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Archive for March, 2008

The first issue of Conversants, a journal focused on participatory networks, came out on Friday, and it features an editorial by Andrea Mercado, “Making Library Schools Smarter.” Mercado touches on a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about lately: The fact that librarianship requires higher level computer skills, and the unfortunate fact that library schools aren’t really teaching them (or at least they aren’t requiring they be learned). She makes the point I made last week that part of the blame also lies with library school students, and she argues that admissions requirements should be much steeper.

What I find most interesting in her editorial are the practical curriculum recommendations she makes, most of which I think are great. I especially like the idea of having Technology Labs that are not affiliated with one particular course but that students take throughout their time in library school, where they would learn and use emerging technologies. And I would love to take a class on managing technology projects–while I am learning that stuff on the job (sort of) it would be great to have a course dedicated to looking at different project management techniques and tools, best practices, and potential problems and conflicts. Frankly, I learn better in a classroom than on the job; that’s why I’m in graduate school.

An article totally worth reading for anyone who’s been involved in the recent debate (alright, it’s not really a debate) around librarians and systems knowledge. I haven’t read any of the other articles in Conversants yet, but a few of them look pretty interesting. This might be a good one to add to the ever-growing reading list.

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I’ve been contemplating this question since I started library school last semester, when I was enrolled in my program’s basic technology course, the only technology course students are required to take. Where are all the next system designers and OPAC developers and library tech programmers? They certainly weren’t in my class.

Lately it seems a lot of other people have been contemplating this question as well. Dorothea wrote an outraged post about the lack of systems awareness and the hands-off approach librarians take to their technologies, and her words have resonated with librarians throughout the bloggity blogging world. She makes some important points: Library schools aren’t requiring their graduates to have a thorough grasp of library technologies. Librarians don’t consider managing their technologies something they should have to do. Many libraries don’t even have a dedicated systems librarian on staff. These things have to change. But the problem lies, too, in the students currently attending library school.

I am constantly surprised to find how few students in my program know, or want to know, how library systems work. There was a girl in my tech class last semester who had never even had an email account before enrolling in the program, and she frankly wasn’t much interested in learning about using it, or using any of the other technologies she will be presented with in her career. To my mind, librarianship is increasingly about the technologies we’re using, and if you aren’t interested in those technologies, you have no business going into the field. Harsh, perhaps, but for libraries to be players in the networked, information saturated world, we have to step up our game, and we’re not going to be able to do that with a bunch of librarians who can’t even be bothered with email.

Some part of the problem does lie with the library schools. While my program requires one technology class, it was kind of a joke of a technology class. We didn’t deal with HTML (although I hear tell another professor teaching the course does), we didn’t really learn about managing an ILS, or a server, or databases, or even basic computer troubleshooting. If that is the sole course students take on library technologies in their time in library school, they are poorly served to go into the increasingly technology-reliant library profession, and the profession will suffer for it.

Perhaps some of the problem lies, too, with organizations like ALA who are not promoting the notion that librarians are technology professionals. If the major professional organization doesn’t seem to think that technology is a major component of the job, why would people outside of the field, who might be contemplating becoming librarians, think they need to learn about it?

Again, maybe it sounds harsh, but I often find myself thinking that those librarians who don’t want to learn to manage a server or build a better OPAC or manage an open source ILS should quit and make way for those of us who can and want to build better systems for ourselves and our patrons. No, I don’t think every librarian should be a programmer (well, I don’t always think that, anyway), but I think if you can’t figure out how to connect to a printer or install software or build a basic website, you are in the wrong field. And if you’re not willing to learn these things, you shouldn’t be in library school.

I’d like to see more people talking about why these basic skills should be minimum requirements for every library job, and what the schools and the organizations should be doing to promote the field as a technology-related one. And I’d really like to see more of my fellow students excited about creating awesome library tools. To my mind, that’s the best stuff in the field right now, and with well-taught, excited, engaged technology professionals, there is no end to the cool stuff we could do.

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