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From Perceptions to Facts: How Well Is LIS Education Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders?
By
Volume 43, Number 2 - March/April 2019

As the director of the School of Information at San José State University (SJSU), I have the opportunity to engage with many employers and information professionals. I, like my peers at other iSchool and LIS programs (referred to as iSchools), keep close track of LIS trends and adapt our curricula to meet the changing needs of the information professions. This is why it is so disappointing to hear people say that LIS education is out of touch with the hiring needs of today’s employers.

Here are just some of the common misconceptions that I hear about LIS education:

Perception: M.L.I.S. graduates do not have the skills needed in today’s workplace and are not capable of handling change.
Reality: iSchools are preparing M.L.I.S. students to thrive in the information professions and to be open to and embrace change. 

Perception: M.L.I.S. graduates do not learn soft skills in their M.L.I.S. programs.
Reality: iSchools offer several courses cov ering soft skills and encourage students to become involved in collaborative projects, extracurricular activities, and internships that help them cultivate these skills.

Perception: M.L.I.S. graduates lack technical skills.
Reality: Technical courses, such as web design and programming, data networking, and cybersecurity, feature in most M.L.I.S. curricula.

Perception: M.L.I.S. students lack leader ship and managements skills.
Reality: iSchools typically offer courses on l eadership, organizational management, and project management. SJSU created  A Day in the Life of a Leader webcast series as part of its career development offerings (youtube.com/playlist?list=PLlwxuhlOynjApTAEewRenDD3HfKINNHpy) to help both students and professionals learn more about leadership.

The reality is that iSchools are constantly transforming their M.L.I.S. curricula, develop ing new programs, hiring expert faculty, and keeping abreast of job and career trends in order to graduate students who are proficient in a myriad of skill sets. 

Identifying the Skills Needed in the Information Professions

Many iSchools employ part-time instructors who are also practitioners engaged with the various environments, trends, issues, and chal lenges faced by the information professions and bring that experience into the classroom. Most iSchools are also governed by program advisory committees and international advisory boards that further strengthen the connection between the profession and the classroom.

In addition to speaking with employers, alum ni, boards, and internship supervisors, iSchools closely follow trend reports to keep up with the needs of the information professions. For ex ample, the “MLIS Skills at Work: A Snapshot of Job Titles (2018)” (ischool.sjsu.edu/sites/main/files/file-attachments/career_trends.pdf) highlights the essential skills and competencies that today’s employers are seeking. Some of the key skills and knowledge areas are directly addressed in the M.L.I.S. curriculum of many iSchools:

  • Emerging technologies: artificial intelligence, chatbots, 3D printers
  • Data skills: data management, research methodologies, data visualization
  • Soft skills: communication, critical thinking, collaboration
  • Critical information issues: open access, digital copyright, privacy, diversity and inclusion 

A key takeaway from the “MLIS Skills at Work” report is the rise in the requirement of job-specific experience. iSchools are meeting this demand by offering assistantships, virtual and onsite internships, study abroad and global engagement programs, and leadership opportunities in student and professional organizations.

Educating Today’s Information Professionals  

The M.L.I.S. degree has broadened to encompass more expansive skill sets and to prepare graduates for careers in a variety of roles and environments. Most M.L.I.S. programs continue to provide foundational LIS knowledge, but also offer electives that range from digital humanities and Big Data to cybersecurity, Python, and design thinking.

The way that iSchools deliver education has also changed dramatically, with more variety in educational delivery meth ods being offered today. The majority of accredited M.L.I.S. programs, 39 out of 61 (64%), report offering 100% online programs. Technologies, such as lecture capture, web conferencing, and other tools that allow for audio/video participa tion, make it easy for students to have rich, engaging learning experiences, regardless of where they happen to be.

This variety in educational delivery means that iSchools are now able to involve a wide range of people, including active military and veterans, first-generation graduate stu dents, and students from different cultures. A diversified student body creates a more enriched learning environment and helps prepare students to work with and meet the needs of diverse communities.

Expanding Beyond the M.L.I.S. Degree

iSchools are starting to expand their degree offerings beyond the M.L.I.S. degree and now also offer more technical graduate degrees (e.g., M.S. in Informatics, M.S. in Informa tion Management, M.S. in Data Analytics). Many iSchools also have developed new undergraduate majors with a library and/or information science focus.

Additionally, iSchools are providing a variety of educational options that develop essential LIS skills outside of traditional degree programs, such as through post-graduate certificate programs, MOOCs, and other online offerings. SJSU’s School of Information is offering a MOOC on Block chain and Decentralization for the Information Industries on Canvas.net targeted to information professionals. The University of Michigan School of Information now offers a fully online Master of Applied Data Science degree through Coursera (si.umich.edu/news/new-online-graduate-degree-receives-final-approval) and certificate programs and self- paced courses, such as Budgeting and Finance for Public Libraries, through edX (edx.org/course/budgeting-and-finance-for-public-libraries).

The Library 2.0 virtual conference (library20.com) is another great example of a free opportunity provided by iSchools that helps information professionals from around the globe access professional development opportunities, learn from LIS leaders, and engage with other professionals.

Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders: We All Have a Role

The perception that LIS education has lost touch with the needs of the profession is far from a reality. Due to their diverse t raining, leadership experiences, exposure to new technologies, and adaptability to change, today’s M.L.I.S. graduates are more prepared than ever before for leading the profession. However, the M.L.I.S. degree is just a starting point for learning and gaining the essential skills needed to lead tomorrow’s information organization. It requires all of us—LIS educators, employers, mentors, and leaders—to prepare new information professionals for the exciting work they will do. In addition to formal education, they will need workplace training to learn the processes unique to each employer and lifelong learning to keep up with the changing profession.

iSchools will continue to build dynamic programs, innovative services, and practical experiences to graduate competent leaders for the future. I look forward to partnering with employers and leaders to ensure that the next generation of information professionals is well-positioned for success in the information field.


Sandra Hirsh is professor and director, San José State University School of Information.

 

Comments? Email the editor-in-chief: marydee@xmission.com

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