Return to Theory vs Practicality

January 31, 2011

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!)

Theory vs Practice

October 18, 2010
What happens when you combine 8-12 future librarians with a patio full of pumpkins? You get a conversation about theory and practice in library school curriculum. And this.

The discussion my colleagues and fellow-pumpkin-gutters had yesterday helped me realize one more thing about my MLIS experience. Our curriculum is ‘supposedly’ theoretical-based. It’s what we’re known for. But, we don’t know if that’s the right way to go anymore. Heavy on the theory — with a dash of practice if you have time. 

The faculty and instructors are realizing this, too. Shift happens — during required, core classes. One instructor teaches using strong theory while another provides no readings and puts us in workshops and presentations without any strategy. When we’re in the theory-based class, we complain because we want something more practical. We want to know what life is going to be like in the “real world” of library management or how to actually DO research. But, when we’re in the practice-based classes, we’re told to prepare a workshop to teach small business-owners how to use the library’s resources and we’re perplexed because we have no strategy or theory to act as a foundation for our planning.
So this leads us to a somewhat disappointing conclusion — we’re halfway through our program and we are right in the middle of a shift. We’re going to miss out on important LIS theory and practice, but we have the responsibility to be leaders in this new LIS field. We might not be satisfied with any of our classes, but we should take what we can get. It’s our right and responsibility to ask questions and debate the answers so we’re prepared to lead LIS into the future. 
At least we have each other. And Superman.

Why Does Theory Matter?

November 6, 2009

I know it matters. I know theory matters. I know someday I’ll email or call my professors and say, “wow I am so glad you forced those theories and models down my throat.” But at this moment, I’m completely overwhelmed with all the theory that has inundated my head from the past two weeks.

What are these theories and models? I don’t know. I can’t even come close to explaining what they are trying to portray. I think they are outlining information needs of different people, but each model has been criticized for being too narrow for the audience, too broad, too linear, too confusing.

I tilt the pages of the book. I lean my head to the left and stare at the computer screen. The models don’t make any more sense from a different direction.

So why do I care so much?
(1) A midterm will soon have to be completed (successfully) by me — and I’m sure there will be models and theories to define and defend.
(2) It is MY job as a future librarian and information professional to mold new theories and models by finding flaws in the previous ones. Our studies involve people and their information needs/wants/desires. As these change, theories change.

I find the case studies to which the theories are applied much more applicable to my own future goals. Searching for processes in which ‘actual’ people can find the information they seek seems much more practical than memorizing who thought what and why it was unique in 1972 or 1966. It is not 1972 anymore…

Times they are a changing — Bob Dylan

(and I don’t think Karen Fisher’s class is changing with the times… at least not quickly enough)

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