who promotes this optimistic view seems to address is the fact that even if a retirement does occur, the position is often left unfilled, or it is eliminated altogether in the interests of saving some money.

Dillon and Norris also mention that crisis critics "cite curricular problems, lack of relevant research, gender inequity, and an obsession with technology at the expense of people as problems that educators fail to adequately address" (281). The lack of relevant research is certainly open to question. Mark points out the selectiveness of the sampling that Dillon and Norris did to prove that the relevant research is there. I suggest readers take a look at his post. My question comes down with a small twist. First, as someone who with some regularity looks over the LIS literature, how many more "how my library did it" articles can the professional journals take in? Apparently, quite a few. While I understand the need for some of my professional brethren to work towards tenure, I cannot help but wonder if that is all there is. But Dillon and Norris go further on this to actually dismiss practitioners, which, as a practitioner myself, was, shall we say, not nice? But I will get to that a bit further down. As to the issue of technological obsession, I hate to say this, but a lot of the biblioblogosphere has become a place that displays that trait. And if we look at the biblioblogosphere as a picture of where the experts of the profession are at, then this works. Even if we take the Gorman view and dismiss bloggers, the obsession with technology is not far off. By the way, for an interesting questioning of the technological obsession, see Mr. Rory Litwin's post here, which I will likely respond to at a later time. But, let me move this for the further down bit I am promising.

One of the themes that Dillon and Norris present is :

"1. Librarianship has been pushed out or otherwise negatively affected by the incursion of information studies or information science-oriented faculty into most LIS programs, and as a result there is a lack of research on library issues, since schools have given all their attention to technologically oriented research questions" (281).

This is where Mark raises the question about the research and the citations that Dillon and Norris use as examples. Now, in my case, I will use experience to question this. The lack of siginificant LS offerings in my own LI School was a major grievance point for most of my classmates. It was a major grievance point for me as well as we often had to make magic in order to get classes we needed. There was a significant lack of LS faculty, and the balance was clearly tilted to IS. Now, I am not one to say that Information Science is not important. Far from it, in this day and age, knowing how to make use of technological tools and how they apply to service is a given. Dillon and Norris do agree when they write:

"Technology has permeated all we do in this field; it is foundational for the discipline in the twenty-first century, not a component that can be ignored or taught separately, under the heading 'information science' in our schools" (294).

I don't think it as gone to all we do, but it does permeate a large part of what we do. There is still a very strong human factor. Technology is a tool; what we do with it is what makes us good librarians as well as compassionate and caring human beings to our fellow people. Now, in regards to the technological components, I had to do a lot of my learning about social software and what has become L2 after library school. Sure, I learned about web design and some other technological tools, but the toys of L2 were not there. So, clearly, that needed to be present. On the other hand, to make a good reference librarian, I needed courses in various specialized topics that were simply not there because practitioners were not hired. Sure, I got a good education, but it could have been a lot better. On a bit of a positive note, they have brought in some people to balance the scales, but work could be done further. This is just one example.

Now, to the part that got my blood boiling which I promised earlier. Dillon and Norris conveniently argue that lack of space does not allow them to examine the claim that faculty research is not practical for those of us in the field. In order to dismiss this, they just view the research as not too highly theoretical when compared to other humanities or social science fields. They write that "more importantly, it is doubtful that trial by practitioner is ever the best measure of any scholarly research" (287). Well, excuse me for not asking permission or your blessing before judging your scholarly output, not that I am asking now. In that short statement, the authors basically dismissed the value and perspectives of librarian practitioners. One needs to wonder where exactly this comes from considering that librarianship, even as they define it in their article, as "a commonly understood label for the work of credentialed practitioners involved in management and provision of services within a library or similar setting" (282), is a practical field. First and foremost, librarianship is defined by service to others. If anyone is qualified to question the research of those in the ivory tower, it is those in the field who actually put the theory into practice. In addition, many practitioners do conduct research and publish. Research and publication are not the exclusive venues of those in the ivory tower, and I would be willing to bet that a look at the literature would bear this out, at least one less cursory than the one Dillon and Norris did to illustrate their point about research relevancy. Apparently, the authors may not be fully aware of models like the teacher researcher, which is certainly applicable to librarians in their libraries and based on daily concerns as well as larger issues. Are these authors saying that unless one is a theorist that their research is not valid, nor their ability to evaluate material? It would seem so, and this practitioner who has had a good share of research experience begs to disagree. Our field of endeavor is a practical field, and while we do need a solid grounding in theory, most of it should be applicable to our practice in general. What we are seeing here is the favoring of the old ivory tower academic model of publication or else along with the notion that only certain scholars can engage in research. There is a lot more to research than the ivory tower. If nothing else, Dillon and Norris self-destruct when they make such assertion because they are making a divide. In making that divide, they seem to make the LI School faculty seem as indeed out of touch with the profession at large. I thought they were trying to refute this idea, but it seems more like lip service.

The article has some useful ideas, but it also brings forth some significant questions. The authors do note that "LIS programs have failed to grasp fully the opportunity to stake a stronger intellectual claim in this terrain [information science]" (294). I would not disagree with that, but I don't think such a claim has to come at the expense of the library side in Library and Information Science. Like most things in life, there has to be a balance. While technology is very present in our work, it does not mean that libraries and librarianship, in the more traditional sense if we care to use that label, will disappear, no matter what the dwellers of Mount Ubertech will have us believe. What I find questionable is that, while the authors refute there is a crisis, they go on to promote certain divisions. Are they then promoting another crisis, or a different one? In dismissing practitioners so readily, they seem to be doing that. We have to show that we have the knowledge and the authority for dealing with information issues, as Dillon and Norris conclude (296), but research does need to have some degree of relevancy. If not, there may well be a crisis in the horizon. There are many other questions to consider, but they have been addressed in other places, and I would recommend that readers visit those writers as well.


Mark said...

Excellent job Angel, and I love how you compliment much of what I wrote coming from the currently practicing angle vs. my still in school angle.

Of course, you make many valuable points on your own; not trying to imply otherwise. I did go on to tease apart my seeming agreement with their claim that practioners should not be the (sole) judge of research in a comment on your comment, if you haven't seen it yet.

And when are we going to stop sharing this "virtual" wine and share some real wine? :)


Angel, librarian and educator said...

Mark: Hey, how could I not complement when you laid it out so well? Sometimes I think those further up in the Ivory Tower tend to forget about the ones down in the trenches who do the work (and that includes paraprofessionals as well as professionals. I know, not the best labels). And we shall have to crack open the vino sometime. In the meantime, best, and keep on blogging.