All ALA-accredited programs must include a required management course. Few graduates find them useful. Why is this course required, and why aren’t they effective? There is likely a chasm between curriculum and practice that must be bridged, or we might just need a paradigm shift.
The American Library Association’s (ALA’s) standards of accreditation says that the essential character of the field of library and information studies is this:
recordable information and knowledge, and the services and technologies to facilitate their management and use, encompassing information and knowledge creation, communications, identification, selection, acquisition, organization and description, storage and retrieval, preservation, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, synthesis, dissemination, and management (Section I.2.1 of the Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library & Information Studies, Adopted January, 2008).
I’m not sure why management is stated twice. Maybe it’s to indicate its importance; however, “management” is a vague term that needs further explication, in my view. Does it mean management of recordable information and knowledge, management of the services and technologies, management of the organizations that provide these resources and services, management of the people that provide the resources and services as listed (knowledge creation, communications, identification, etc.), or all of the above?
According to ALA’s Core Competencies of Librarianship, adopted January, 2009, graduates should know and, where appropriate, be able to employ these administration and management competencies, found in section 8:
- The principles of planning and budgeting in libraries and other information agencies.
- The principles of effective personnel practices and human resource development.
- The concepts behind, and methods for, assessment and evaluation of library services and their outcomes.
- The concepts behind, and methods for, developing partnerships, collaborations, networks, and other structures with all stakeholders and within communities served.
- The concepts behind, issues relating to, and methods for, principled, transformational leadership
It’s too bad that neither of these documents refers to the other, as the Core Competencies give good guidance on what the Standards mean by management. It’s also clear that the Core Competencies don’t have the same importance as the Standards, since graduates only need to employ these competencies where appropriate, and instructors may not be bound by them in designing their syllabi. Even if instructors were bound, would it effect student outcomes? Do students learn enough in their required management courses to become library managers?
Of course not. That takes practice. Just like every other library position. Hiring agencies want their new employees, even the recent graduates, to hit the ground running. They want them to come in to the organization with prior professional experience. More to the point, most libraries hiring middle managers and department heads want them to have several years of managerial experience (Rooney 2010), but as middle management opportunities disappear, aspiring department heads have fewer opportunities to practice (Feldmann et al 2013).
Most LIS management course don’t teach students how to manage libraries.
In the days before information science expanded the organizational possibilities, a management course in a library school was chiefly about how to run a library, be it a school, public, academic or special library. Even though each of those types have some unique characteristics, there are enough similarities, and students in the course could learn valuable lessons and specific guidelines about the library as an organization.
In today’s LIS management courses, at least the required one, we probably don’t focus on the management of libraries but on the management of information agencies, or organizational behavior, or management for information professionals, etc. Perhaps in some advanced courses there’s a focus on specific library types and the management of those organizations. Those advanced courses aren’t typically required, but might be recommended if a student wants to follow an administration track.
If information science and library science students enroll in the same required management courses, the courses naturally become much more generic and more about organizational behavior and theories that can be applied across all organizations. There are many commonalities across organizations and industries, and it can be useful for the students, many of whom have not worked, to try to understand how their future work places might be. However, ‘management’ at this high level is so generic and watered down that it may not be as useful as it could be. Also, when students with such disparate interests are in the same course, instructors tend to try to reach them all with relevant examples, articles and case studies; this not only translates to more effort on the instructors’ part, but also to segregation among the students and less shared learning.
So, in practice, it is quite difficult to address the administration and management core competencies in any meaningful way in these LIS management required courses. And, if department heads feel that on-the-job training and experience are more useful teachers of management, why should we bother to teach management in LIS schools? Are information agencies willing to provide the necessary training and practice opportunities for aspiring managers?