Putting Theory into Practice

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Cambridge]On: 16 December 2014, At: 00:23Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Putting Theory into PracticeBenjamin F. Speller Jr. aa Dean and Professor, School of Library and InformationSciences, North Carolina Central University, Durham , NC, 27707Published online: 23 Oct 2009.

    To cite this article: Benjamin F. Speller Jr. (1993) Putting Theory into Practice, Cataloging &Classification Quarterly, 16:3, 1-6, DOI: 10.1300/J104v16n03_01

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  • Putting Theory into Practice: An Overview of the Symposium

    Benjamin F. Speller, Jr.

    ABSTRACT. Together library schools and libraries can prepare entry level professional librarians for a smooth transition to the practical world of librarianship in technical services. The teaching of practice versus theory in librarianship remains an issue; this article is a commentary on how library schools are dealing with the problem.

    The profession of Librarianship has generally been plagued from its initial inception with the issue of how to prepare its members. Practice versus theory has been the most prominent issue around which lines have been drawn when opinions were provided on the subject of professional education or training of librarians. Even the concepts of education and training have provided some concerns for the profession, especially in library schools. The issue of theory versus practice became especially heated when library schools moved on university campuses and attempted to emulate the arts and sciences model of curriculum development and instruction. The question of theory and practice was originally very clear in most individuals' minds. However, the rapid changes in the profession and the amount of uncertainty and new situations confronting li- brary educators on a daily basis led to the realization that a theoreti- cal framework and a common body of principles were needed. The issues then became what theories and principles should be taught, and how much time was needed to teach them.

    There have been a number of views of how library schools and

    Benjamin E Speller. Jc, is Dean and Professor, School of Library and Informa- tion Sciences, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC 27707.

    Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, Vol. 16(3) 1993 O 1993 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved. I

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  • 2 CATALOGING & CLASSIFICATION QUARTERLY

    libraries can help the entry level professional librarian make the transition from the theoretical environment of library education to the practical work of libraries,' the latest being Sheila Intner's suggestion^.^ Intner suggests that good grounding in the underlying concepts, principles, assumptions, and structures that supports the theoretical framework of the practice is necessary. She also feels that library science instructionshould include discussions and exer- cises that will link the theory taught to potential practical applica- tions. Intner does not overlook the need for a planned and organized support system for new employees. Her suggestions include a sim- ple professional version of the "welcome wagon" or "newcomer's kit." She notes that larger organizations might need to provide a professional resource to furnish psychological support and struc- tured interaction with all new staff. Some larger organization might also need to provide formalized courses of instruction in their cata- loging and classification policies and procedures. The issue of prac- tice still remains because of the technical skills required to perform the most basic work in libraries, the rapidity in which the required skills are changing to incorporate technological developmen& and the lack of provision for adequate on-the-job orientation or training.

    Another issue which needs to be addressed more specifically than is done by the symposium presenters is "Who should perform the most basic routine work in libraries, professional librarians (MLS) or support staff who have been provided with on-the-job training appropriate for the work that they have been assigned?" Sheila Intner provides a potential solution to these problems by suggesting that each level of cataloging should be assessed and requisite training provided through either library school course work or in-service training.3 The labor-intensive procedures of put- ting an efficient and effective bibliographical control system in place for accessing and maintaining library collections have been a major concern because of the perceived non-professional nature of most of the work.

    All of the above conditions in the professions are now refocused by technological developments which have essentially mechanized and automated most of the labor .intensive aspects of the profession previously categorized as technical services.

    There are numerous discussions on educating librarians for tech-

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  • Benjamin E Spellez J,: 3

    nical service positions; most of these have focused on cataloging and classification, but this is to be expected because of the promi- nent role that these functions have in developing library and in- formation services. Nearly every presenter directly or indirectly came to the conclusion that cataloging and classification principles are the fundamental framework to all library functions.

    The following topics emerged as the areas most often mentioned by most presenters that should be coinponents of prospective tech- nical services librarian's education:

    1. Information retrieval, 2. Classification systems and theories, 3. String systems: their construction and use (thesauri), 4. Indexing and retrieval languages, 5 Natural language processing, including hypertext systems and

    artificial intelligence, 6. Standards, codes and conventions, 7. Linauistics systems, 8. ~ a i a ~ e m e n i i n c l u d i n ~ systems analysis, and 9. Research methods and statistics.

    Three of the most significant discussions at the symposium were Seymour Sargent's presentation, Jack Shipman's response and Dan- iel O'Connor's discussion on why a continuing education program which focuses on research methodologies is needed for technical services librarians. Sargent used the communication theory of Jur- gen Habermas which evolved from the Frankfurt School of critical theory4 to illustrate the importance of dealing with the issue.of objective and equitable treatment of rival interpretations of knowl- edge in building library collections. Shipman used the University of North Carolina Academic Affairs Library's process of prioritizing the criteria that is used for collection development to illustrate the ethical assumptions of Habermas's communication theory in rela- tion to determining respectful and equitable inclusion of knowledge in collections.

    Daniel O'Connor ended the symposium by reminding the partici- pants that theory building results from research. He provided clear if unpleasant examples of what does happen when a valid research design is not used in arriving at decisions on an important technical

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  • 4 CATALOGING & CLASSIFICATION QUARTERLY

    principle that became the national standard but is judged by a major library organization as ineffective. Bryce ~ l l a n ~ shares O'Connor's perspectives about the need for librarians with skills in research and statistics. He also contends that library research is an important part of professional practice.

    In general, the symposium's presentations and discussions were focused on the following issues:

    1. Do librarians have to deal with more administrative and man- agerial functions than they have in the past?

    2. What are the scholarly functions that need to be emphasized in technical services education?

    3. Are the library school curricula really changing to meet the needs of the ever changing technical services functions?

    4. What are the educational needs of non-professional staff? 5. What training is needed for non-professional staffs? 6. Are librarians using the phrase "access to collections" and

    "access to information" interchangeably? 7. What skills do librarians need to perform duties related to

    verification of bibliographic information? 8. Are there theories and principles in the profession common to

    cataloging, classification, indexing, acquisitions, and serials? 9. Is there too much emphasis in bibliographic description by

    format? 10. Should library educators teach theories and principles in ref-

    erence courses that support the technical service functions of indexing and abstracting?

    11. What is the difference between a practicum and an intern- ship?

    Three issues which should have been given more in-depth dis- cussion at this continuing education activity and others similar in nature to it are:

    1. Is the emphasis on a longer time-frame for educating librarians at the appropriate educational level?

    2. What is the prerequisite body of knowledge that is needed before entering library school? Should it be obtained in sec-

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  • Benjamin E Speller; JI: 5

    ondary school, undergraduate school, graduate or professional school?

    3. Can educators and researchers in the library and information science disciplines and professions design elements of profes- sional competence that will develop in potential practitioners the ability to build a new theory of practice and then behave effectively in the changing task environment^?^

    The major issue that needs to be addressed as a basis for educa- tion of technical services is if a student enters a library school with a solid secondary and undergraduate education in the arts, humani- ties, mathematical sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences and receives the MLS degree with the following typical courses and implied competencies:

    1. General reference sources, 2. Advanced reference sources in the Humanities, Social Sciences,

    and Natural Sciences, 3. General principles of management, 4. Systems analysis, and 5. Basic and advanced cataloging and classification, what else is

    needed beside common sense?

    All of the issues that surfaced during the presentations and discus- sions and those that were identified but not covered at the sympo- sium have been a persistent concern of the profession almost from the original establishment of an instructional program for prospective librarians. However, the ultimate goa! of putting theory into practice will not be fulfilled until we find realistic and objective answers to these issues. Library educators and practitioners are eventually going to have to work together on the issues before a new profession emerges that is without reservation and capable of dealing with the increasing need by society for access to knowledge in support of decision making which affects all aspects of quality of life.

    NOTES

    1 . A comprehensive and concise exploration and synthesis of issues relating to professional education and library education are presented by Joe Morehead in Theory and Practice in Library Education: The Teaching-Learning Process. Lit- tleton, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1980. Chapter 5, "Toward a Resolution of

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  • 6 CATALOGING & CLASSIFICATION QUARTERLY

    Theory and Practice," [107-1201 demonstrates the difficulty in bringing closure to this persistent issue.

    2. Sheila Intner, "Theory Into Practice: Making the Transition," Technicali- ties, 9 (July 1989): 9-11.

    3. Sheila Intner, "The Education of Copy Catalogers," Technicalities, 11 (March 1991): 4-7.

    4. Jurgen Habermas, "Some Difficulties in the Attempt to Link Theory and Praxis," in Habermas, Jurgen, Theory and Practice, translated by John Viertel, Boston: Beacon Press, 1973, pp. 1-40.

    5. Bryce Allen, "Quantitative Methods in the Library and Information Science Curriculum," Technicalities, 9 (January 1989): 7-9.

    6. Chris Argyris, and Donald A. Schon, Theory in Practice: Increasing Profes- sional Effectiveness, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 1976.

    REFERENCES

    Houle, Cyril O., Continuing Learning in the Professions, San Francisco: Jossey- Bass Inc., Publishers, 1980.

    Schein, Edgar H., Pmfessional Education, New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1972. Schon, Donald A., Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design

    for Teaching and Learning in the Professions, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers. 1990.

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