Ch-ch-changes in curriculum

Last month, my school, UW-Madison, announced that it is revamping its curriculum for new students starting next fall. For the rest of us current students, we have the choice of either sticking with the old curriculum or jumping to the new curriculum. I, like a lot of my classmates, was left wondering about the implications of the changes – what do the new requirements say about the state of the information professions?

First, it’s worth noting that really not that much has changed. They’ll still offer most of the same classes, but they’re collapsing our three intro classes into two (incoming 2016 students, rejoice!), and in addition to the current technology requirement, students in the new curriculum will now have to take research methods and management. Beyond those three core areas (technology, research methods, and management) and the two intro classes, students will have the freedom to choose whatever classes they want. Under the current curriculum, students have to choose at least three courses from a cluster of what are pretty standard “librarian” classes like cataloging, reference, pedagogy, and collection management. Research methods and management also fall into this cluster, but now instead of being one of several options, all students will take those.

Bowie knows best: "Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes." Lyrics from "Changes," David Bowie, 1972

Bowie knows best: “Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes.”
Lyrics from “Changes,” David Bowie, 1972. Photo from Stephen Luff, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

So, will this new curriculum drastically change what courses students choose to take at my library school? No. I don’t think so. People will still take the “traditional” classes like cataloging and reference. But, what the new curriculum does do is make a strong statement about what skills are becoming more and more valued in the world of the information professions, and that’s something we should all be attuned to.

Technology – No surprise here. Technology skills are important, and even those who pursue a more traditional library track will be expected to know a little something about things like information architecture and digital libraries.

Research Methods – We need information professionals who can assess needs, programming, and policies through data collection and analysis. It’s impossible to improve service or practices without being able to critically examine what is working and what isn’t, and what is needed and wanted.

Management – Even though most of us will shoot for entry-level jobs after graduation, it is likely that you’ll find yourself in a management position at some point down the line. Better to start learning about things like budgeting and policy-making now, so you’re ready to take on those responsibilities when opportunities arise. Put more bluntly, we need great leaders!

What I find most interesting about these new requirements, is that none of them scream “library school.” They could apply to a variety of different professions, and in fact, they are core competencies required by many professions today. This is a testament to how the notion of “traditional” library work is changing, and how far-reaching and diverse the information professions are becoming.

Do you have experience navigating a curriculum change during your library school career? What do you make of the trend towards more non-traditional library school requirements? Do you think a non-traditional curriculum is the way to go or are you partial to playing it old school? Tell us what you think!

Photo by Nana B Agyei. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

3 replies

  1. Just got around to reading this, but it was worth it.

    I see the same three trends in my own work as a student in a very different program. As I consider the job market, I find myself believing–or at least hoping–that those are, in fact, the skills we’ll need. It seems more and more that team-oriented, tech-savvy individuals with a penchant for problem solving are what’s needed in the research market. I think it’s probably a good thing that library schools are adapting curriculum to foster student development in that direction.


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