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Office Hours, October 15, 2010 — a new LJ Column by Michael Stephens

Posted by Editor on October 21, 2010

WELCOME TO “OFFICE HOURS,” a new space in Library Journal where we’ll explore what’s happening in library and information science education. In the coming months we’ll talk about the ongoing discourse about LIS schools; research that informs us, our users, and our facilities; and stories from the trenches on the realities of working toward a degree at a time when libraries are facing serious competition. Google, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and the web itself are all in the running for bits and pieces of our core services and foundational practices.

Just as librarians work to align with our fast-changing world, so should LIS education. That’s the concept of Office Hours—and thanks to Aaron Schmidt, author of LJ’s The User Experience, for suggesting the title.

The past as prologue

I finished my MLS in 1995. I had very little contact beyond the classroom with my instructors at Indiana University South Bend (IU’s Bloomington-based program had spread across many of the satellite campuses). One instructor drove two hours each way from Chicago to teach once a week. Another was the busy director of a local public library.

In those days before ubiquitous email, it seemed very difficult to have contact with instructors outside of class meeting nights. Feedback, updates, and announcements were delivered in class, via written comments on my assignments, and only occasionally by telephone.

Jump ahead nearly a decade. In 2003, I discovered the perfect combination of an Apple laptop, free Wi-Fi at Panera Bread (think food café), and the wonders of blog publishing. Panera became my “mobile office,” and many mornings I stopped there before heading to the St. Joseph County Public Library (SJCPL), South Bend, for my job as head of tech training and web development. I would read RSS feeds of other biblio­bloggers, write a post or two, and explore what was happening on the web. These were my own professional development “office hours.” I can’t count how many times I took a citation or a blog post URL I’d found to a meeting at SJCPL to share with other staff as we worked on projects.

We’re all mobile

A few years later, teaching at Dominican University in River Forest, IL, my classroom is filled with students who bring their own laptops and other mobile devices. We stay in touch via course websites running WordPress and Buddy­Press (a social suite of plugins).

Last fall, I taught remotely during a five-week research tour of Australia; this summer I recorded video updates for my students as I hiked in northern Michigan. My “office” and the opportunities to connect with my students is ­unlimited.

The best thing about all of these technological advances is that LIS students have access to practitioners and professionals all over the world if they choose to participate. My students don’t have a choice: I expect them to join in the online world, beyond the closed systems used in many online classes.

In fact, my syllabi states, “This is also a way for students to experience the emerging social nature of the web—similar systems are being used in library settings all over the world. Librarians are working, writing, and sharing in open, online systems created for interaction with each other and with library users.” Students can use a pseudonym or avatar if they prefer not to use their full name or photo online.

If you are a current LIS student and have not spent some time inside these online environments, do it ASAP. If you are a future LIS student looking for a program, examine the technology offerings of your potential schools very closely. Every aspect of what librarians do—from collection development, information services, and web presence to story time, circulation, and programming—is or will be touched in some way by technology.

Join the conversation

If the online world is not for you, then neither may be a career in librarianship. The most prevalent LIS jobs in the next few years will probably be ones where you’re not tied to your desk and you communicate well beyond the physical walls of the building.

It’s not just students who should participate in this online world. Librarians must find their niche as well. Five years ago the conversation went on in blogs. Now it flows vibrantly across media platforms, enabling a stronger connection with library users through marketing, outreach, and the human touch.

Finally, I’d like to see more LIS professors have some of their office hours in an open setting—commenting, sharing, and moving the conversation forward. I love what I see from Scott Nicholson’s (associate professor, SIS, Syracuse Univ., NY) YouTube videos and online classes on gaming.

The late Laurel Ann Clyde (former LIS professor, Univ. of Iceland, Reykjavik) wrote about the use of blogs in libraries: “By not taking advantage of this simple medium…libraries will be the losers.” To paraphrase her, “By not taking advantage of the opportunities for discussion, exchange, and learning among students, professors, and the greater global LIS community, libraries will surely suffer.”


Author Information
Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Dominican University, River Forest, IL
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