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Is Experience the Best Teacher? Field Experience and Student Learning in LIS Education Programs

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Title: Is Experience the Best Teacher? Field Experience and Student Learning in LIS Education Programs
Author(s): Searing, Susan E.; Walter, Scott
Subject(s): LIS education Field experience Library assessment
Abstract: “Library experience is as important in getting hired by a library as the MLS, maybe even more so.” In his 2005 essay, “The Practice Prerequisite,” Library Journal’s John Berry argued that professional education programs in Library and Information Science (LIS) must provide structured opportunities - through practicums, internships, graduate assistantships and the like - for students to complement their coursework with workplace experience. Berry may have based his conclusion on the persistent identification of the field experience as “crucial to job success” by respondents to the magazine’s annual placement and salary survey. The fieldwork component of LIS education, Berry stated, should be developed collaboratively by librarians and LIS educators in order to bridge the gap between theory and practice and strengthen connections between faculty members and library managers. Berry’s view is a common one; library employers take it on faith that field experiences produce better prepared entry-level librarians. But how do we really know that? What, specifically, are the learning outcomes to which field experiences contribute, and how do these contribute to professional success? How can we maximize the benefit of the field experience for both the student and the library? In a recent study of emergent needs in the preparation of future academic librarians, Berg, Hoffman, & Dawson (2009) noted that “the creation of successful and meaningful field experiences for library students has been a consistent challenge” since the origins of LIS education over a century ago. As Lyders & Wilson (1991), Howden (1992), and McClellan (1995) found, prevailing practice is characterized by multiple forms of field experience; students’ lack of information about their options; unclear connections between field experiences and the content of LIS courses; and lack of communication between LIS educators and librarian site supervisors regarding the design and evaluation of student work. To lay the foundation for addressing these problems, librarians and library educators at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the University of Maryland, and the University of Washington are collaborating to gather the perceptions of recent LIS graduates who completed a field experience as part of their pre-professional education and to assess the impact of those experiences on student learning. This study is applying a mixed-method approach: 1) a content analysis of student learning outcomes identified by ALA-accredited LIS programs; and 2) a survey of recent LIS graduates regarding their field experience in academic libraries. The findings of this study promise to illuminate the concrete contributions made to student learning outcomes in LIS education programs by field experiences in academic library settings. As part of the broader “Field Strength” project sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, this study will identify best practices for field experiences in academic libraries. Further, by developing assessment strategies grounded in learning outcomes, this study will promote more effective collaboration between academic libraries and LIS education programs and will document the contributions of academic librarians to the vital pre-professional training of LIS students through assistantships, practicums, internships, and other opportunities.
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Association of Research Libraries
Citation Info: This paper was presented at the Library Assessment Conference, Charlottesville, VA, in October 2012, and will be included in the proceedings of the conference, to be published online. Conference organizers have granted permission for its deposit in IDEALS.
Genre: Conference Paper / Presentation
Type: Text
Language: English
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/35271
Publication Status: published or submitted for publication
Peer Reviewed: not peer reviewed
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-11-29
 

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