What Do Academic Degree Programs Teach about Public Programming?

Planning public programs is a skill that’s more and more important to library work, and we wanted to know: is that reflected in the curriculum? As part of our comprehensive review of the library programming landscape, we explored requirements in library degree programs across the US.

In 2017, we looked at all of the publicly available material on the websites of 58 English-language ALA-accredited library degree programs[1]. That information includes overviews, course listings and descriptions, specializations and concentrations, and highlighted competencies. Here’s what we found:

Competencies

Competencies vary in how explicit they are. Less than half (27) of the academic programs we reviewed listed an explicit public programming-related competency that graduating students should master. However, we note that no university defined the term services, and they used it inconsistently. Some universities explicitly included programming activities under services, while others did not. This variability has added some ambiguity to this review.

Degrees focus on a range of programming-related competencies. Explicit programming-related competencies typically fell into one or more of six major categories:

  1. Community outreach and collaboration;
  2. Working with diverse audiences;
  3. Supporting general and specific literacies;
  4. Creative thinking;
  5. Experiential learning; and
  6. General programming-related competencies.

Specializations & Internships

Most degree programs allow students to specialize. Forty-one of the 58 degree programs offered specializations or concentrations within the Master’s degree. None use the words “public programming,” yet our knowledge of the field suggests that the following specializations may be related:

  • Children’s / Teen / Young Adult / Youth Librarianship;
  • Community Engagement;
  • Cultural Heritage;
  • Diversity & Inclusion;
  • Geographic Information;
  • Health Information;
  • Instruction Librarian;
  • Media Librarianship;
  • Museum Studies;
  • Music Librarianship;
  • Public Librarianship;
  • Rare Books and Manuscripts;
  • Social Justice and Inclusivity; and
  • Special Librarianship.

Most programs offer internships or practicums. Forty of the 58 academic degree programs offered internships, and 12 noted that internships were required for graduation. Given the number of survey respondents who said that on-the-job learning was critical, we see the ubiquity of internships as an opportunity for library students to gain hands-on experience in programming.

Coursework

Most schools offer coursework on public programs, but nobody requires it. Fifty of the 58 schools offered courses on planning and running library programs. All of these courses were electives.

Most courses on programs focus on some particular audience. An overwhelming majority of course titles referenced program audiences, which provides insight into how librarians categorize programs. In particular, library schools primarily divide up programs by the age of their attendees – and just about half of all courses on programs focused on running programs for children or teens.

Table 1. Programming topics represented in course titles.

Programming Category Number
Adolescent / Teen / Young Adult / Youth 38
Children 32
Storytelling, including Cultural Storytelling 19
Diversity / Multicultural 18
Adult, including Older Adults 9
Community 5
Media 3
Museum 3
Specific Populations* 3
Families 2
Archival / Rare Book 2
Other* 10

Notes: “Specific Populations” reflects language in the course title, and we are unable to specify further. “Other” includes particular audiences (disabilities, French/English, and underserved children), library types (public library, tribal, urban library), and topics (health, humanities, literacy, science).

What was your experience?

We would love to add your voice to our research and hear about the public programming components of your degree.

  • If you’re thinking about getting a library degree, how important is learning how to do public programming?
  • If you do have a degree, what did you learn through that experience about how to do effective public programming? What do you wish you had learned? Is there something that would have made you better at running public programs?

[1] Source: http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/accreditedprograms/directory/alphalist
Université de Montréal and Universidad de Puerto Rico had websites in French and Spanish, respectively, and were not considered in this review. We also note that our review is not exhaustive as websites were not organized to facilitate comparisons, and in many cases we only had the titles of courses and not full descriptions.

Comments ( 1 )
  • Carl R. Andrews says:

    I graduated from Library school in 2002, and although I was working in a public library setting at the time, I think a course related specifically to public programming would have been tremendously beneficial to me. My primary job is in an academic setting, but I still work part-time in a public library. Public programming applies to academic libraries as well; especially in a public university system. I think public programming should address outreach and collaboration, on the part of librarians. When libraries (both public and academic) collaborate with community based organizations, it’s a win-win for all involved. I think we should work towards implementing programs that teach people how to think critically about the information they encounter through various mediums. Information literacy is one of the most essential skills a person can possess, especially in the information landscape of today. Public, academic, and school libraries should be working collectively with community based organizations that support at-risk populations, like veterans, immigrants, and the formally incarcerated. It’s time for librarians to begin going door-to-door to make people aware of the resources we have, the resources their tax dollars are paying for.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: Bronx Community College
    • Please let us know if you would like to to keep your comment private: public

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