Return to Theory vs Practicality

Here I return to discussing Theory and Practicality in LIS graduate programs. Here’s my first post about it. Again, I can’t really speak for anyone else’s classroom experiences, but from what I’ve heard, other people are feeling similarly. Theory — an essential aspect to learning the core foundations of a well-established field (such as librarianship) — is being taught poorly. And here’s why it needs to change:

  1. When you’re working at a library, you don’t have time to ponder which theory best fits the person’s information needs. You need to make a quick decision for a way to help them.
  2. Memorizing theories and models is useful when you have time to spend reading the actual case studies behind them. But we (students) don’t have time. These case studies usually focus on the people who were studied. But when we’re thrown theory after model after theory after model, there’s really no way to digest everything. We spend too much time thinking about what to do instead of putting it into action. (There must be an information behavior model for that… right?)
  3. Which leads me to this final reason for changing the use of theory in LIS classes: Focusing on so many models, we’re sure to start leaning toward one that seems comfortable for us — UNTIL! — we read criticism about it. Then, we either find ourselves pondering ways to defend the theory we’ve come to know and love OR we drop it and head in another direction. We should be encouraged to know what other people in the LIS have done in similar situations, but we also need to learn when it is time to leave the theories behind and find another solution.

So, I’m clearly still stuck in this middle ground I talked about in the previous post. We need the theory to give us a foundation, but putting it all into practice seems to be the most rewarding experience I’ve had this far in my LIS schooling.

Here’s my plan: keep current with LIS and keep being an innovator. I think one of the most crucial ways for me to do this is to keep talking to my colleagues. One way I’ll do that is through Hack Library School. We’re redefining LIS through conversation, questions and collaboration! (Look for another post about that soon, but in the meantime, check it out!)


2 Responses to Return to Theory vs Practicality

  1. JenWaller says:

    I promise I'm not stalking you today!

    I totally hear you about the theory vs. the practice. I think it's always a tough balancing act for a LIS curriculum. However, you might want to consider this angle…

    Many current LIS students will become academic librarians, and – as such – will be on tenure tracks. A big component of one's tenure dossier is “scholarship” (a.k.a. research).

    Tackling the theory, for me, isn't necessarily about putting a particular theory into practice. You're right – we're under too many day to day constraints and pressures to effectively do that with any frequency. Instead, it's about understanding how our discipline undertakes research and what kinds of topics are emerging, important, or studied-to-death. Additionally, most research requires a literature review, and having read the theory-heavy stuff (even if I don't remember it all) helps me know the seminal works in our field and makes the lit review (and putting my research into a framework) a little easier.

    Additionally, as a librarian on a tenure track it is expected that I stay (semi-)current on emerging theories and scholarly communication in my field.

    Finally, because it's a graduate school and not a certificate program, I would expect things to be more “esoteric” and theory-based. But this is tough; people who know they want to be a Youth Services Manager in a public library may not want/need that academic focus. I, on the other hand, greatly wish there had been more of it. It may have helped me navigate the first year of my job a bit better.

    This is a really long way of saying…different kinds of librarians and information professionals need slightly different things from a LIS program. And in all actuality, I've come to firmly believe that UW does a much better job of straddling these needs than all but a few other LIS programs out there. I think the middle ground is exactly where you should be, even if it's slightly uncomfortable while you're in it.

  2. […] outline for a Library Launch for college freshmen. The practice vs theory debate is not a new one. Here’s one of my posts about it; It’s been talked about on the blog here, too. but it is new to you […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: