Forming iDEALS for tomorrow’s information professionals

On Monday, I participated in the first Information, Diversity, Engagement, Access and Libraries (iDEAL) Summit in the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The innovative summit was the brainchild of new department chair Dr. Clara Chu, the event was meant to create a “community approach to discussing and identifying strategies to address information, diversity, engagement, access and libraries (iDEAL) in our education, research, practice and community building.”

The event format appeared to be modeled partially from the 2006 UCLA Diversity Recruitment Summit, which incorporated small group discussion, brainstorming, and reflection as a larger group. While the UCLA event focused on ways to bring diversity to the field, iDEALS attempted to address ways to better prepare future information professionals for “relevant, appropriate and effective services in and with diverse, globalized and technological communities.”

Perhaps what made the program so unique was the diversity of participants. Faculty, students, and practitioners were invited to participate in the discussion, creating an intellectual potpourri. Small groups were sent into sessions where they discussed real world experience, education and professional development, research, and community, as they relate to LIS education, research, and practice.

I was part of a group led by Dr. Nora Bird, who further divided our group to discuss specific topics listed above. She avoided allowing participants from the same group sit together (i.e. no two students sitting together). My small group was asked to focus on education and professional development, something with which I have recent experience!

As we brainstormed skills and knowledge for graduates with respect to diversity, engagement, and access, the conversation kept returning to a lack of opportunities for LIS students to feel truly engaged with the local community, as well as opportunities for students to gain valuable professional training (read: not shelving books). Desired skills and knowledge: empathy, ability to listen to others, openness, exposure to different types of communities and cultures, ability to TEACH, being an advocate, and being knowledgeable about existing and new resources. There were a lot more suggestions, but we crystallized our discussion into two main points: mentoring and service learning.

We concluded that today’s LIS students need mentoring from a variety of sources. The student government can arrange 2nd-year/1st-year mentorships; alumni can provide networking and mentoring opportunities at the local level; NCLA/SNCA can continue and expand their mentor programs; and of course, there is always the national level. Mentoring does not just provide networking opportunities, but it also creates professional development that cannot happen in the classroom. Professional skills can be learned simply by watching and listening to an active practitioner.  Finally, professional organizations should encourage research at the graduate level by providing student poster sessions (especially at the state level) and supplementing or changingmerit-based scholarships into research funding.

Perhaps most importantly, we felt that service learning (as opposed to internships/practicums) offered the greatest opportunity for education and professional development to LIS students. By “learning by doing,” students are able to take classroom knowledge and apply it to a real-life situation. In particular, service learning projects with community-based organizations push developing information professionals into a new role as resident “expert,” where he or she must make decisions about how to deal with challenging situations. Service learners must teach and share knowledge — in effect, becoming advocates. Service learning provides a variety of experience for a budding information professional in a short period, and provides the chance to experience different communities. We felt that student organizations and LIS departments have a responsibility to help create community organization projects for students, with clear learning objectives and goals. These projects must be mutually beneficial.

I must admit my influence in this discussion was based on my experience with service learning at UCLA. I chose to work with Visual Communications, an Asian-American nonprofit film/media organization. Without an archivist, my peers and I were seen as archivists by default, and found ourselves using newly learned techniques and approaches to arranging, preserving, and making accessible their archives. This could not have happened in an established archive, where our work would have been more limited and, perhaps, at a paraprofessional level. The challenges of a limited budget and overworked staff are familiar today. My peers and I also learned about the information needs of a diverse and underserved community.

While the iDEAL Summit was focused on ways to improve UNCG’s program, nearly everyone I spoke to felt that this method could be replicated on other campuses and in other communities. It was inspiring to see three types of information professionals — students, faculty, and practitioners — in the same room, asking for the same transformation. I wonder how many other LIS programs incorporate service learning into the curriculum. In the near future, I hope to see more service learning as well as more practitioners who mentor.


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