On ranking LIS programs

School rankings are very important. Because I went to Harvard Law School which is ranked really high.

Great, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about how school rankings are not at all a useful way of judging an academic program and should be used for nothing.

This post began as rage-tweeting about an opinion piece in Library Journal that was published on Friday. I wasn’t the only one. It didn’t take long before I realized that I needed more than 140 characters to express my frustrations with the article (and more time than I could justify given that I was at work at the time…and my job is not to read Library Journal and complain about its contents).

Let me just discuss what I think are the three most egregious flaws in this article*: the notion that GRE scores are “an important and impartial indicator of student aptitude,” the belief (unsupported by the authors) that admissions standards are important to a program’s quality, and the idea that accreditation standards can be used to rank the performance of a school.

On the GRE

Okay folks. How many times do we need to say this: standardized tests are a measure of a student’s skill at taking standardized tests.** Standardized tests are not a measure of aptitude. Standardized tests are biased. Let me say that one more time. Standardized tests are biased. Standardized tests are not an impartial indicator of student aptitude. Got it? Good.

On admissions standards

Mulvaney and O’Connor write the following:

 

With today’s programs being funded on the basis of student credit hours and with most having no substantive admissions criteria, many schools are no longer acting as gatekeepers for the profession.

 Further complicating the situation, those entering the profession today include fewer humanities and more business and education majors, raising questions as to whether the educational programs of today have adapted to the changing student demographics and whether they are properly serving this new breed of student.

Admissions standards for LIS programs in general need to be significantly strengthened to guarantee those programs are bringing the best and brightest into the industry and rigorously preparing them for their professional futures. Different skills, and not those in the various competency statements, need to be taught. This may result in fewer, and smaller, programs but ones that are better preparing students for the complex and changing world of modern librarianship.

 So–library schools are letting in everyone who applies because they need the tuition dollars. And you thought that I was cynical.

(I wish there were a written equivalent of sputtering with rage, as that is what I’m doing at the moment, in response to this idea of admissions standards being the way to bring “the best and brightest into the industry.”)

Business and education majors aren’t what we’re looking for in the information field? What do they think librarians do?? Last I checked, librarians educate, and librarians run the business of libraries.

Admissions standards don’t govern the rigor of a program. The professors and the curriculum govern the rigor of a program. More students means more discussion, more points of view, and more diversity.

On accreditation standards

On this point, I feel like the authors display a glaring disregard for the purpose of accreditation. Accreditation is supposed to be a threshold, not a ranking. Are the current ALA accreditation standards ideal? I don’t know. But let’s look at what Mulvaney and O’Connor want included: “the number of students enrolled in various courses within programs, how many students take courses online versus in person, …how many full-time versus part-time faculty members are engaged in instruction.” 

To these I ask: who cares? Does more students per class mean that the class is better, or that there aren’t sufficient class options? Does online vs in person matter, or does the quality of online vs in person instruction matter? (I suggest it’s the latter.) Are full-time faculty who are engaged in research better professors, or are part-time faculty who are engaged in actual librarianship better professors? Is it better for students to finish in a year, or to take classes while working and gaining professional experience?

Let’s let accreditation standards remain a threshold, and let students decide what matters to them in their education.

Data

Finally, I agree with the authors on the need for data. Usable data. But I disagree with the authors in their belief that data collection is the end-all and be-all for judging program quality. After all, the authors suggest that performance-based budgeting, which by definition is data-dependent, is a cause of relaxed admission standards. Numbers don’t always provide a complete picture.*** And if the authors of an article touting the need for data can’t state with certainty the number of accredited programs there are, I don’t know that the problem is a lack of data.

 

*There are problems other than these. I’ll let you rage about them yourselves.

**My row-mate on a flight once was studying for the NCLEX, the standardized nursing exam. I have a hard time keeping my eyes to myself, so I followed along with the sample questions. I’ve never studied nursing, but of the questions I saw, I got a fair number correct. One of them that I got correct, my row-mate did not. Because standardized tests are a game, and I’m good at them. That I’m good at standardized tests means nothing when it comes to my knowledge of anything medical!

***I minored in math in college. I love numbers. LOVE them. That doesn’t mean I think they can answer all of life’s questions. (42 notwithstanding.)

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