Theory & Practice in the Library and Classroom

The library school I attended emphasized the theoretical basis of library knowledge. Granted, there was a practical aspect to some classes, but theory ruled. At the time I remember being a bit annoyed that more emphasis was not given to practical issues we might encounter while working the front lines as librarians. Now that I’ve been a practicing librarian and a trainer, I see that theory not only involves the knowledge of principles and methods of a discipline, but it also implies a philosophical view that colors everyday practice.


Basically, the key to good practice in the library and classroom is quality customer service. Good manners, common sense, and a friendly attitude ground good practice. However, teachers and librarians also need the context, pedagogic, curriculum, learning, and management theories that support good practice.


One of my favorite examples of theory and practice involves Richard Feynman, American physicist and Nobel Prize winner. This theoretical physicist, in a practical demonstration, showed how a glass of ice-water adversely affected the O-ring, which turned out to be the primary cause of the Challenger disaster. It was a simple demonstration that everyone understood and it exposed the problem.

Theory and practice go together and are circular. Theory conditions practice which leads to re-evaluating theory, which leads to adjusting practice, etc. Teachers and librarians need to find the balance between theory and practice; too much of one over the other puts the whole model out of whack.

“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” ~ Malcolm S. Forbes


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