Navigating the Mess: Making Sense of Technology in LIS Education

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to address the broad and messy task of incorporating technology education into my LIS program. It all started with my resolution to add a new section to my CV, “Technical Competencies.”

The goal was to really impress my potential employees with the breadth of my technical know-how. What should have been a rather straightforward process transformed into a larger inquiry about my relationship to technology as an aspiring information professional and, in turn, the relationship of technology to the field of librarianship as a whole.

The plan was to use my CV as a quick and comprehensive drop space for communicating my technical background. I wanted to convey confidence in what can be an intimidating arena for both employers and employees. As I started to brainstorm, I listed every digital language, app, and platform I knew, starting with “MS-DOS” and making my way through the 1990s to present day. The result was a hilariously long list of things, some of which hadn’t been around for many years.

As I looked at my list in dismay, I began to fret at the lack of universal standards for describing my affinity with some of these skills. Does building a website in WordPress 3.2 (circa 2011) translate to knowledge of the most recent version? Indeed, does it count for anything?

The answer to that last question, the viability of translating use into skill, is both yes and no. Our very librarian-esque desire to put things into neat little categories such as “novice,” “emerging,” or “expert,” defies the reality of skill development, which is rarely linear. And indeed, by focusing on technology as a means unto itself, we forget the original reasons for adapting technology in the first place.

This quandary is also on the minds of LIS faculty, as evidenced by the ongoing IMLS project and pre-ALISE conference forum, “Re-Visioning Our Information Future and How to Educate for it.” LIS faculty discuss the challenges and opportunities of LIS education moving forward, one of which is identifying the appropriate strategies for incorporating technology. One emerging theme is reconnecting with values of librarianship that transcend technical silos:

“Advancements in technology are helping to shape our information future, but the foundational values upon which the field has been built—such as ensuring access to information, protecting intellectual freedom, preserving our cultural heritage, and valuing our diversity—remain important when educating future LIS professionals.”

Technical competency is simply not enough. In order to wield technology in our field, we must be able to articulate both the process of knowing a skill and how it strengthens the identity of the LIS field as a whole.

I am still sorting through my own relationship with technology, both as a person and a professional. That being said, I have a running list of strategies I’ve adapted to help me choose courses and think strategically about class projects and on-the-job training.

Start with the basics. Regardless of the job title, there are probably a few key skills you will need to know. You don’t need to be a wiz at both Mac and Windows, but working knowledge of one is probably important. In addition, learn basic troubleshooting for your operating system of choice. Again, you don’t need to know everything about your OS, but you should know how to find information about how to install a printer or mapping a network drive.

Don’t confuse exposure with expertise. Just because you used this one tool this one time, that doesn’t mean you should list it on your resume. Unless you’re comfortable talking about a technology on a job interview with confidence, leave it off the list.

Some skills are more important than others. On average, my program offers five intro-to-technology courses each semester including basic tech, networking, databases, and web design. In fact, I could probably design a degree that is nothing but technical courses. Choose one or two technical courses and then supplement with coursework that prioritizes relevant concepts such as community informatics, data privacy, or intellectual property.

Remain teachable. What I know today won’t be worth much tomorrow unless I keep learning. Technology will continue to evolve, and so should we. The American Library Association’s Code of Ethics even states as much,

“We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession”

If we are able to remain teachable, we will be better prepared to take on and adapt the technologies of tomorrow as both an LIS student and as a professional in the years to come.

How are you approaching tech skills in your education? Did you have a short-list of must-haves?


Image credit chrisbuilds on Flickr, all right reserved.

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