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Vol. 7, No. 1: September 15, 2000

Educating Librarians for the New Academic Library

by Louise Robbins
Director, School of Information and Library Studies,

Developments in academic libraries -- and all kinds of libraries, for that matter -- have profoundly changed education for the profession of librarianship. While prospective professionals must learn new concepts and skills, they must still master all the "old" theories and practices.

While students must have the skills to be useful in their first professional position, they must be well grounded in theory and know how to apply it in new circumstances. Otherwise the rate of change is such that their knowledge will be outdated almost as soon as they graduate.

The electronic information environment has heightened the need for librarians to be educated in contract law, copyright and other intellectual property issues, privacy implications of information technology, telecommunications policy, and the like.

Standards and methods for digitizing collections -- both print and nonprint -- and making them accessible to the public require new knowledge and skills. Web design and construction skills are a minimum requirement for our graduates today. Issues of preservation of digital formats, both those "born digital" and those created to preserve and make available research materials, loom large.

But the print environment has not disappeared. The standards and means of building collections apply to both electronic and print materials. Cataloging and classification still help to organize information, no matter what the format -- although new metadata standards have been developed and are still developing across the world.

There are currently shortages of academic librarians, as well as librarians of other types. There is also a shortage of faculty (and a fierce competition among schools for those faculty) with the requisite research, teaching, and practice skills to teach the new generation of librarians.

A new faculty member with a technology emphasis will join the SLIS faculty in the fall, supporting and amplifying the technology abilities of existing faculty. We are especially fortunate that UW-Madison campus librarians are willing to share their hard-won expertise with SLIS students and faculty through guest lectures, teaching, and hosting practicum experiences and post-graduate residencies.

The demand for continuing education is also high, as practicing professionals strive to stay ahead of the curve. Our Continuing Education Services' "Virtual Collection Development" course -- taught virtually -- has now reached hundreds of librarians from many states and more than a dozen foreign countries.

The environment our graduates enter changes constantly and rapidly. It does not wait until we go through all the needed curricular change processes. Adaptability and flexibility are key to providing a relevant curriculum. We must teach students how to function in both the print world and the electronic world. We must provide a strong grounding in theory combined with opportunities for practice. We will never reach a point at which our curriculum is set. SLIS lives in challenging times.

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