British Columbia Library Association

An interview with Diane Thompson, Chair of Langara College’s Library & Information Technology program

By BCLA Perspectives

Diane Thompson is both an instructor and the Chair of the Library and Information Technology program at Langara College. The interview responses feature contributions from her fellow Langara instructors Linda Morrison, Debbie Schachter, and Dale West.

BCLA Perspectives (BP): What are the soft skills and attributes your program inculcates in its graduates that make them competitive in the province and nation’s library sector? 

Diane Thompson (DT): At Langara, soft skills are highly valued as we know that student success is often greater for students with higher levels of interpersonal skills. Langara has several programs in place to help students in our program develop their soft skills while they are on campus. The Langara Co-op & Career Development Centre offers employment courses, career workshops, interview practice and resources that help develop essential workplace skills.  In addition, the Library & Information Technology Program offers two practicums that connect students with employers to further hone those soft skills and to work on library specific skills as well. Several workshops during the practicum courses target library specific skills that reflect on customer service, library workplace culture (i.e. dress code), etc.

We also know that teamwork and collaboration is a cornerstone of library work. Throughout the program, group work is essential and reinforces communication skills, adaptability and taking on different roles (leading, editing, etc.).  Also, attributes such as adaptability, openness, and collegiality are discussed as vital to a career in the library field. We get the students to reflect on their competencies and skills throughout the program so that they are aware of which skills are improving and if there any gaps to consider working on in the future. 

BP: Are there aspects of your program that you feel present a particular advantage to graduates when working in 21st century libraries? 

DT: The Library & Information Technology program is a practical program. We expose students to a variety of tools that are currently in the workplace, such as Evergreen, LibGuides, MarcEdit and various content management software. We focus on providing students with the practical knowledge they will need to succeed in the workplace. When they graduate, they are already familiar with many of the programs that are currently in use. We also provide students with feedback on their resume’s and provide them with coaching and mentoring after they graduate in order to help them find work.   

BP: Are there emerging areas of the sector that you would like to see library education address in the future? 

DT: As new technologies expand they can limit who has access to information.  This affects our fundamental values of providing equal access to everyone. Competencies that will need to be enhanced and developed include information literacy skills, developing digital tools and an emphasis on inclusivity. People who lack the above skills and competencies face barriers to accessing information online. Our role will be to educate and therefore include communities, and individuals so that they may participate fully in society. As such, we are preparing our students to educate, engage, develop and design library related tools and information. 

LIS / LIT educators can take a role in the re-skilling of the workforce by creating programs that allow their graduates to retool their competencies to adapt to different technologies or new emerging roles for their classification and current job. All three institutions that offer LIS / LIT education in the province have opened new professional development opportunities for their graduates.

Ongoing curriculum changes need to be implemented in order for our programs to stay relevant.  All three LIS / LIT have either recently undergone program review or are preparing for program review in order to address the rapid pace of change in the library field.

BP: Are there areas of library education that you see becoming less relevant to the sector in the years ahead? 

DT: The areas of traditional reference service, acquisition, and processing of materials have taken a back seat in the last several years.  These areas are still relevant in the library sector however there are other areas that have become higher priority such as information literacy, virtual services, management of digital objects and repositories, etc.  What drives our prioritities is a mix of client / customer and budget. Each system will be unique in its interpretation of its users’ needs and priorities. In terms of education, this is reflected in an emphasis on educating the student on current best practices but also covering traditional topics as well. We are really in a hybrid mode in terms of educational offerings. 

BP: Education background often plays a role in a student’s decision to pursue library education, are there employment backgrounds and experiences that you feel would well prepare a student for library education and the library world in British Columbia? 

DT: In the library field, we see students with a variety of educational backgrounds. This variety is important as the field spans so many different sectors (i.e. school, academic, medical, law). Many library employers value the customer service or retail employment experience. This tells them that the candidate understands a patron service perspective, and that they have already had a chance to explore their communication and interpersonal skills in the workplace. 

BP: Do you have any advice for persons interested in applying to your program or interested in library education in general? 

DT: Yes, an awareness of the role that libraries play in society, and the contributions that the student will be bringing to the profession is a valuable one. This perspective will help the student in anchoring the practical skills and teaching that takes place in the library technician program.

Also, applicants should be ready to really commit to the program. The ability to focus on education and also multi-task / balance other things in life is a great life skill. 

BP: What book are you currently reading?    

DT: I have a few books going at the moment.  I just finished the “Nutshell” by Ian McEwan. A light read but interesting take on William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet from the point of view of an unborn child. I have just started The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. So far, so good…

And for a work-related read, I just picked up Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. A tip that I discovered was to watch YouTube videos of notable academic speakers and look at their bookshelves behind them. You discover some very interesting books!

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