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This article covers the training and education of librarians. For information on educating library users, see library instruction.

Uneasy tensions in LIS Education[edit]

Education for 21st century librarianship continues to face many of the uneasy tensions that have been present since its beginnings in the 19th century. Some of the tensions facing Library and Information Science Education:

Tension # 1: Generalization versus specialization

There's always been a tension between specialization and generalization in the history of the development of Library Science as an academic discipline (at least in the United States). I guess you could say both have won or maybe they co-exist uneasily? For example, one can still get a graduate degree in Library and Information Science with just about 12 courses. In some schools such as the University of Arizona's School of Information Resources and Library Science the generalization-specialization is exhibited in the following ways: graduate students can specialize in an area of study such as Knowledge Organization. The specialization is a core intellectual problem area of LIS - see this article in D-Lib Magazine for more. Or they can specialize in a particular information environment such asSchool Library Media certification.

Tension #2: Practice versus Theory

Tension #3: 1 year versus 2 year graduate degree

Tension #4: Education for Information (the I word) versus Education for Library Science (the L word) or is it LIS Education?

Tension #5: Cataloging education versus Knowledge organization (or organization of information) approaches

Tension #6: Distance learning versus classroom delivery

The Williamson report on library education chastised librarians and called them "prejudiced" even in this regard for failing to take advantage of new technologies that would provide access (to library education through DE - distance education) to rural areas.

Tension #7: Crisis Criers - if we believe some folks LIS education has been in crisis now for over a hundred years in the US (since inception in fact).

Technological advances are producing rapid changes for the role of the library and its employees. This paper presents observations on the character of library education and librarians' place in society. The related topics covered by the following sections are: the desired role of library education for starting a career in librarianship; how librarians interact with technological advances; concerns over the cost of library education and the salary of librarians; and library staff and their image. To simplify some of the largely linguistic quibbling on the subject terminology (Bennett, 1988; Shera, 1983), I will use "library education" to denote "library and information science education" and its derivatives.

Library Education[edit]

Most professional library positions require a graduate degree, usually a Masters in Library Science (MLS), from a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). While this level of credentialism does not compare with the rigorous requirements of professional association monopolies such as the American Bar Association, it has drawn criticism as an elitist barrier against those with library expertise but no formal library education (Beales, 1999). Some other complaints against the accreditation system are that different versions of accreditation make the certification process meaningless to the profession (Berry, 1995), and pressures of accreditation can be identified as the reason for library school closings, such as at Northern Illinois University (Gaughan, 1992).

The first library schools had a heavy focus on technical instruction and not professional education. Prior to the adoption of the ALA standards in 1951, a major revision of the 1925 and 1933 library school standards, methods of technical education for librarians were carry-overs from the nineteenth century, focusing on apprenticeship and unwritten standards (White 1976). In the current accreditation process, the ALA acts as an external body, yet an informed insider in the library profession, that conducts quality assessment and approval of library education programs. Since 1951, the accreditation standards have been revised by the ALA Committee on Accreditation (COA) in 1972 (Yungmeyer, 1984), and again in 1992. The current accreditation standards are qualitative guidelines that emphasize the need for graduates to possess a firm theoretical grasp of issues in librarianship, and education provided by competent faculty at schools with a scholarly atmosphere (American Library Association Committee on Accreditation, 1992). Associations devoted to specific subfields of librarianship have developed their own specialized credentialing programs and guidelines, such as the Medical Library Association's Code for the Training and Certification of Medical Librarians (Bell, 1996), and the Special Libraries Association's Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century (Special Committee on Competencies for Special Librarians, 1996).

Is an accredited degree truly necessary for library professionals? For tasks requiring training, the question is whether experience or education is the preferred method of training. On the job training will provide irreplaceable real experience in the field, but academic education will give an understanding of how to best perform. Instead of taking a one or the other approach to real world or academic training, the focus should rather be on combined product of the two, the integration and interaction of theoretical and practical knowledge that will produce the best worker. This is one of the reasons why upper level positions require both education and experience. In some cases, a degree may mostly stand as a status symbol, or as a costly piece of paper allowing someone to do the job they were already capable of, but a degree often defines a deeper understanding and capability to perform a job.

A similar balance between the combination of real world and academic training is the emphasis on both theoretical and practical knowledge in library education. Concerning the practical knowledge of librarians, there is the argument for library education to place a greater emphasis on the less scholarly skills that librarians require, such as people management and facilities maintenance (Steele, 1995). Purely theoretical education would require much on the job training, so a with lack of practical training in library education, the field would revert to the apprenticeship model and lose status as a profession (Futas, 1991).

Professional education, however, can be much more important than formal training (Williamson, 1923/1971). Without education focusing on a theoretical background to build the profession, library education programs would slip into the field of vocation schools. Along with rudimentary training, a solid theoretical education is essential for librarians to have the capabilities to accurately analyze innovations and avert information overload (Budd, 1992). The importance of conceptual education, rather than vocational skills instruction, in forging the library profession is described by White (1989):

[T]he emphasis must be on education, the understanding of issues and concepts and the development of skills and tools with which to deal with the specific problems that arise in libraries and that nobody can fully predict and anticipate. It should not emphasize training, the understanding of specific techniques for doing specific tasks, although library schools obviously do provide some training along the way. However, it is one of the characteristics of any recognized profession that first-time graduates are not ready to work productively until they receive lots of expensive and time-consuming further training. (p. 4)

Education and training are both valuable facets of the knowledge needed by librarians. A balance must therefore be struck between the education of theoretical knowledge and practical skills instruction or internships in library education. More established and reputable professions are built upon this balance. In the health sciences, for example, basic medical services are handled by the paramedic and physicians assistant trades, while more skilled medical consultation is provided by doctors who possess the benefits from both medical school education and residence training. Similarly, a librarian is more of an information counselor than a mere holder of information (Dosa, et. al., 1988). The quantifiable skills and procedures competencies that shortsighted employers are eager to have covered in school must be matched with the scholarly knowledge from education for greater long term payoffs. When defining the required abilities for library professionals, we must maintain awareness of the different sources of library knowledge: "We do indeed need to develop basic competencies and differentiate as to whether they should be acquired by education or training." (White, 1983, p. 524).

A critical factor in library education is the quality of instruction provided by the faculty. Like other professors, information science faculty provide instruction to students while also producing scholarly publications (Biggs & Biggs, 1993; Darlymple & Varlejs, 1995; Garland, 1991). It is noteworthy that publication characteristics vary among different types of faculty. For information science journals, publication rates are highest for assistant professors (Siddiqui, 1997), while the deans at library and information science programs are not at all well published (Cronin & Crawford, 1999). Practicing specialists in fields such as children's librarianship also pursue activities different from frequent publication (Cronin & Davenport, 1996).

In addition to what they may or may not publish for their peers, information science faculty play an essential role in fostering the beginning of a library career (Berry, 1994). Faculty fill an important role as human educators, just as librarians are valued educators in library services. Faculty selection criteria could therefore place a greater concentration on teaching ability over prolific research and professional service records. Educational institutions should seek and tenure more qualified faculty, people who are motivational instructors as well as knowledgeable scholars, as new professors are becoming more needed to replace aging library faculty (Futas & Zipkowitz, 1991).

Technology Issues[edit]

Library education is closely related to the technological advances in information science, built upon early incorporation of online systems into the curriculum (Tenopir, 1989). Technological innovations have brought changes not only in the subjects taught, but how they are taught, as with the incorporation of distance learning programs (Chesiuk, 1998). The amount of useful technology instruction a library program should provide remains an open question. To provide further education in the theoretical foundations of librarianship, the curriculum could eliminate the time spent training in obsolescent technologies, as librarians should rather rely on the necessary preparation provided by commercial library vendors.

Rather than becoming the tools of their tools, librarians can exploit technological advances as means to their benefit and to relieve their workload. Expert systems, for example, are automated aids devoted to such procedures as collection development, cataloging and classification, and other information work (Mirau, 1999). With the growth of computerized library resources, greater technological expertise will be required by all library workers (Desmarais, 1995; Kevil, 1996). Although library services are becoming more computerized and automated, this mechanistic drive of expertise does not eliminate the need for librarians. The more new technologies are made available to people, librarians will need to have the teaching methods and skills called upon to educate and communicate with customers (Sever, 1996).

An interdisciplinary analogy here is that just as neurologists profit from a firm background in psychology to interpret the nature of their discoveries, computer scientists and database designers require lessons from librarians to learn how best to design and build information resources. Thus the computerization of libraries and information does not eliminate the need for librarians, but rather the technological advances in databases, and the Internet in particular, have produced a market for digital librarians (Boyce, 1994; Caulfield, 1997; Donovan, 1999). With the exponential growth of information being published, librarians are also needed to maintain libraries not just in a clerical capacity, but to assist patrons in wading through the seas of information available (Ortega y Gasset, 1961).

Scientific progress in data and information technology has also enabled the available formats of library collections to expand from printed works to electronic texts, images, and videos. A wider and more complicated range of information technology has entailed a less uniform curriculum in library schools beyond the required core courses, producing graduates with a broader range of skills along with basic library competencies (Miller, 1996). Basic skills and proficiencies are still needed for librarians to make efficient use of print and electronic tools (Bates, 1998), but continuing education and personal development are also necessary for information professionals to maintain knowledge within the expanding information economy (Wallace, 1994).

Expanding technology is also an supporting argument for American library schools to adopt the Canadian library schools' policies of requiring two years of graduate education, instead of the traditional one year program, as needed for librarians to market their understanding of newer trends in the library industry (Gardner, 1987; Hayes, et. al., 1983). Programs featuring an undergraduate preparation for a library career, containing prerequisites or requirements reductions for the graduate degree, are another idea, although they sacrifice the librarian's need for a strong general educational background that a bachelor's degree provides.

Customized tracks and programs at library schools, for those students whose specialization is determined early in enrollment, would provide more relevant career training, but isolate a graduate's employable library fields (Cox & Rasmussen, 1997; White & Paris, 1985). A more enriched library curriculum on the graduate level, and perhaps even specialized or supplemental library degree programs, would definitely better prepare students for a library career. One major stumbling block to this movement, however, is that any additional tuition expenses are not easy to repay on a library salary. Library education at the doctorate level, for example, is usually reserved for scholars pursuing careers in higher education or administration.

Economic Concerns[edit]

Since library salaries are not directly dependent on the prosperity of a profiteering business, librarians share the laments of other professions whose income is derived from funding, such as public educators, that their compensation does not match the magnitude of their skills and responsibilities. Based on a 1998 survey conducted by the American Library Association Office for Research and Office for Library Personnel Resources (1998), in academic and public libraries, the median salary for beginning full-time librarians with an ALA accredited master's degree in library and information studies was $29,007 (p. 23). The median salary for reference or informational librarians was $37,291 (p. 15), compared to census figures for the same year showing the median income for workers age 25 and over with a master's degree to be $36,428 for females and $51,813 for males (United States Bureau of the Census Income Statistics Branch, 1999). Research also indicates that the MLS degree is such a poor financial investment that librarians with an MLS earn less than their collegiate counterparts who stopped paying for education with a bachelor's degree and pursued careers in other fields (Van House, 1985). Whether it is feasible for MLS graduates to earn back the cost of their degree has been a source of debate (Hildenbrand, 1985).

The library is not a profit-based business, although it operates in a capitalist market economy. A business offers its services for a price with the intent to make a profit, and likewise advertises and markets its products only to those likely to pay for them. Libraries cannot be marketed like a business because they are not for profit; they must provide and market services to all tax or tuition payers. Libraries do not advertise products to make immediately financial profits, but must rather educate users so they can make more productive and efficient use of library resources that are more valuable than other sources of information. The cost-effective investment in providing library services to citizens thus warrants the provision of sufficient salaries for librarians.

Those familiar with the financial operations of a library will recognize the importance of education in library business management and public administration (Berry, 1998). To provide education in the economic aspects of the profession, library curriculum should also be designed to foster the business savvy and leadership abilities, especially the comfort with authority, that librarians require. Instead of a strictly business approach, however, attention needs to be paid to the distinction that the source of library revenues is funding, not profit.

A discussion of the economic concerns of librarians is not complete without touching upon the topic of the erratic market costs of information access. Price hikes driven by commercial publishers and vendors are a complex issue, and offer no simple solution to concerns about the future economic prosperity of librarians. It is also uncertain that approaching electronic frontiers in information technologies, such as online publications, will immediately alleviate this crisis (Odlyzko, 1997).

Library Staff and Image[edit]

The future composition of library staff is dependent on the technological and financial developments as described above: "With current changes in economics and technologies, within both academia and the library professions, it is reasonable to expect that the differences between education for library technicians and education for librarians will continue to evolve." (Wilson & Hermanson, 1998, p. 467). The image of librarians is dependent of the structure of the library staff and the services they provide.

The professional status and therefore image should be the same with librarians, who provide information services to the general population, as it is with practitioners in fields that apply more esoteric knowledge, such as the legal profession (Abbott, 1998). With the greater abundance and abilities of reference works, such as the capability to conduct more specific subject searches, to help patrons navigate the information in their fields, librarians are needing more specialized knowledge themselves. Increasing requirements in subject knowledge are making librarians the Sherpas of the academic and research world: skilled yet underpaid and undervalued navigators who humbly guide scholars to glory. The role of librarians better fits in the scientific professional model, rather than the traditional bureaucratic role of librarians as administrative support (Houser & Schrader, 1978).

Research by librarians is important, although their service orientation makes them different from academic faculty (Bohannan, 1993). Adding more research to the rhetoric in library publications may also help decrease the level of academic arrogance concerning the library service field. To pursue more scholarly activities of their own, librarians would like more support by employers and associations for research and education in research methodology (Dimitroff, 1996). Help could come in the form of increased clerical staff support or financial assistance, both of which are needed in libraries today. Offering continuing education to librarians does not just foster their personal development, since it will also make them better equipped to serve customers (Weingand, 1995). Since negative perceptions of librarians can be self-fulfilling, library curriculum can have a role in breaking this cycle and establishing a new identity for librarians; improving library education can give librarians the knowledge needed to improve their image, status, and credibility (Kisiedu, 1994; Thompson, 1974).

The library field is fragmented by the type of positions held by workers, often according to work experience and academic certification. Within the ranked hierarchy, to avoid possible friction within library staff, such as from the derogatory connotation of titles such as "semiprofessionals" and "paraprofessionals," care needs to be taken to maintain good relations between the different classes of workers. From an approach that recognizes the diversity of positions within an organization allow it to run more efficiently, the variety of jobs should be managed as needed to run a library. Setting less distinct job categories and duties in favor of individual roles based on individual abilities would also create a smoothly running facility that is then best prepared to serve customers.

A library degree is hardly needed for many of the clerical tasks performed in a library, yet many of these tasks need not be done by workers at all. Because simple, repetitive duties can hamper a human's morale and self-image, mechanized tasks should be computerized as often as possible, to avoid workers becoming automatons. Menial tasks must also be differentiated from the activities that make more valuable contributions to the profession. Librarians can develop their image by balancing the less prestigious tasks, such as answering directional questions, with maintaining their scholarly activities, such as research and reference instruction (Aluri & St. Clair, 1978). To increase the time librarians have available for these scholarly activities, it has also been suggested that professional librarians may not be needed to immediately assist patrons, such as on the reference desk, as long as tiers of service are available to answer questions that trained nonprofessionals cannot handle themselves (Heaton, 1996).


Although they do not directly hold the key to economic prosperity, libraries contain the wealth of knowledge capable of educating and bettering the lives of citizens. This position of power demands that librarians be viewed as valued professionals, capable of organizing and presenting information to foster the intellectual growth of society. Librarians are professionals who pursue constructive activities above any academic subject, not mere subsets of their serviced fields, or administrative support staff who do little more than stamp and shelve books. In the face of growing technological capabilities, the need remains for librarians to keep their professional values intact (Gorman, 1999). By implementing policies and procedures that emphasize efforts to offer no discrimination in services, to support no censorship of information, and to retain respect of patron privacy, an image of fairness can also help librarians establish their integrity.

Useful education and training can allay apprehensions based on the more unsettling trends in library education and the role of the library profession. Library programs, however, cannot bear the sole responsibility of preparing people for a library career: "No single year of education, or even two, can do everything that should have been done over a period of years by the family, by elementary school teachers, and by college professors. To expect a school of library and information science to do so in unrealistic in the extreme." (Stieg, 1992, p. 18). Library education can and should, however, provide core and elective courses for a firm foundation in theoretical and applied knowledge. Librarians would then be best prepared to handle the technological and financial uncertainties ahead, and demonstrate the competencies needed to improve their image.


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External Links[edit]

  • ODP Category lists educational institutions with LIS programs
  • Changes in LIS Education - A Bibliography (last updated 2004) lists "relevant literature regarding changes in LIS education over the past fifteen years or so, for North American schools accredited by the American Library Association. It contains more than 250 entries that treat the topic from the perspectives of both practitioner and educator." - Bernie Sloan
  • Cataloging Education Bibliography (2004) lists some materials relevant to cataloging education but needs to be updated.