Academic Disconnect: Whither Public Professors?

A strange fact about my graduate library education recently struck me: none of the professors I had were public librarians.

The tenured professors were from academic or school media. The majority were from academic libraries, though from what memory serves at least one of them had pretty much only ever taught library science and theory without ever having actually done the everyday work of applying the theories she’d helped to create.

I took a variety of classes over those 4 semesters, several with adjuncts. The closest I came to a public librarian was Gary Wasdin*, but he was on the research division side and the Director of the Office of Staff Development at NYPL. While I was in class with him, he was the Director of the Library at New School and I see he’s gone on to the Uni of Alabama. This is not to say I begrudge Gary what he’s done and is doing, and certainly I learned a whole lot from him by virtue of the fact he was actually IN the library field doing library things…I’m just pointing out how far even that was.

The MLS has a lot of theory and general preparation from the profession as a whole, at least, it’s supposed to, along with potentially allowing specialization in a certain kind of library. But in retrospect, my head is reeling that none of those people I worked most closely with to prepare myself had any experience with the work that I actually do everyday. While I’ll be the first to argue that the basic skills do translate across all kinds of libraries: budgeting, collection development, outreach, marketing, management…there are things that one learns really only by having worked in the public library. For example, it’s one of the only types of libraries that sees patrons from every single age bracket. Most others have a slightly narrower audience than birth to death and all education levels.

Public libraries are a large enough group that they have their own association, conferences, tracks at bigger conferences, and are in the headlines everyday. We’re a site for self-education, continuing education, the foundations of children’s information literacy before they hit those school media specialists. But these librarians do not seem to be the ones getting to the classrooms. I wonder why this is? Do they not want to teach, seeing it as a part of academia and an academic’s job? Are they shot down by LIS programs because they aren’t academics? Is it not conducive because grad classes are in the evenings and that’s busy time for most public libraries? Has this changed drastically in the past five years and now public librarians are everywhere?

With the increased desire for specialization I wonder if future graduates will have any opportunity to move beyond the divison/library-type where their first job lies. But if they aren’t prepared for public libraries, and aren’t working with public librarians, how will they be ready for those first jobs?

I wonder if a LIS school would consider me experienced enough to start teaching….

*btw…if that somehow manages to get Gary’s attention: Hi! Greetings from one of your former St. John’s students. I had you for intro and summer management. Skinny light brunette with waist length hair.

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