Friday, August 13, 2010

Experience before training

Breakfast at the Apple Pie Bakery CafeMonday afternoon I had the pleasure of touring the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY.  Our tour guide (a student) not only told us about the facility but also about the very intense program of study.  What I found quite interesting is that each student is required to spend six months "preparing food using fresh ingredients in a paid or non-paid position in a professional kitchen, banquet facility, hospital kitchen, soup kitchen, or other non-fast-food facility" in order to understand the realities of working in the food service industry. Students then enter the program with an idea of what their work days will be like after graduation. In addition to the work experience received before entry into the program and the mandatory "externships" (what most would call internships), every student is also required to work in one of the five CIA restaurants just before graduation.  And if that isn't enough to get students to understand the workday, classes are held at times when work is generally done in food service. (Classes start very early in the day and end late.)  By the time they graduate, they know exactly what they have gotten themselves into!

Many incoming library and information science program -- no matter the university -- have never worked in a library.  They don't know what type of services libraries offer or the types of resources they contain.  They know that there is something about the library work environment that is attractive to them, even though they are unsure of what the work entails.  (I wonder if the same is true for those that are attracted to archives and museums?)  These students learn about their future work environments as they progress through their studies, with the hope that they understand enough of the environment before graduation.

As I heard my tour guide at the CIA talk, I wondered what would happen if library and information science programs required incoming students to have paid or volunteer experience before matriculating?  What type of "leg up" would that give students as they approached their studies?  How would that change what was taught?   Would we have fewer students?  Would they have a greater interest in specializing?

I have more questions than answers, and I know that they are questions that I'll continue to ponder...and maybe I'll test some ideas on my colleagues.  I think this may influence how I talk to those that are interested in an LIS program.  Yes, it is a great profession, but perhaps you should test the waters before enrolling; you'll be smarter about your future career path.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a library student, I think this is a great idea in theory, but unrealistic. Internships are not that easy to come by - I have to scramble to get volunteer and internship experience even though I'm enrolled in a master's program with 4.0 GPA. If work in this field were so easy to come by, I wouldn't be getting the master's degree in the first place. Unfortunately, the degree or at least enrollment in the program is, at this point, necessary to gain entry for even the most entry level, unpaid positions.

Rebecca said...

As an archivist with a part-time position in a state institution, I would say experience does help give some perspective prior to school. I also believe in spite of the severe economic times, institutions could benefit from quality work performed by interested volunteers and interns. However, it is important to remember that volunteer and intern programs need supervision, training and staffing to support their existence. Current budget cuts made to most of these institutions makes finding the funding or the staffing resources for creating more programs next to impossible.

Kathy said...

I am a recent graduate (2010) of the UW-Milwaukee MLIS program with an Archive concentration. As part of that program we are required to have a field placement of 150 hours of fieldwork in an archive (for the concentration). It was a great experience for me and a good chance to work with other archivists and see how *they* applied theory to practice. I had very little difficulty in getting a fieldwork placement in an archive. The Director of the Archive program (Amy Cooper Cary) already had a working relationship with the repository and I was a volunteer there prior to my fieldwork. (The 'Spring Break' volunteer work was also set up through Amy Cooper Cary's dept.) My only complaint is that we were not allowed to receive credit for paid work (according to the SOIS office). I can see the rationale, but as a poor graduate student it would have been nice to get credit AND paid work. Paid or not it still would have increased my experience in the field.

I was also one of those masses who had no library experience prior to my MLIS. It was NOT a requirement for the MLIS to have field experience. I think it would be a GREAT idea, but (as Anonymous pointed out) it may be problematic to put into practice. I recognized my need for field experience and tried to get a fieldwork placement in a library (another 150 hours). I had a VERY difficult time finding someone willing to take me on. One public library Director rejected my request for a reference desk placement to the chagrin of a Dept. Head who had already told me it would be no problem. I was finally able to get a placement in a suburban public library, but ONLY because my contact at the first library had a relationship with the Director there and persuaded her to take a chance on me. I spoke with several other MLIS students who also tried to get field placements and were unsuccessful. Maybe the roadblocks are due to limited staff time and budget cuts (as Rebecca pointed out), but I still think it is a real shame. So, the real question is not should MLIS programs require experience, but will library Directors support such a program.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Kathy, the paid vs. unpaid fieldwork (internship) is handled differently at other universities. And likely there are multiple "thinkings" around which is best.

I believe ALA accreditation requires internships/fieldwork for most students. At SU, if a student has significant library experience, the person can request being exempt from it.

I can understand that obtaining an internship can be difficult, however, many public libraries do use volunteers and perhaps a volunteer experience before entering an LIS program would be enough of a peek behind the curtain to ensure that a student was aware of what libraries do.

In the CIA model, students must work for 6 months in some sort of food service operation - either in a paid or unpaid position - using fresh ingredients. The key for them is using fresh ingredients, which means that the person is not just reheating food. In a library setting, what type of work - even as a volunteer - would help the person ensure that they are going to be trained in a field that they want to work in? I suspect every LIS educator has a story about someone who had no clue what libraries did and then after getting an MLS decided that they wanted to do something totally unrelated.

Ben said...

Personally, I think the great shortcoming of the SU LIS program (and perhaps LIS programs more generally) is its lack of guidance in getting students practical experience in the field. Let's face it: many LIS courses are not rocket science. You can learn about reference from a course or a book, but the real learning comes from getting into a library and helping patrons with their queries. The internship requirement is an important component of the program, and I'd like to see the iSchool more actively connect students to significant work in libraries; the unfortunate fact is that most internships end up being almost clerical in nature.

My sense is that LIS programs are drawing a lot of students straight from undergraduate programs - these students have little professional experience, let alone library experience. And though you can't get a job without the degree, I do wonder what good a degree is without experience to supplement it. I wish LIS programs would emphasize experience even more than they already do, and I think they could sufficiently do so within a program rather than requiring experience for matriculation.

That being said, some of these things should be obvious to any student who is actively monitoring postings for library jobs. If you just fulfill the course work, you're not doing yourself any favors toward future employment.

Peterk said...

I think many have missed the point of Jill's post which was about gaining work experience in a library or archives BEFORE heading off to graduate school. Such work experience would give people a better idea of what the profession is like.
Also I don't know of library, museum, historical society, or archives that wouldn't love to have a volunteer especially in these budget tightening times
for example look at the results via this simple google search
http://bit.ly/aFbHra

Anonymous said...

As a supervisor, I would agree that real world experience is necessary, having seen library science students half way or more through the program who didn't even know how to read a call number, had never looked at a marc record, didn't know what a Cutter number was, etc. Also, have seen students who have absolutely no concept of customer service. Library schools have seem to have moved to a very theoretical orientation and students have no idea of the basics.

Bryony said...

I'm surprised! In the UK you are obliged to have about one year of relevant experience before starting an archiving or library MA.

Speaking as an aspiring archivist, there are a number of one year paid internships available for graduates which specify the applicant must be intending to apply for a relevant MA during their contract. I have been very lucky to land one of these, but keen volunteers are also vital to the archive sector which seems desperately underfunded. Many gain the necessary experience this way and there is guidance on finding placements (paid and voluntary) on the Archives & Records Association website.

Paul Signorelli said...

Looking at both sides of the coin being tossed here, I a) would agree, as Peterk notes in his response, that the original idea of having library experience before entering a Master's level program is a solid one, and b)have done and will continue to do anything I can to support efforts to connect students with libraries through formal internships. Employment within a library at any level certainly provides a good grounding for prospective MLIS candidates, and volunteer work can provide a(somewhat limited) view of how libraries work--depends, of course, on how effectively libraries match volunteers with meaningful assignments and provide appropriate levels of support and supervision(a topic for an entirely different discussion). It's also worth noting that some programs, including the one from which I graduated at the University of North Texas, do require a practicum, internship, or "analogous experience"--please see the University's brief summary included in a list of ALA-accredited libraries at http://www.rbms.info/committees/membership_and_professional/educational_opportunities/directory.shtml. It remains true that a) a University's internship requirement needs to be accompanied by collaborations between university library representatives to make those internships available, b) that internships can offer much more rewarding and substantial project experience than volunteer opportunities typically offer, and c) we're not yet at the point where the number of internships available matches the potential demand for them. But it doesn't mean we should't try to reach that goal.

Paul Signorelli said...

Looking at both sides of the coin being tossed here, I a) would agree, as Peterk notes in his response, that the original idea of having library experience before entering a Master's level program is a solid one, and b) have done and will continue to do anything I can to support efforts to connect students with libraries through formal internships. Employment within a library at any level certainly provides a good grounding for prospective MLIS candidates, and volunteer work can provide a (somewhat limited) view of how libraries work--depends, of course, on how effectively libraries match volunteers with meaningful assignments and provide appropriate levels of support and supervision (a topic for an entirely different discussion). It's also worth noting that some programs, including the one from which I graduated at the University of North Texas, do require a practicum, internship, or "analogous experience"--please see the University's brief summary included in a list of ALA-accredited libraries at http://www.rbms.info/committees/membership_and_professional/educational_opportunities/directory.shtml. It remains true that a) a University's internship requirement needs to be accompanied by collaborations between university library representatives to make those internships available, b) that internships can offer much more rewarding and substantial project experience than volunteer opportunities typically offer, and c) we're not yet at the point where the number of internships available matches the potential demand for them. But it doesn't mean we should't try to reach that goal.

Anonymous said...

Peterk, I agree with you that many have missed the point of the blog post. However, I disagree with the idea that no library or repository would turn down a volunteer; it has happened to me several times because they didn't have the time or money to invest in training someone. Even as a library student, I am finding it difficult to get practical experience. I am in the same program that Kathy just finished, and I fully support the fieldwork requirement in theory. However, I have been having a difficult time setting something up because I live in a rural area. I was able to spend the summer doing a paid internship in another city, but of course was not able to get credit for that because it was a paid opportunity. So what do I do? I am going to have to commute 6 hours a day, twice a week for 15 weeks in order to fulfill the requirement in the closest major city. If I were working full-time, this would be impossible and I'd be unable to fulfill the requirement and get the degree. I guess I'm "lucky" to be unemployed.

It's one thing to ask someone to bend over backwards to get practical experience once they're enrolled in a program, but what are the chances that someone in my situation who didn't have the MLIS on their resume or the backing of their unversity would be able to get any decent internship experience? Of course, people should research the profession before enrolling in school and try to get any practical experience they can. But that's just common sense, and is true with any professional endeavor or academic program. Making an internship a *prerequisite* to the MLIS degree would likely be prohibitive in many cases where potential students don't have access to interhships or volunteer opportunities, whether that be for geographical, financial or other reasons. Students should be allowed to use the degree to better their situation without having to worry about being shut out because they don't have access to the right opportunities from the outset. Geographical or financial barriers should not stand in the way of enrollment in a master's program, especially when the cost of tuition is prohibitive to so many people to begin with.

Rafiq said...

It's an interesting debate. In Pakistan, although the first library training was started in 1915 by Asa Don Dickinson at University of the Punjab, Lahore when he was appointed to organize the library of the University of the Punjab, Lahroe. He also wrote a wonderful text titled as "The Punjab Library Primer" for the students of the first class of Library science education. The course was organized on the basis of Melvil Dewey's pattern. In comtemporary days, librarys chools in Pakistan ofer two years degree program called MLIS and internship is usually happened at the end of the course work. Its almost 8 week long internship. But thats interesting to do it before starting actual internship work. Unfortunately, the profession of librarianship is not very much developed in the country. And the increased number of library graudates find hard to get the jobs. Majority of cases, librairanship is not the first choice of profession. Hence, it may be the hard for the library schools to implement the internship at beginning. There is a common threat they feel that this type of internship may repel the students.

Vanessa said...

This is an interesting thought, and one which I think applies to many, many fields of study. I actually started out working in the IT field and was looking for a change. I took a temporary position at a small archive that was looking for somebody with a technical background (a lot of digitization was happening). It was because of this position that I realized how much I enjoyed working in an archive and this was the career I had really been looking for but didn't know even existed in my community.

Since that position I have discovered how many archives are around my small city and became involved in the local Archive Association, taking small grant-based jobs and educating myself as much as possible in this field (Going back to school full-time for me right now isn't an option but I have certainly looked into it). I wish I did it much earlier. I spent so much time getting an education I never really knew if it was the right thing for me until I finally started actually working. And by then I felt I'd invested so much time and money on that field I couldn't really turn back. Working in a field in any capacity really helps in educating yourself. Even if you aren't doing the nitty gritty work yourself you see how things are done and how others handle it. You also are in a position to ask questions to people who can give you very concrete answers about the job.