Title: An Examination of Practical Experience Courses as Vehicles for Community Engagement


Purpose of the Research:

The inclusion and benefits of practical experience within LIS curricula in U.S. and Canada have been debated for over a century, focused on disagreements based on theory vs practice and scholarship vs apprenticeship. Unlike previous research that focus on the immediate gains that may (or may not) accrue to the student or the placement organization, this study focused on the extent and avenues of communication between LIS schools and their community placement organizations, this study focused on the extent and avenues of communication between LIS schools and their community placement organization during the practical experience course, and the possibilities for enhancing that engagement for mutual long-term benefit. Avenues of communication examined included the student interaction with professionals in the field as representative or ambassador of his/her program; official reports on the practical experience by the student, the placement organization, or the school; and written, verbal or on-site visit communication initiated by the school.



Research Questions:

  1. What are the various types and purposed of practical experience courses or programs within the seven LIS schools across Canada? These courses or programs are defined as those relying on participation by community experts, requiring 7 or more hours of student time, and based in organizations outside the LIS School.
  2. What methods (if any) are used by the schools to engage with the community placement organizations?
  3. What benefits (if any) accrue to the schools and to the placement agency through this engagement?
  4. Are practical experience courses appropriate vehicles to further understanding and strengthen links between LIS schools and employment communities?



Research Base:

    The study was informed by the theories underlying the cognitive apprenticeship model which adopts the premise that learning is influenced and enhanced by social processes that incorporate active participation within culturally organized environments and activities.




The study included a national component in order to determine the overall extent and type of practical courses within Canadian LIS curricula, and a single school-based component in order to examine the individual communication elements between community agencies and an LIS school.

  1. Content analysis of the LIS program websites to determine extent and characteristics of practical courses and programs.
  2. Telephone interviews conducted with the staff member(s) in each LIS school responsible for supervising those courses/programs (10 in total)
  3. Content analysis of student and supervising expert reports from the two practical experience courses at UBC-SLAIS, 2000-2007: 600 reports from 2-week required Practicum course, and 103 reports from optional 120 hour Professional Experience course.




Research results revealed a diverse variety of practical courses across the county, but that schools had little knowledge about best practice evidence or courses in other schools. Reports from host organizations revealed that community experts (including librarians) wanted more information about the LIS school and welcomed more engagement with the LIS program before and during the student's placement. Reports from students revealed that they seldom considered themselves as representing their LIS school. Analysis of all data resulted in recommendations from strengthening the practical experience as vehicle for LIS school/community engagement.