My research has led me to collaborate with a local school district that is the only one in my state that has attempted to implement the “21st Century Skills” model, developed by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, in education. Their library media center director told me that the vast majority of teachers are entering the profession without basic technology skills to implement in their classrooms. Fresh out of teacher education programs, they know less about technology than their students, and yet they are expected to teach Digital Natives how to think creatively using skills that are still evolving with technologies they are not adept with to solve future problems not yet identified. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY!
This YouTube video below – “Partnership for 21st Century Skills: Teaching 21st Century Learners” – is an overview of what schools of teacher education are proposing. In my opinion, this education reform will drastically change future generations of students who are the library customers of the future, for whom libraries must adapt.
One thing that has become obvious is that schools of library and information science (SLIS) are lagging well behind any movement toward 21st Century librarianship. ALA and PLA are not addressing the topic on any significant scale. The limited information that does exist is basically “Library2.0” technologies that lack any comprehensive theory for application, or cohesive direction toward specific goals. I have found no prominent SLIS with 21st Century anything in their curriculum. Some incorporate Library2.0 type topics in some courses, but, again, no coherent approach to a 21st Century librarianship concept. There is no vision of 21st Century librarianship where it really counts!
A colleague public library director told me that she recently hired an MLS graduate from a prominent SLIS and one of her first questions was; “Do I have to answer every reference question from patrons?” And, the young woman has no technology skills beyond her generation’s norm, and no understanding about implementation of technology in a public library. It appears that SLIS are sending MLS graduates into our profession equally as unprepared as school teachers to apply basic technology skills in whatever library environment they choose to begin. School media specialists and academic librarians are at the forefront of these changes in librarianship, but public librarians have much to learn to catch up to where they need to be regarding 21st Century librarianship. I am in a unique position to observe what community public library staff are facing in terms of technology adoption and application. They are much less technologically literate than most of their customers.
Unfortunately, much of the MLS theory gets lost in the face of reality dealing with customers and daily issues. The standing joke of “What they don’t teach you in library school.” has grown legs for a reason. An MLS program is not intended to be a skills program. Advanced degree programs are inherently theory based and not training and practicum based. However, information with immediate application in addition to contemporary theory is highly useful. One example is the University of Michigan Library: The Future of Libraries (YouTube) with an excellent perspective on what libraries and librarians should become.
If SLIS are to stay relevant, like we all want libraries to do, they need to become more – more nimble at including current professional demands and requirements, not just “tried & true” library theory. Schools of library and information science MUST get more relevant and cutting-edge curriculum NOW to address these 21st Century librarianship issues. Tomorrow is too late.