Theory Vs. Practice: Separating What’s Important

Please welcome our first guest Hacker, Lauren Gibaldi! 

Lauren Gibaldi is in her second to last semester at Florida State University’s School of Library and Information Sciences. She’s aiming to become a youth services librarian within a public library, and hopes to create information literacy programs for kids and young adults. She’s a strong supporter of intellectual freedom, and loves supporting banned books. Read her blog, or her other blog, and follow @laurengibaldi on Twitter.
Library school overwhelms us with information, deciding what’s necessary for life-long careers in the field. Yet, as I navigate through each semester, I’ve started to mentally note which elements learned will help me post graduation, and which will fall to the wayside, getting forgotten in the abyss that is my mind.

Let me back up.

Before I became I library student, I was a high school English teacher. Before becoming a teacher, I was an English and Education college student (note: English AND Education, not English Education – the former is much more helpful in the long run). I learned Piaget’s theories, and Erikson’s stages. I learned how to look inside the mind of a child and debate his or her maturity levels. Educational theorists were the definitive answer when dealing with children.

And then I started teaching. And everything I learned quickly disappeared. When I looked at my darling 16 year olds, I didn’t think which cognitive level they were at; instead, I thought “What can I do to get them to work.” (Or, more accurately, “What can I do to stop them from throwing the furniture.” Seriously). The literature read only went so far – it was my patience and understanding that got me through the year. It was my knowledge of the subject taught, and my willingness to work with each student one-on-one. Never in the year did I think “Okay, what would Piaget think.”

I bring this up because I’m currently taking an information needs for children class and we’ve approached the educational theorists chapter. Now, the class itself is wonderful. I love learning about children’s literature, and more so love discussing how to recommend books for various age ranges and maturity levels. I love reading about new children’s literature, and evaluating it.

Now, I understand that it’s smart to understand the maturity of a child before recommending a book (I wouldn’t recommend the Harry Potter books to a five year old who still can’t grasp vowels), but I also think a lot has changed since these theorists made their definitive decisions on the maturation of lives. (I highly doubt 12 year olds back then enjoyed shows such as Jersey Shore.) And while a basic familiarity with their ideas is nice to have, I hardly believe it’ll be the first thing that pops into mind when recommending a book to a 10 year old.

I’ve learned that a lot of the classes taken are a great backbone for the career, but not all of the information taught will help me in the long run. I think, ultimately, it’s smart to pick and choose what to use post graduation. There’s so much we learn that, over time, it’s easy to see what will help us in our careers, and what is just information. (Ex: how to run story time will help me; defining “information” probably won’t).

I’ve started to allow some classes to escape my mind, while pushed for others to be blazoned upon my subconscious for all they’ve taught me. I’ve learned to tell the difference between what will be useful, and what will just sit unused. And I think, ultimately, it will help me. (And clear my mind.)

Now, with one more semester to go, I’m sure there will be more I’ll take and more I’ll leave, but I’m looking forward to assessing what will be relevant to my future career, which classes will help me get where I want. And I know I’ll choose my next set of classes wisely, hoping to add another layer to my subconscious.

I wonder what Piaget would say about that?

12 replies

  1. Lauren, thanks for sharing this! I have been thinking about theory and practice, too. My most frustrating moments come when I’m sitting in class or working on a project and thinking either:

    1. I wish I knew a strategy or theory behind this so I could have some idea of what to do or
    2. I wish they’d stop talking about theories and models so I could go try it for myself

    I definitely think you’ve made a good decisions to take some and leave some. I also think that we (as LIS students) hold the responsibility to ask questions and debate what we’re learning and the way we learn it!

    Here’s my post on Theory vs Practice:


    • I agree – I’d much rather try things for myself than listen to people talk about theory. I suppose I’m a better learner that way.

      I really liked your post – you pointed out an interesting divide we’re facing right now as students. I suppose we’ll see what’s next – and what holds after the degree!


  2. Lauren- fantastic post! I feel like I have spent my whole time in the MLIS program trying to figure out what should be the balance between practice and theory in this kind of program. I’m a fan of practical experience (internships were a huge part of my undergrad experience) but I realize that theory has its place. My last class, Evaluation of Information Services, looks to be very theory-heavy but I’m hoping that we get to apply what we are learning to actual experiences.
    And as Heidi said, it is definitely up to us to be asking about why and how we are learning things.


    • Thanks so much! I do agree-theory DOES have a place. Past experiences are important to learn from…I’d just like to apply the theory (or, at the very least, make sure the theory can be applied to a job.)


  3. In designing information literacy programs, or really, just programs in general, I often find myself using theory to help build a framework. Once I’m in the situation with the kids around me, I often turn away from the framework and use whatever is effective (whatever keeps the chairs on the ground, I guess!). As a fellow future youth librarian, I am really intrigued by the disconnect between what adults write and theorize about kids, and the reality… much like what our classes tell us information services are about (the ideal), and what it looks like in practice at our internships. With both types of knowledge being valuable, I would love to see more of a balance in our education.


    • Piggy-backing on what was said, I went to the iYouth Conference this weekend and it was interesting to see and participate in conversation with youth librarians who are out in the field every day. It seemed like they came to the conference looking for new theories to learn about and head back out into the field. LIS students; however, were really interested in hearing about the programs/services/practicalities of youth librarianship.

      Anyway, my point is that it seemed like the librarians thought that the conference would introduce them to some sort of “new” theory for how to better serve their users… when in reality… it would seem that THEY (the ones working with them every day) would have the ideas.

      The best parts of that conference were the breakout sessions where we brainstormed and discussed different approaches to reaching young library users.


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