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A Study of Master of Library Science Candidates and Librarians at a Practicum Site Library
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Ferrer-Vinent, Ignacio J. and Karen Sobel.  “A Study of Master of Library Science Candidates and Librarians at a Practicum Site Library.” New Library World 112.7/8(July 2011): 365-376.
Sobel, Karen ( Author, Secondary )
Ferrer-Vinent, Ignacio J. ( Author, Primary )
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to augment knowledge about perceived benefits and drawbacks of practicum programs in academic libraries. Design/methodology/approach – Many library science programs require or encourage practicum experiences. The authors surveyed past practicum students and site librarians about experiences with their practicum program. Findings – Practica in librarianship that balance structure and independence were reported to be beneficial, both for practicum students and for the libraries that host them. Students enjoyed the theory-to-practice aspects and the diverse populations of the academic library. The Auraria Campus’s student body displays great diversity in terms of race and ethnicity, socioeconomics, age, and prior educational experiences. Practicum participants also made constructive suggestions for changes in terms of structure and content. Students and site librarians valued their interactions with each other, even though the librarians were aware that mentoring and supervising practicum students consumes time. Originality/value – At present, the library literature contains very few examples of evaluation strategies for library practicum programs. This article presents an easily adaptable model for assessing practicum programs in order to make improvements to their own programs. MLS programs, students, and libraries should consider these results when evaluating or considering practicum programs.
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This is a post print copy of the following article: Ferrer Vinent, Ignacio J. and Karen Sobel. New Library World 112.7/8(July 2011): 365 376. A Study of Master of Library Science Candidates and Librarians at a Practicum Site Library Abstract Purpose The purpose of this paper is to augment knowledge about perce ived benefits and drawbacks of practicum programs in academic libraries. Design/methodology/approach Many library science programs require or encourage practicum experiences T he authors surveyed past practicum students and site librarians about experien ces with the ir practicum program. Findings Practic a in librarianship that balance structure and independence were reported to be beneficial, both for practicum students and for the libraries that host them Students enjoy ed the theory to practice aspects and the diverse populations of the academic library terms of race and ethnicity, socioeconomics, age, and prior educational experiences. Practicum participants also made constructive suggestio ns for changes in terms of structure and content. Students and site librarians valued their in t eractions with each


other, even though the librarians were aware that mentoring and supervising practicum students consume s time Originality/value At present, the library literature contains very few examples of evaluation strategies for library practicum programs This article presents an easily adaptable model for assessing practicum programs in order to make improvements to their own programs ML S programs, students, and libraries should consider these results when evaluating or considering practicum programs. K eywords: Practicum, mentoring, MLS LIS surveys library students Paper type : Research paper Introduction The practicum often helps students confi r m their choice of type of library or suggests that they would do better to select anothe r option. M any will respond that they learned what they wanted to do and the basic skills for doing it through practica or internships completed during their master of library science (MLS) programs Practicum programs provide a combination of training and on the job experience in various areas of librar ianship Some MLS programs currently require a practicum ; many others strongly encourage it especially for students without practical library experience. Three or more people are generally involved in each individual practicum experience: a student, a library school faculty coordinator and a practicum site mentor librarian . Students completing a practicum experience o ften also have significant interaction with other librarians and staff at the practicum library.


The researchers for this study each participated in positive, productive and informative practica experiences during their own MLS programs Now they both work with practicum students at the Auraria Library an academic library in downtown Denver, Colorado In an effort to improve the structure and content of the Auraria Library practicum offerings they invited past practicum participants to give feedback on their experiences The list of questions placed significant emphasis on how practica eventual careers in terms of choice and skills The feedback proved highly instructive. In this article t he researchers shar e their survey instr ument methodology and findings so that colleagues at other institutions might lead similar efforts to evaluate and enhance their practicum or other internship programs. Background About the practicum site library The Auraria Library serves three insti tutions of higher education: the University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and the Community College of Denver T he profiles of these schools and the programs they offer vary widely. The University of Colorado Denver offers degre with a particular strength in engineering. Metropolitan State College of Denver has traditionally been a four year college with open admissions. Within the past year, however, it has instituted admissions testi ng and standards, and opened several granting programs. The Community College of Denver is a relatively


patrons exhibi t remarkable diversity. The Library serves a total student population of 50,000 (28,000 FTE) from these three very different institutions. Many students at Metropolitan State College of Denver and the Community College of Denver are returning to school aft er many years in the workforce. They bring with them a wide range of educational and work experiences, as well as a variety of educational backgrounds. They also vary greatly in terms of age and socioeconomic status All three schools display tremendous ra cial and ethnic diversity. In addition, urban location also brings in large numbers of the public users which add even more diversity in terms of demographics and needs Practicum students who work on public service desks interact with this grou p Purpose The authors have both mentored practicum students in the reference and instruction d epartments. They wanted to understand the benefits and drawbacks observed by former practicum students and librarians at the Auraria Library. The roles and inf luences of library school faculty coordinators were not studied since the authors would not be able to make changes in that area. Information from this study will assist Auraria Library and other librarians and library science students in planning and asse ssing library practica or similar programs. About the practicum program


While none of the three Auraria Campus institutions offers a library science provide a steady stream of practicum participants In addition, students in library science programs from other states have applied and completed practic a in the library The typical Auraria Library practicum consists of 100 hours of unpaid on site experience over the period of one semester. Potential participants apply and interview prior to officially arranging a practicum. Practicum students also receive guidance from a faculty coordinator from their MLS programs. This person coordinates interaction between the MLS program and the practicum site and makes on site visits to discuss progress with the student and site mentor. He or she also Typically, he or she reads through a journal that the student keeps throughout the experience and site mentor to perform more in depth evaluation of student work an Auraria librarian begins the practicum experience by wo rking with the student to design a set of duties based on his or her career goals The same librarian will guide and evaluate the student throughout the semester. Some students have worked with multiple mentors because their interests span multiple areas o f librarianship Mentors provide each practicum student with approximately ten hours of training before the practicum begins. Other librarians typically participate in this training as well so that the students may benefit from their expertise. For example


students who design practica in reference and instruction participate in a series of training sessions with subject specialists and members of the instruction department. Literature Review F rom their inception until 1925 all library schools in the Uni ted States required their students to complete a practicum. By the 1940s many schools stopped having a practicum as part of their required curriculum B y 1975 only two out of 60 of American library schools mandated that students were to do a practicum (Wi tucke 1976). I n 2002 nine out of 56 library programs in North America (16%) required their library students to do a practicum (Markey 2004). Several academic librarians have studied the practicum in specific areas of librarianship. After a study of pr acticum participants at San Jose State University found complain t s about unstructured situations, librarians there restructured the reference practicum program and recommended instituting a structured cataloging practicum program that includes professional cataloging work. (Leonard and Pontau 1991). In another study, a majority of recent MLS graduates who had done cataloging practic a expressed an opinion that that their practica had a positive impact on future job performance (Damasco and McGu rr 2008). A later study of students and their practicum supervisors in the same program offered a list of ideas for improv ing the cataloging practicum (McGurr and Damasco 2010). P ractic a in the area of preservation at the University of Tennessee were rep orted to be advantageous not only for the students but also for the preservation department (Starmer 2004). Mardis (2007) r eport ed the opinions of nine students with prior teaching experience as they


participated in a library media studies practicum Two recent graduates from the University of Hawaii library program reported on their instruction practicum that was combined with an instruction methods course (Meulemans and Brown 2001). The idea of introducing research as a component of the academic library practicum was proposed because of the emphasis within academic libraries for research by librarians (Berg et al. 2009). Seve ral studies have also surveyed practicum students without focusing on particular areas of librarianship. A ing Leaders program perceived a practicum experience as an important part of the ir library science education s (Krichten et al 2009). Richey (1997) offered suggestions to prospective practicum students based on her observations as a reference supervisor of library graduate students during their practic a at her institution. Similarly, Warren (1997) related her experiences as a practicum students and proposed ideas to administrators, librarians, and students One MLS graduate who had not participated in a p racticum thought that adjusting to his first job would have been easier if he had done so (Holland 2006). Speaking from Ketcham (1997) mentions some items for academic libraries to keep in mind when thinking of starting a practicum site. Clagett et al. (2002) present their opinions about the benefits of practic a for students, site libraries, and library school programs. Although many library schools offer the opportunity of a practicum, very few currently require them ac cording to a review of practical experiences and library education (Ball 2008). Ball perceived a lack of available data from investigations and


surveys and concluded that there is a need for more research on library practic a The authors of this article se ek to help fill that gap in knowledge about library practic a with a focus on evaluation They intend for this information to be useful to librarians who have or want to start a practicum program, as well as library schools that administer them They belie ve that MLS candidates may also benefit by better understanding the benefits of practicum programs. Objectives The researchers worked with several objectives in mind: To discover if past Auraria Library practicum students felt their experiences benefite d their eventual careers. To identify ways in which Auraria Library practicum experiences could be improved. cum program that other libraries could easily adapt To share our methods and results with the ultimate goal of enhancing all practicum experiences Methodology The authors developed two surveys : one for past Auraria Library practicum students and another for librarians who have worked with these students at Auraria


(See Appendices 1 and 2) The researchers aimed to keep the surveys simple and quick. Responses were anonymous, although respondents were offered the chance to include contact information if the y would be willing to participate in a brief follow up interview. Both surveys were administered online using Zoomerang software. All potential study participants received an email invitation with a link to the appropriate study. Prior to administering t he study, the researchers asked a sampling of colleagues to critique the surveys They also used the first few online survey responses by past practicum students as a field test. These two levels of pre testing produced a few small changes in wording befor e finally releasing the surveys to the intended recipients. The authors attempted to find as complete a list as possible of former practicum students Unfortunately, the library did not keep a complete registry of past participants Department heads and o ther librarians with major roles in the practicum program provided the working list of 23 The authors found contact information for 19 of those names Through organizations, and/ or social networkin g tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook. T Board for this study. The nineteen former students they had located received the survey The contact message contained a description of the study, a link to the online After waiting a few weeks, the For each of the two surveys, the researchers sent a follow up message with a link to the survey one month after the initial message After each survey had been available


for approximately four months, the researchers closed them Responses to explicit questions and any apparent patterns or correlations were compiled and evaluated Since the numbers of respondents for both surveys were low, the researchers chose not to use any formal statistical analysis or software. Results and Discussion Students A total of 10 past pr acticum students provided complete sets of answers to the survey Those s tudents had completed practic a between 1983 and 2009 but r esponses came mostly from recent participants 50% reported having completed their practica during the 2008 2009 school yea r Only one respondent had attende d an MLS program other than at the University of Denver Since most respondents were recent participants and from one MLS program, the results of this study reflect the practicum paradigm described ion above. Most students who responded to the survey had completed work in reference Other work was done in instruction, cataloging, collection development, and Web. Table 1 shows the specialty areas in which practicum students reported working at Auraria Students were allowed to choose as many options as applicable. Options that received zero responses appear in the chart because students have participated in practica in these areas.


Table 1: Areas in which practicum students worked Students were all owed to choose all applicable answers Seventy percent of respondents currently work in a professional librarian position Specialty areas mentioned include d reference, instruction, cataloging, administration, and government documents Of these, 71% work in academic libraries, 14% in public libraries, and 14% in other types of libraries No respondents reported working in school or special libraries Their current library geographic settings were 57% urban, 29% suburban, and 14% rural The numbers of patr ons their libraries serve varies greatly. Seventeen percent work at libraries serving fewer than 5,000 patrons. Sixty six percent serve between 10,000 and 50,000 patrons. The remaining seventeen percent serve over 500,000 patrons, suggesting that they wor k in major urban library systems (Note that no respondents reported working at libraries with patron populations of certain sizes.) It can be seen that t he se student respondents had their practicum experiences with


reference services in a large, academic library; however, they work now in a broad spectrum of library jobs and settings In addition these students with a wide variety of current library careers comment ed that the Auraria Library helped prepare them for their current positions. Apparently pra cticum experiences that do not match eventual field of work still prove useful. Based on free responses, it appears that practicum work with a diversity of patrons and information needs helped prepare this group of future librarians for the patrons t hey were to serve later in other types of jobs and setting a Question four was intended to evaluate the amount of structure provided by the practicum program. The majority of the students (80%) indicated an appro priate blend of structure and flexibility Ten percent indicated that their practic a needed more structure and 10% indicated that they had too much structure In related free responses, one person indicated that there were Another student however, stat ed that having more structure in the beginning of the practicum experience would have helped but that the rest of the program included a satisfying amount of guidance Two questions, nine and eleven, investigated the ways in which students felt they had benefited from program participation. Most responses (70%) mentioned the opportunity of putting theory into practice, 50% indicated highly positive interactions with Auraria librarians 30% liked the diverse patron populatio n, and only 10%


mentioned learning specific resources All responses were positive to the specific query and library atmosphere indicating that they enjoyed the diversity and challenges. The positive applicability of the se experiences was mentioned many times The majority of respondents (78%) said that they applied the skills learned during the practicum in their current jobs (question 12). Although no questions dealt explicitly with the concept of mentorship numerous students brought this up on their own Many students commented that they had either found strong formal or informal mentorship through the program For example, one student thanked a supervisor for simply introducing him or her to a wide variety of librari ans This person appreciated strong centralized mentorship role that also branched out to minor, additional mentor roles Others commented that they had not developed a mentoring relationship with an Auraria librarian ; however, he or she recognized the potential for mentoring and wished that it had occurred A third way that mentorship appeared in responses was when students commented that time spent with librarians at the reference desk constituted strong learning experience s One simply [reference] Students reported that the l them for their future work Variety in experience with patrons was the y for positive response . The patrons at Auraria Library have questions that seem to be a mixture of academic and public library ressed a


wish that such diversity could continue later in their careers Another survey question asked about t he effect of the practicum on eventual careers. For 40% of students the pra ctic um was a major factor in successfully getting a job. Another 40% appreciated the confidence and knowledge that the practica gave them for doing their jobs and 20% said they were unsure or thought the practicum had no e ffect. about practic a The researchers surveyed Auraria Library colleagues who have either served as assigned mentors to students or who have provided other significant on the job guidance. Twelve librarians responded to the survey Questions two and three sough t to define the nature of site interactions with the practicum students. Most responses indicated that they had worked with practicum students at the reference desk (63%) and/or for subject specific orientation sessions (24%) Other interaction s were for bibliographic instruction sessions or with cataloging activities. Specific s upervisory roles were for reference and instruction services, collection development, cataloging, technical services and web development, and special projects. Question four asked about w hat these site librarians felt that students gain from practicum experiences those of the students. Most librarians perceived the same benefits as the students


reported: putt ing theory into practice and learning if they like librarianship (61%), the diverse population (17%), and interaction with experienced field librarians (17%) One thought that it was useful for students to gain familiarity with online systems. Question se side of the relationship. All responding librarians though t that they benefit ed from interactions with practicum students Descriptions of the advantages alternate methods exposure to new ideas, and re evaluating policies and procedures. related perc eptions. As with the question about the benefits to librarians (Question 7), questions instruction, Question six explored whether the practicum program had a down side in Responses indicated that librarians do see one negative aspect a ll responding librarians commented that their responsibilities to the practicum students prove consistently time consuming This does not, however, reduce the value of the program. Interestingly, librarians focused less on the diversity of patrons and their needs than on the frenzied pace of serving these patrons. Suggestions for Improvement


practicum program s for future participants. Q uestion ten asked students Responses to this question yielded both practical suggestions and more specific reactions to their experiences. A few respondents said that their practicum experiences were nearly perfect. Most others mentioned significant ways that the program could be improved: ha ving more mentors giving each participant more responsibilities making sure that each participant produced some sort of product that could be shown at job interviews spending less time on subject related orientation sessions provided by the reference depar tment sticking to plans for practicum projects once they have been agreed upon offering a permanent job at the site library once the practicum had been completed Individual comments on the breadth of their experiences and range of duties varied, which ref lects the design of the program. Some students supported a highly focused internship; others suggested broadening the ranges of their experiences. Some students viewed the practicum as an introduction to librarianship in general, while others saw it as an intense introduction to a particular specialty. Question eight on the survey for site librarians gathered their ideas for improv ing the program :


Hire more practicum students so that the program proves more productive. Give individual students more time so they could be more productive C oordinate the experience better between departments (no reasons given). Share responsibilities for supervising students among more librarians so that the I nclu Offer paid practicum experiences for students. Have the library school programs that send their students to Auraria pay small stipends to the librarians who supervise them. Notably relationships with practicum students, few felt that they had enough time to teach all Future Work Collecting more data would help inform future planning Data and opinions could be gathered based on existing programs at individual libraries and shared in the library literature. A review of structures of practica would be beneficial and could be a ccomplished through comparison of programs or through controlled experiments at individual institutions. In addition, MLS pr ograms might evaluate practica from their own point of view.


Results and comments gathered through this study suggest other projec ts for future work Perhaps the most useful might focus on the concept of the library environment Since many library school students do not yet know what type of library setting they will be working in, research on how to help students build a versatile b ase would assist students in preparing for their future careers, whatever those careers might be. Conclusion Both practicum students and host libraries tend to view practica as highly beneficial. All involved, including MLS graduate programs, should consi der the benefits, disadvantages, and suggestions for improvement reported in this study. S tudents prefer a balance between structure and freedom in the practicum with perhaps more structure in the beginning progressing into more freedom Students and sit e librarians view ed t he opportunity to practice classroom learning in real life situations a s the most beneficial aspect for students, followed by the opportunity to interact with field librarians In addition, both groups of respondents in this study saw the diversity and challenges of patron population s as a benefit for students. Practicum experiences assist students in their professional job searches In addition, when they are hired as librarians former students apply the confidence and knowledge gaine d in practic a


One of best aspects for students is the insight, attitudes, and knowledge gained from interaction with site librarians Similarly, although training and supervising the practicum students can be time consuming, site librarians gain significa ntly from their interactions with students. At this time the Auraria Library has been able to make changes in its practicum program as an outcome of this study. Library administration has initiated a formal registry of practicum students. Students are ab le to set the amount of structure in their experience, within limits. Students generally now benefit from the input of two or three mentors, which also shares supervision responsibilities among several librarians Some students now have greater responsibil ities in special projects. References Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Vol. 49 No. 1, pp. 7 0 82. es on integrating research Journal of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 35 No. 6, pp. 591 598.


Information Outlook, Vol. 6 No. 9, pp. 36 42. Damasco, I.T. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, Vol. 45 No. 4, pp. 43 64. The Australian Library Journal, Vol August, pp. 231 2 34. College & Undergraduate Libraries, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 103 105. LIS educ Service learning: Linking library education and practice, American Library Association, Chicago, IL, pp. 185 190. p Journal of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 26 30.


to one to one to many: a study of the practicum in the Jo urnal of Education for Library and Information Science, Vol. 48 No. 3, pp. 218 235. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Vol. 45 No. 4, pp. 317 339. Technical Services Quarterly, Vol. 27, pp. 1 16. l Research Strategies, Vol. 18, pp. 253 264. College & Undergraduate Libraries, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 107 115. its of practicum students in preservation: the value of the Collection Management, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 33 40.


College & Undergraduate Libr aries, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 117 123. Journal of Education for Librarianship, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 162 172. Appendix 1 1. When did you do your practicum at the Auraria Library? 2. Where (name of university) and when did you earn your MLS degree or equivalent? 3. What area(s) of librarianship did your practicum focus on? (Choose all that apply) Cataloging Collection Management Government Documents Instruct ion Reference Systems Web Other, please specify 4. Did you feel that your practicum had the right amount of structure? Too much? Too little? 5. Are you currently working in a professional librarian position?


Yes No 6. If you answered "Yes," to questi on 5, w hich of the following describes your library? Academic K 12 school Public Special Other, please specify 7. What is the setting of your library? Rural Suburban Urban Other, please specify 8. Approximately how many patrons does your library se rve? 9. What was the one best thing about your practicum experience? 10. What could have made your practicum better? 11. How did you feel about working with the Auraria Library's patron population? 12. Do you apply skills you learned during your practicum at your current job? 13. How has your practicum affected your career? 14. Additional comments:


15. If you would be interested in speaking briefly with the researchers by phone or email, please enter your name and a telephone number or email address (Your other comments will remain anonymous.) Appendix 2 1. Have you spent time training or working with library practicum students at Auraria Library? Yes No 2. If yes, in what capacity? (Choose all that apply.) At the Reference desk Ca taloging During instruction sessions Orientations Practicum supervisor Other, please specify 3. If you supervised a student, what was the area(s) of librarianship? 4. What do you feel that students gain from practicum experiences at Auraria? 5. What do you think are the most important contributions of practicum students to the l ibrary? 6. What, if anything, is a disadvantage to having practicum students at the library?


7. What, if anything, do you gain from interacting with practicum students? 8. What c hanges would you suggest for the Auraria Practicum Program? 9. Any additional comments? If you would like to speak with the researchers in person, please leave your name (Your other comments will remain anonymous.)