The debate over practice vs. theory is quite familiar in LIS education. If you think about it, the very nature of our profession and our degree really does spur this kind of discussion. It’s funny because I’ve been recently writing about what students who are interested in digital libraries should do while they’re in school. Taking classes in the things that interest you is an obvious tip. In a way, I feel like a hypocrite because I haven’t even done all of those things myself. In fact, and I could be wrong about this, most people seem to find what they want to specialize in within the first year that they’re in school. Then they tailor their electives to match those interests; i.e. if you want to be a children’s librarian, you’re probably going to take classes related to that. Really, a MLS/MLIS program is too short to teach you everything you need to know, but it should give you a solid grounding that you can draw from. It’s really your time to take the classes that you think will prepare you best.
If you take a look at history of my coursework, you would probably wonder what area of librarianship I want to go into. I’m seriously all over the place. I am actually very interested in academic and digital librarianship, but I haven’t taken a digital libraries class. To be honest, I’m not sure if my schedule will allow me to do so, which I’m not entirely happy about. Here I am writing about the importance of understanding the theory behind the practical and yet I don’t always listen to my own advice. Is it important that someone understands the why and how a digital collection is built? Probably! But my own experience of understanding that is outside of the classroom. I’m not sure what’s more important, having that hands on experience, or learning about it in class. The likely truth is, both are just as important but why have I not chosen to do that?
This fall, I have chosen to do an instruction internship as opposed to one in a digital library. I was particularly inspired by the Seek a Challenge post written by Michael Stephens, in which he gives excellent advice to students. I have very little experience with instruction or with public speaking. This is something that makes me feel very uncomfortable so naturally, I chose to do an internship in an area that I know needs improvement (and also scares me). The other part of this is that I have chosen to do an internship in this area, as opposed to taking a class that would teach me a theoretical understanding of how to teach. Once again, I have elected practice over theory. I’m not saying that this is necessarily good; but I had to ask myself if I would learn more by doing or by sitting in a classroom and being lectured. I chose to learn by doing and I figure if I really want to learn more, then I can take the class offered by my school next semester. I’d probably get a lot more out of it since I could see the practical application.
Obviously, everyone has different learning styles and will approach their own education accordingly. I never really thought of myself as a person who hates learning about theory in library school. Ideally, practice and theory should go hand in hand. However, we only have a limited amount of time in school to learn so much and there are times when choices have to be made. What do you think is more important? Getting hands on experience or learning the theory in the classroom?