Thoughts on the 2.0 class in the Context of MLIS

I saw a post on the ACRLog by StevenB, entitled What is the value in an LIS technology course that questions the value of courses which introduce students to the latest trends in technology, for instance Web2.0 apps. Basically, his criticism is that these courses simply introduce students to trendy technology without including theoretical instructional design content to aid students in their ability to evaluate when these applications will be useful, and to give students a framework to use as trends continue to develop and current technology is supplanted.

Put this way, who could disagree? However, one does wonder how many classes in LIS programs are actually based upon learning to use Twitter, that poor scapegoat for all 2.0 apps. I can’t really say how many classes would fall under that designation that StevenB uses as foil for his suggested improvements, but, having just completed a class on emerging technology, I can comment on the utility of that course in relation to the rest of my LIS education, which I will complete in May, and in relation to my current library work.

First, I should say that with the number of courses I was able to take in my two years, about 12-13, and with the diversity of responsibilities within the ever-changing library field, some really difficult choices had to be made. That said, choosing to take a course that was centered on new technology was not a hard choice, because it seemed clear that this is one area in which the interest and programming of libraries is currently expanding.

I think Mark K.’s comment on Steven’s post, suggesting that

I would rather see the tools integrated into assignments in other classes, along with the traditional things

is a good one. This would allow the emerging technologies classes to go deeper, both in terms of how these technologies work and how they can actually be adapted by libraries for library purposes and in terms of how specific user groups can be served using these technologies. Both of those objectives require a student to employ a good theoretical framework (currently, I think that, having taken the 2.0 course at the end of my LIS study, the theory had been imparted in earlier courses such as those on reference, cataloging, marketing, and bibliographic instruction–that is, the theory was distributed, while the intro to technology was focused in a single course).

I like the idea of a course on emerging technologies getting into the more technical aspects, and I like the idea of librarians coming fresh out of school with some basic knowledge of programming. However, I was in a class on IR’s that got quite technical, and there wasn’t a single student who really understood much of what was going on. This type of thing also doesn’t serve much point. There are only so many skillsets that one can have.

Rather, I think that the important thing is to understand that new technology should be as closely linked as possible to ways to improve service, whether by reaching users directly or by improving work internally. While there are many trends and fads that may come or go, what is really more important to consider than ultimate popularity or staying power is the cost versus the potential for better service over a set period of time. It is also quite useful to remember that some services may be satisfactory without new technology; however, if the totality of library services don’t change at all in response to changes as great as we have seen with Web 2.0, one must start to wonder why, and, to the extent that it is a simple result of librarians being unfamiliar with new technologies, particularly social networking or other read/write apps, then a class which encourages a spirit of engagement has a clear reason for being, or should we say an esprit d’etre?

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