published quarterly by the university of borås, sweden

vol. 24 no. 3, September, 2019

Proceedings of RAILS - Research Applications, Information and Library Studies, 2018:
Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University, Australia, 28-30 November 2018.

Investigating the elements of supervision in library and information science practicums: a systematic literature review

Arif Khan and (Asim Qayyum

Purpose.This study reviews the literature to investigate and document the key elements of supervision of practicum programmes in the field of library and information science. The objective is to establish the extent to which the existing literature has researched and documented the process of practicum supervision in this field.
Method.A systematic literature review used qualitative content analysis technique to analyse the existing literature. EndNote X6 and Microsoft Excel 2014 were used to collect and sort data, while NVivo v.11 and VOSviewer were used to analyse the contents of 479 research studies on library and information science practicums.
Findings. Findings reveal that since the 1990s, only ten of 479 research articles discussed practicum supervision in this field. The dearth of research results in a lack of theoretical knowledge about key elements (role of supervisor, supervision styles & supervision competency).
Practical implications. . This study aims to provide theoretical knowledge for practicum supervisors to guide their roles, styles & competencies. Library associations will benefit when designing capacity building programmes specifically for practicum supervisors. The results are expected to foster industry-academia relationships through bridging the gap in ongoing discussions between the library and information science schools and practitioners.


Education for librarianship has followed a training path similar to that of numerous other professions, including law and medicine. The earliest training for these professions was provided outside the formal educational institutions of the time (Coleman, 1989). This type of experiential learning may take a number of forms, including fieldwork, internship, practicum (Coleman, 1989) & more broadly work-integrated learning or workplace learning and can include accreditation via examination by a professional association. Each of these forms is characterized by students’ direct engagement in field or workplace & can also take place as part of a formal education outside the classroom.

It was only in the late 1800s that library schools began to stress the need for trained professionals in the field. Melvil Dewey first started advocating training professionals in the 1870s (Coleman, 1989). The first known use of the word practicum for this field dates back to 1874 (Ball, 2008). After that, till 1931 (the start of Graduate Library School at University of Chicago), librarianship was considered to be learnt more precisely by practice rather than in library school instruction (de Súmar and Ibarra, 2011), though the debate and differentiation on modes and methods of library education continued into the 1940s (Brundin, 1989).

Practicum (often used interchangeably with alike concepts such as internship, fieldwork, graduate fellowship, or workplace learning) entails library experience for students that takes place during the educational process and is supervised by a library professional (Lim and Bloomquist, 2015). Practicum experiences differ greatly among institutions and across library and information science programmes globally in terms of minimum number of work-hours that students should spend at a given practicum site. For example, library and information science education in New Zealand and Australia requires a minimum of 75 to 200 hours to be spent at a given practicum site (ALIA, 2018; Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, n.d.; Victoria University of Wellington, 2018) In South Asian countries, the minimum number of work hours for practicum is 350 hours (Malik and Ameen, 2010). Typically, during the period of the practicum, students are required to undertake unpaid work experience in information sector organizations such as libraries and archives, where they are supervised by an experienced library and information science professional (the supervisor) to learn required competencies. Thus, the supervisor plays a very important role by contributing to the student’s professional development and by leading them to perform professional tasks unassisted. A significant body of research on practicum outside library and information science supports the notion that it is the supervisor who makes the practicum experience more productive for students (Gariepy, 2012).

A detailed scrutiny of the large corpus of literature on library and information science practicums reveal that practicum supervision and the perspectives of practicum supervisors are barely visible in the literature. The majority of studies on library and information science practicums are quantitative investigations that describe the perspectives of students on professional development, learning outcomes, practicum contents, evaluation and assessment & the use of technology (Malik and Ameen, 2010). Absent is the realisation that practicum is not just a matter of placing students, but ensuring that students and the library staff who supervise their activity recognise the learning experience (McNeil, 2017). It needs to be understood that appropriate supervision and mentoring arrangements are crucial components of effective work placement strategies (Patrick et al., 2008). A detailed scrutiny of the supervision process is recommended in a few library and information science studies (Ball, 2008; Bird, Chu and Oguz, 2015; Lacy and Copeland, 2013), which suggest that practicum is the most powerful intervention in professional preparation and its supervision. This suggestion is because supervisors guide the students to work independently and become competent practitioners, thus contributing to the ultimate outcome of the practicum and its benefit to all stakeholders. For the purpose of this study, practicum is defined as an unpaid work experience that takes place during the educational process & is professionally supervised (Lim and Bloomquist, 2015).


The aim of this study is to understand, explore & document current knowledge base around practicum supervision. A systematic literature review, based on the original guidelines as proposed by Kitchenham et al. (2009), was conducted in two phases. In the first phase, literature dedicated to supervision and practicums from library and information science and other fields was reviewed to identify key elements of practicum supervision. In the second phase, only library and information science literature was reviewed to explore and document the current knowledge base around supervision of practicum. The focus of these reviews was to establish how the existing research has progressed towards clarifying supervisory roles, supervision styles & competencies (key elements identified in the first phase) to supervise practicums in library and information science.

An open search was conducted on Google Scholar to broadly search for scholarly literature on supervision, its various forms and types & its theories and models. Later, library specific databases (Library and Information Science Abstracts (LISA), Library and Information Science Technology Abstracts (LISTA) & Library Science Database (LSD)) were explored using all the broader and narrower terms related to practicum as listed in Table 1.

The initial search from Google Scholar and the databases identified 838 publications published between 1965 and 2018. The list of references along with full-text was retrieved from the respective databases and was imported into EndNote version X8 (reference management software). After removing duplicate entries, a list of 479 unique titles was obtained. Studies which contain the terms supervise, supervision, supervisors, and supervisee with synonyms such as oversee, direct, administer, manage, run, look after, be responsible for, govern, operate, conduct, organize, handle, guide, steer, pilot etc. were included. This initial list of titles and abstracts was exported from EndNote and an Excel spreadsheet was created for the identified 479 documents. After identifying major themes and pattern in a large corpus of data, detailed analysis of the literature was performed using NVivo version 11.

Findings and discussion

The word practicum itself is derived from the ancient Greek word πρακτικος (praktikós), which means ‘of or pertaining to action, concerned with action or business, active, practical’ (Practicum, n.d). Among several existing definitions, Lim and Bloomquist’s (2015) recent definition of practicum in the context of library and information science education appears to capture the true essence of the term practicum as ‘an unpaid on-site library experience that takes place during the educational process and is professionally supervised’ (p. 211).

Practicums in library and information science education

A content analysis of the selected articles revealed that there are several terms used for a range of approaches and strategies that integrate theory with the practice of work within library and information science literature. Table 1 shows the prominent terms and allied concepts extracted from the literature. However, the term practicum ranked first in terms of frequency and appears to be the current catch-all term adopted or recognised across many disciplines and used in recent government and industry reports (Patrick et al. 2008). The key difference between practicum and other allied concepts in the context of library and information science may be that a practicum is an experience that requires the practical application of theory or conceptual knowledge (Huggins, 2017).

Table 1: Experiential learning terms: frequency of use in the library and information science literature
RankTerm (frequency)
1Practicum (449)
2Internship (402)
3Experiential learning (181)
4Service learning (87)
5Work integrated learning, workplace learning (52)
6Fieldwork, field placement (37)
7Work experience (29)
8Apprenticeship (15)
9Learning in the workplace (3)
10Cooperative education (2)

The practicum in library and information science is important in:


This study is focused on collecting evidence-based research and practice on supervision of practicum in library and information science. The term supervision is derived from two Medieval Latin words super, which means above & videre which means to see. Latin words from 1630, supervidere & supervis, have been later variants of the Latin word supervisionem (oversee, observe, inspect) used in 15th century, from which we get the term supervision. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word supervision as 'the action or process of watching and directing what someone does or how something is done: the action or process of supervising someone or something' (Supervision, n.d.). Essentially, supervision can be called a complex activity that occurs in a variety of settings and has various functions and modes of delivery (Wierda, 2016). Supervision has been widely researched in education, management & clinical practices such as psychology, nursing & medical science (Hawkins and Shohet, 2012) & provides a better understanding of supervision than the library and information science literature because it is considered to be an essential component of supporting improved learning from experiences (Russell, 2017).

In general, the term supervision is easy to grasp but its conceptualisation across the professions is difficult and complicated to evaluate scientifically (Johnston, 2006). The difficulty is because the term is used diversely, the purpose and goals are not common, the method and process of conducting supervision is not specific & supervision is provided in a variety of institutional and non-institutional environments. The diversity can be in individual versus group settings (O'Callaghan, Petering, Thomas and Crappsley, 2009), goals can differ depending on whether supervision is conducted internal or external to an organisation (Wheeler, 2002), or only for higher degree research students (Wheeler and Williams, 2012). Supervision can also vary with discipline and context (Ladany, Mori and Mehr, 2013), or may be dependent on the application of work being supervised (Johnson et al., 2008). This lack of consistency in the concept, context & application of the supervision means that it is difficult to provide a general understanding of one-size-fits-all supervision. However, the question remains: what constitutes a practicum supervision process? There are several models of supervision developed and tested in other fields such as psychology, education, management, social work and medical sciences. Review of the literature dedicated to theories and models of supervision in these disciplines was conducted to derive the key elements for practicum supervision that can be applied in library and information science.

Theories and models of supervision

Several models of supervision have been proposed over the past three decades based on different theories of supervision such as psychotherapy-based models, developmental models & integrative or social role models (e.g., (Bernard, 1979; Bordin, 1983; Bradley and Ladany, 2001; Holloway, 1995; Littrell, Lee-Borden and Lorenz, 1979; Loganbill, Hardy and Delworth, 1982; Stoltenberg, 1981). Some models have limited applicability in library and information science practicum supervision. For example, the psychotherapy-based model focuses on student and supervisor working collaboratively to enhance supervisee’s competencies, while supervisors in library and information science practicums generally focus on competency enhancement of students in the broader context of information environment (i.e., to understand, analyze and interpret in which information is originated, described, stored, organized, retrieved, disseminated, modified and used).

Other models are somewhat related to what library and information science supervisors do. For example, the developmental model of supervision assumes that each stage through which a supervisee move requires different supervision skills and techniques (Lambie and Sias, 2009). Thus the developmental models of supervision primarily focus on supervision styles that change with the different stages of supervisee development. The integrative or social role models of supervision are based on the assumption that, given the large number of theories and methods that exist with respect to supervision, an infinite number of integrations are possible. For example, the discrimination model (Bernard and Goodyear, 2004) emphasizes that the supervisor takes on the role of teacher and their response should be always specific to the supervisee’s needs. Similarly, the system approach model developed by Elizabeth Holloway (1995) focuses on building a relationship between supervisor and supervisee.

As is shown above, the traditional supervision models are not always directly relevant to the practices of library and information science practicum supervisors. For instance, existing models of supervision do not include supervision that focuses on the diverse roles and tasks required of information professionals, such as information seeking, information management, organization of recorded knowledge, reference and user services, information architecture, source & products. Moreover, the key difference between non-library and information science supervision models and the library and information science practicum is that these models consider a longer duration of interaction between the supervisors and the supervisee while the library and information science practicum is of a shorter duration. The discipline-specific problems and issues inherent in the practicum in libraries have an influence on supervision & warrant a distinct model that incorporates the distinguishing features of library and information science practicum supervision and preparation. The duration, activities, scope, purpose, evaluation etc., of library and information science practicum are much different from practicums in other fields of study such as psychology, education, law & medical sciences. For example, the duration of interaction between the supervisors and the supervisee in the counselling practicum extends over a longer period to materialize the developmental stages needed to enhance student counsellor’s skills. Whereas, library and information science practicum is not of a longer duration and the supervisors have to focus on different activities during a short period of time (i.e., te to fourty days only).

As the above narrative indicates, the supervision models discussed here offer limited scope of their applicability to library and information science practicum supervision process. However, it is worth noticing that these models can influence such practicum practices. For example, the developmental models of supervision focus on supervision style; psychotherapy-based models focus on the competencies of students and supervisors; and the integrative models of supervision centre on the supervisory roles and focus on the changing roles of supervisors. Therefore, the supervision style, the supervisory role & the competency appear to be the key elements of the practicum supervision, as is evident from the literature on the models of supervision & need further investigation in library and information science practicums.

Practicum supervision

Early literature from non-library and information science disciplines reveals that research on practicum supervision is classified according to the role of the supervisor, their training procedures & the rating systems (Hansen, Pound and Petro, 1976). Kaplan (1983) divided practicum supervision studies in two categories: studies on maximizing effectiveness of the practicum supervision experience and studies on specific techniques in practicum supervision. From the field of psychology, Holloway (1982) reported three topics of consideration when investigating current and ideal characteristics of practicum supervision, i.e., practicum activities, supervisory activities & supervisor experience and qualifications.

A review of literature on practicum supervision by Hansen, Robins and Grimes (1982) comments that despite disagreements on definitions of the term supervision, there is a broad consensus that the essential aspects of practicum supervision are ‘ensuring competence enhancement’ and ‘promoting professional development’. Wierda (2016) states that practicum supervision is well recognized as ‘the critical teaching method’ (p. 177) for the development of professional skills and identity. Despite the fact that practicum supervision is a critical element & has been recognized as a ‘hallmark of professional training in many studies’ (Crespi and Lopez, 1999, p. 113), there are a number of advantages and disadvantages acknowledged in the non-library and information science literature. For example, the advantages include the ability of the supervisor to monitor the quality of the service being provided to the supervisee, or that the supervisor is usually accessible and available. A disadvantage pointed out by Ung (2002) is that the multiple roles required to be played out by the supervisor and supervisee within an organisational context (manager, supervisor, employee etc.) may have contradictory demands. Further research on the advantages and disadvantages of different roles of a practicum supervisor (mentoring, teaching, managing, etc.) in library and information science settings would be useful to support theoretical knowledge of supervisors on the supervision aspects of practicum supervision in this field.

Practicum supervision in library and information science

A review of existing literature on library and information science practicums revealed that practicum supervision is not well researched. A keyword map of the 479 full-text articles included in this study was visually constructed using the freely available VOSviewer data visualization software. This software identifies clusters and their reference networks to identify themes and patterns & is capable of constructing and displaying visual maps based on bibliographic and textual data and its relationship (Yu, Wang, Zhang and Zhang, 2018). The colour of the nodes in the keyword map (Figure 1) shows more and less prominent themes and their connectivity. The node represents themes or topics & the edges represent how themes and topics are interrelated to each other. As shown in Figure 1 knowledge, professional development & collaboration, (red coloured) are directly connected with supervision and supervisor. This means that library and information science practicum literature discusses the themes of knowledge, professional development, collaboration & faculty in single studies in which the terms supervisor, supervisee, or supervision have been discussed.

Figure 1: Visualizing theme in library and information science practicum literature
Figure 1: Visualizing theme in library and information science practicum literature

Detailed analysis of the full-text documents was conducted using NVivo qualitative analysis software. A combination of analyses was carried out including word frequency query combined with matrix-coding query. Results obtained from this procedure revealed that existing literature on library and information science practicums provides some insights into supervision aspects of practicum & discusses some of the issues of the supervisors and the process of supervision of practicum programmes. For example, Nassimbeni (1988) pointed out that the necessity of articulating and explaining the aims and objectives of practicum supervision will require scrutiny of the essential elements & in some cases, re-evaluation and redefinition of practicum supervision. Other studies, such as Brundin (1990), Nakano and Morrison (1992), Richey (1997), Smith (2006) & Westbrook (2012), have emphasized that the availability at all times of professional supervision is vital to the success of practicum programme. These findings support Brannon’s (2013) suggestion that practicum supervision constitutes the most important factor in determining the quality of the practicum experience.

Additionally, the definitions of practicum also acknowledge that a practicum is always a supervised activity; this aspect establishes that without supervision, a practicum would not be a beneficial activity. For example, Witucke's (1976) definition of library and information science practicum and fieldwork as: ‘Professionally supervised library experience offered as part of the library school's programme and taking place during the academic sequence; comparable to student teaching’ (p. 163) clearly indicates the significance of supervision as an important element of practicum and fieldwork programmes. Similarly, the Association of American Library Schools’ (AALS) definition supervised work in a library or information agency also draws attention to supervision. Nassimbeni (1988) stated ‘to be supervised by experienced librarians is one of the specific objectives and prerequisites of LIS practicum programme’ (p. 88). The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals notes that 'The first step towards becoming a Chartered Librarian is the successful completion of a supervised post-library school training…A Chartered Librarian must supervise the training and certify that (s)he has done so' Nassimbeni, 1988, p. 127).

Key elements of library and information science practicum supervision

A comprehensive review of issues relevant to library and information science practicums and supervision was undertaken, keeping in view the key elements of supervision as derived from the established models of supervision from the non-library and information science literature. After reaching a saturation point at which no further issues could be identified from a continued review of literature, the analysis revealed that the identified issues could be grouped into three main categories: supervisor role, style & competency (knowledge and skills), based on the similarities of their characteristics and relevancy to these terms. Table 2 presents the identified issues and their relevancy to the respective categories.

Table 1: Grouping of issues of practicum supervision as identified from the library and information science literature
Category nameIdentified issuesReason
Role of supervisorIssues related to planning, organizing, coordination & controllingIssues of planning and organizing practicum by the practicum supervisors have been discussed in the literature in connection with the role of a supervisor (e.g., (Brannon, 2013; Lee, 2011; McGarr and Gavaldon, 2018; Reale, 2013 )
Supervision stylesIssues related to teaching and training methods, monitoring and evaluation, counselling and support etc.,Many issues of teaching and training techniques of practicum supervisors have been discussed in the literature (e.g., Claggett et al., 2002; Kelsey and Ramaswamy, 2005; Lee, 2011; Ricker, 2005)
Knowledge and skillsIssues related to interpersonal characteristics such as supervisory knowledge, skills & attitude Recent literature pointed out lack of interpersonal skills and knowledge of practicum supervisors (e.g., (Arif et al., 2018; Bilodeau and Carson, 2015; Ferrer-Vinent and Sobel, 2011; Goodsett, 2018 )

It was observed that most of the discussion around practicum supervision in the library and information science literature is based on the opinions and suggestions of researchers and practitioners emphasizing the importance and effectiveness of practicum supervision and its practices. Very little empirical evidence was presented in these studies to back up these opinions. The issues are discussed with respect to three phases: prior supervision phase (suggestions for things to do), current supervision phase (suggestions about what to do in supervisory sessions) & post-supervision phase (suggestions for after supervision session). For example, Richey (1997) suggested that preplanning the interview process, objectives of supervision & practicum activities should be considered by the practicum supervisor before taking on students (prior supervision phase). Alimohammadi and Jamali (2012) suggested that a supervisor should play an active role in coordinating with library schools & guiding and mentoring students during the practicum supervision (current supervision phase). Brannon (2014) recommended structured and focused assessment as the vital component of practicum supervision (post supervision phase).

The role of a supervisor

Practicum supervisors (mainly termed site supervisor in the majority of library and information science literature) occupy a unique and important position in libraries and information centres. Besides the roles of training, scheduling, assigning work, counselling, guiding, teaching, evaluating, the practicum supervisors also ensure that the work of students contributes towards the library’s objectives, as well as the objectives of the organization (Kelsey and Ramaswamy, 2005). For example, a unique role of practicum supervisors is to accomplish work through students while at the same time counselling and guiding them (Reale, 2013); it is likely that such functions may not be a part of general supervision that takes place in the workplace. Moreover, practicum supervisors are responsible for planning, organizing, leading & controlling the practicum activities & this sort of supervision demands assuming specific roles across supervisory sessions to focus on the learning needs of the students (McGarr and Gavaldon, 2018). The role of practicum supervisor differs from the workplace supervisor in terms of looking after both the management and the teaching aspects of the practicum programme.

Several authors have identified issues related to aspects of a supervisor’s role in overall management (planning, organizing, leading & controlling) of library and information science practicum supervision. For instance, Baldwin (1991) argues that the transition from worker to supervisor is a difficult move for any staff member & the supervisor who is required to deal with students (practicum supervisor) must realize that doing and supervising are two entirely different roles (p. 19). Moreover, a need for professional development of practicum supervisors is also emphasized by Ferrer-Vinent and Sobel (2011), Dotson (2007) & Arif et al. (2018). These studies highlight an important area of further investigation into the role of supervisor in relation to senior and more experienced colleagues in terms of learning and professional development as practicum supervisors.

In addition to the bridging role of practicum supervisors discussed above, Lee (2011) identified that probably the biggest problem facing library and information science practicum supervisors is the lack of planning and organizing of practicum programmes. Planning of practicum supervision includes determining the goals and objectives of the unit (section within a library) and the strategies for achieving them (Baldwin, 1991), while, organizing practicum supervision involves creating a structure for accomplishing the objectives of the unit. A supervisor thus needs to assume the roles of planner and organiser. Alimohammadi and Jamali (2012) stress the development of a specific set of guidelines and a framework for planning and organizing site supervision for a successful outcome of the practicum. All these studies suggest that a key role of the practicum supervisor is to support students to integrate well into the workplace through planning and organising.

Another line of research suggests that a critical role of the supervisor is in coordinating between a library school and the organization that hosts the practicum to enhance the effectiveness of practicum supervision. For example, Tietjen (1975) suggested that supervisors should play a role of coordinator to ensure effective coordination among library school, host organization & the practicum students. Nugent (1998) suggested that the supervisor’s role is to coordinate with faculty in terms of preparation and preplanning of supervision activities. Leonard and Pontau (1991) stressed that the role of supervisor is to be an effective collaborator, which includes liaising with a library school and the host organization for planning and organizing practicum programmes. Brannon (2013) highlighted that supervisors play a vital role in planning of assessment, evaluation & feedback mechanism. Therefore, the emphasis is on the planning, organizing and coordinating of practicum supervision & these aspects need to be given due attention in research to conduct practicum programmes effectively and clarify the role of a practicum supervisor (Arif, Ameen and Rafiq, 2017).

Some studies discuss the roles of practicum supervisors in connection with recognizing talent, teaching new skills and promoting learning & understanding the organization’s culture (Reale, 2013). Teaching and training roles have also been emphasized by Powis and Webb (2005) and Kelsey and Ramasawamy (2005). Site supervisors should be prepared to act as supervisor, mentor, advisor & counsellor. For example, Brundin (1989) recommends that the role of site supervisor is to perform as an advisor and a counsellor, while Nugent (1998) stated that the role of site supervisor is to facilitate the work of the students while they are performing different tasks during practicum training.

Brannon (2015) suggests that site supervisors also view themselves as mentors, coordinators, facilitators & counsellors. Kelsey and Ramaswamy (2005) stated that since mentoring includes career counselling (e.g., suggesting electronic mailing lists to subscribe to, interviewing skills, writing letters of recommendations), the role of a site supervisor is to act as a mentor which students will find useful for determining their career pathway. Lee (2011) emphasized that practicum supervision is effective only when supervisors have a clear understanding of their roles and the students’ expectations and learning needs. Lee further suggested that a supervisor needs to appreciate new perspectives that students can bring to the practicum programme. The role of supervisor is one of the important elements in determining the effectiveness of students’ learning and overall supervision process. Ferrer-Vinent and Sobel (2011) and Wheeler and McKinney (2015) also highlight the importance of the role of a supervisor and its relationship with learning and professional development of the practicum student. Figure 2 shows the graphical representation of the concepts related to the role of supervisor as discussed in this section.

Figure 2: Key issues discussed in library and information science practicum literature regarding Role of Supervisor
Figure 2: Key issues discussed in library and information science practicum literature regarding role of supervisor

To summarize, a practicum supervisor identifies the tasks to be performed and establishes the functions to achieve the learning objectives of students. Likewise, students are influenced by the role a supervisor plays in the practicum and that those impressions appear to have an impact on student learning and overall supervision process.

Supervision style

The various characteristics of a supervisor, including their approaches to supervision, methods and techniques of interacting with student, are referred to as supervision styles. Generally, supervision style refers to the supervisor’s approach to different methods and techniques of controlling the supervision process, including ways of interacting with students (Meissner, 2012). Many researchers from the field of counselling and social work have established that supervision styles have a strong impact on the effectiveness of practicum supervision (Wolfsfeld and Haj-Yahia, 2010; see also, Meissner 2012; Johnston 2006 and Wierda 2016).

Although, library and information science practicum literature does not discuss supervision style in particular, early studies, such as Coburn (1980) in the United States and Prytherch (1982) in the United Kingdom, noted that the supervision of practicum students and the control of the supervision is dependent on the supervisor’s approach. For example, both Coburn and Prytherch illustrated that a supervisor’s approach differs because of the variation in methods and techniques that a supervisor adopts in different settings

An aspect of supervision style discussed in the library and information science literature refers to the difference in a supervisor’s approach when performing different functions such as monitoring, instructing, or evaluating. Supervisors use different approaches for different functions because of the absence of theoretical knowledge of practicum supervision which needs to be identified through empirical research in the field of library and information science (McNeil, 2017). Goodsett (2018) stated that a supervisor’s approach to supervision functions varies because librarians have tended to learn how to perform certain activities through their personal experiences. Likewise, Crumpton (2015) argues that most of the library staff who supervise a practicum student’s work do not have much knowledge of the supervisory functions (monitoring, instructing, evaluating etc.) but are still required to perform the whole range of these functions. Thus, identification and knowledge of these functions should clarify the process of supervision and guide the understanding of a supervisor around the styles of supervision.

Several studies have stressed the need to explore particular functions that a supervisor performs & the issues related to practicum supervision styles in order to understand how practicums are being supervised within libraries (Ferrer-Vinent and Sobel, 2011; Lavy, 2017; Pacios, 2013; Raszewski et al., 2012). Some researchers have highlighted the differences in a supervisor’s approach to assessment, evaluation & feedback mechanism. For example, Brewer (2015) stated that the style of conducting supervisory assessment and evaluation foster supervisors’ attention to difference and diversity among students & has a direct influence on the supervision process and the outcome of the practicum. In another study, Brewer and Winston (2001) stated that the library and information science practitioners who are working as practicum supervisors point to a lack of liaison between themselves and the faculty & indicated that this disconnect affects a supervisor’s approach towards assessing and evaluating the performance of a student. Thus liaison between faculty and the host organisation is one of the critical aspect of the supervisor’s role.

Some other studies discuss the issues related to supervision style in connection with a supervisor’s approach to the design and performance of tasks for practicum students. Few researchers and practitioners have presented their viewpoints around how supervisors should design tasks and interact with students. Kelsey and Ramasawamy (2005) presented a case study of practicums offered at Louisiana State University Libraries & stated that designing relevant tasks for practicum students enables the supervisor to achieve the workplace objectives of the practicum. They suggested that the process of designing and supervising these tasks should articulate the way a supervisor interacts with practicum students. For example, only those tasks that relate to the students’ learning needs, interests & professional goals should be selected. Further, the tasks should consist of professional level work to provide the student with a professional experience, rather than paraprofessional projects that may not allow the student to effectively apply the concepts learnt in library school, or relate to only the experience of the information professional (supervisor).

Issues related to methods and techniques of teaching and training practicum students also relate to a supervisor’s style and approach. There is little information on this issue, however, although Nassimbeni (1988), Richey (1997) and Dotson (2007) discussed how the teaching methods and techniques adopted by supervisors are important elements that determine the quality of practicum supervision. Richey noted that library professionals were practicing multiple methods to teach and train practicum students in different libraries & found that most practicum supervisors preferred an instructional teaching method.

Recent literature shows that supervision style is also influenced by the existing relationship between the library and information science school and the supervisor. Walczyk (2016), while discussing the international service learning in librarianship, stated that only a few schools had any communication channels setup between the teaching faculty and the site supervisor. The author noted that this lack of liaison between the library school and the site supervisor leads to an inability of supervisors to adjust supervision style according to changing conditions, for example, teaching and training new content.

Recent studies also recognize the importance of another dimension in supervision style related to the student-supervisor working relationship. For example, McClurg and Jones (2018) note that the student-supervisor relationship works best if the partnership is built on mutually agreed training and learning needs. The authors recommend a supportive model for supervisors that will enable them to hold continuing professional development activities relevant to students’ learning needs and to maintain a multipurpose supervision style. This kind of multipurpose supervision should include many areas of librarianship such as research and writing, collection development, or public services groups. Lamb (2016) showed that some students lack the basic skills of the profession while others may have a good knowledge of the field. Therefore, a supervision style based on student-supervisor relationship with a balanced ratio of mutually-agreed goals and objectives is more likely to be successful. Other studies (Malik and Ameen, 2010; McGurr and Damasco, 2010; Nakano and Morrison, 1992) have highlighted that feedback (from the supervisors) and reflection (from the students) helps develop a positive student-supervisor relationship, which in turn informs and guides the supervision style.

There is minimal data available to enable us to comment on the particular style of supervision in terms of leading and controlling the practicum students. Brannon (2013) provided some information on how supervisors monitor the tasks and functions of a practicum. For example, the study highlighted that some supervisors let the students explore the field on their own with little intervention. This means that the supervisors prefer a non-directive style of supervision & they choose to encourage students learning on their own and experimenting with new things. On the contrary, some supervisors prefer an instructional style of supervision (or a directive supervision style). In this type of style, supervisors instruct the students on what to do and what not to do. Similarly, Bilodeau and Carson (2015) pointed out that in some cases supervisors follow a checklist to ensure that students are completing a set of activities or assigned tasks. Further investigation into supervisors’ approach to designing and assigning professional tasks can broaden the knowledge base around practicum supervision. Questions such as, what is the relationship between supervisory role and supervision styles as perceived by library and information science professionals? what factors shape the supervision styles of the library and information science practicum supervisor? could guide further investigation in this area.

Figure 3 illustrates the major concepts and themes of supervision styles derived from the library and information science practicum literature discussed here.

Figure 3: Key issues discussed in library and information science practicum literature regarding Supervision Style
Figure 3: Key issues discussed in library and information science practicum literature regarding supervision style

Supervision competency

Supervision competency refers to the existence and importance of supervisory knowledge, skills & attitudes required for supervising practicum students (Baldwin, 1991, p. 345). Practicum supervisors are often selected by the library and information science school or deputed by the host organizations from among the library staff in management positions, but supervisory competencies are sometimes quite different from those required by a work supervisor (Dahl, 2011). In most cases, practicum supervisors are left to develop new competencies on their own, since most organizations offer little support or help to them. As a result, practicum supervisors are left to sink or swim in their new roles (Baldwin, 1991, p. 20) & tend to espouse their own individual methodology, based on their awareness, experiences & personal beliefs and because of the absence of knowledge and skills needed for practicum supervision (Huggins, 2017).

Skills: A basic knowledge of the skills of supervision is useful and required for effective practicum supervision to take place (Nugent, 1998) and these skills have been widely discussed in the library and information science practicum literature. Librarians often do not receive the level of training required to manage and supervise the practicum programmes (Jeske and Axtell, 2014) & usually develop their skills through workshops and through on-job experiences (Brannon, 2014). It takes six to twelve months working as a supervisor (Baldwin, 1991) before they have developed a sufficient skill set. [Author note: you used sink or swim in the previous paragraph.] In such cases, McNeil (2017) suggested teaching some soft skills such as human resources management, team-building & leadership as a foundation for successful fieldwork or practicum supervision. Malik and Ameen (2010) examined the perception of library and information science practicum students in Pakistan and stressed that supervisors must attain time management skills, planning and organizing skills & communication skills before taking on students in practicum programmes.

Developing supervisory skills is important because supervisors can help students gain life-long job-related skills when they themselves have the required skill set (Simmons-Welburn, 2000). Aside from a lack of research on skills relevant to practicum supervision in the library and information science literature, several authors (Bird, Chu and Oguz, 2011; Brannon, 2015; Dotson, 2007; Goodsett, 2018 ) have proposed that skilful supervision leads to professional competency development among students & contributes to the future successes of the practicum supervisors. Literature reveals that further research on how important or relevant are supervisory skills in supervising library and information science practicum students should benefit the practicum supervisors as well as the students.

Attitude: Very few studies in library and information science have focused on the way of thinking or feeling of supervisors about practicum supervision, i.e., supervisors’ attitude. Among these studies, some argue that the way of thinking or feeling about practicum supervision and the supervisor’s own learning is critical to effectively lead the supervision process. For example, Bird, Chu and Oguz (2011) noted that the practicum supervisors were less mindful of their own learning on how to be a supervisor & needed to adopt a positive attitude to be engaged with students. Bilodeau and Carson (2015) conducted semi-structured interviews with Canadian academic librarians who were responsible for practicum supervision. The authors stated that majority of practicum supervisors had the attitude that they were able to figure out how to do the work on their own & did not require any training. Librarians with such an attitude often have to rely upon self-directed learning, or learning through problem solving and trial-and-error when they become supervisors (Kampa, 2017). Kampa suggested that new practicum supervisors should be flexible & should focus on longer, mentor-like relationships with senior and more experienced librarians to shadow and learn from their supervision expertise. McNeil (2002) highlighted how the attitudes of many librarians towards practicum supervision was that it is as an important opportunity for gaining a practical exposure of teaching and mentoring, activities that are usually absent from their other works. Questions such as: What critical factors influence the practicum supervisor to supervise successfully? What are the ethical or legal issues of practicum supervision in the field? What is required to develop a code of conduct for professional supervision in the field. All of these questions need further attention from library and information science researchers.

Knowledge: In other practicum literature, such as counselling and social work, supervisory knowledge is considered imperative for the effective supervision process. Many studies (for example, (Holloway and Carroll, 1999; Johnston, 2006; Meissner, 2012; Wolfsfeld and Haj-Yahia, 2010) emphasized that the competent supervisor must not only comprehend supervisory knowledge, such as theory of supervision, supervision models, tools and techniques, but also be able to apply them to the context and individual cases.

Recent studies in library and information science practicums similarly highlight the need to train practicum and fieldwork supervisors to impart the required knowledge (Brannon, 2015). Lacy and Copeland (2013), while examining the library work placements from the student’s perspective, noted that there appears to be little examination of the knowledge required to supervise such programmes. The content and context of practicums in the digital era also poses particular challenges for the practicum supervisors, such as knowledge of virtual collaboration with students, online social negotiation with faculty & metadata mapping (Raszewski et al., 2012). Similarly, Westbrook (2012) reported the lack of knowledge by the supervisors in use of free online tools (such as blogs, Google Tools and more) to recruit interns and manage an internship programne in the University of Houston Digital Library. Finally, Whitver (2017) suggested that developing knowledge of supervision in practicums should be understood as an ongoing learning process by the supervisors. Further research in this area may be guided by the questions such as: how are meanings and activities of practicum supervision different from general workplace supervision? How library and information science professionals learn to supervise practicum students? Figure 4 presents different areas of supervision competencies discussed in library and information science literature.

Figure 4: Issues discussed in library and information science practicum literature regarding supervision competencies
Figure 4: Issues discussed in library and information science practicum literature regarding supervision competencies

This review of the literature identifies some of the key elements of practicum supervision from the non-library and information science literature. These key elements are based on the models of supervision from the fields of psychology, education, management & medical science. The review also highlights the lack of research on supervision of practicum in library and information science. To date, the works of Baldwin (1991), Brannon (2013) & McNeil (2017) seems to be the only studies of supervision in the library and information science practicum literature. These studies are useful only in gaining some background information for defining, exemplifying and teasing out different aspects of library and information science practicum supervision. However, several recent library and information science studies (Arif et al., 2018; Brannon, 2015; Goodsett, 2018; McNeil, 2017; Nutefall, 2012 ) have identified supervision as an important component in determining the quality of the practicum experience. Most focus thus far in the library and information science practicum literature has been on student learning during the practicums and inadequate information is available on the role of supervisor, supervision styles & competencies required to supervise practicum students. Library and information science practicum supervisors need to focus on these areas because they have a strong evidence base from the non-library and information science literature to support their relevance & inform practicum supervision. Figure 5 illustrates the overall picture of key elements that have been identified from library and information science practicum literature regarding supervisory role, supervision style & supervision competencies.

Figure 5: Mapping issues related to library and information science practicum supervision as discussed in the relevant literature
Figure 5: Mapping issues related to library and information science practicum supervision as discussed in the relevant literature

Conclusion and future research

This study concludes that research on practicum supervision in the field of library and information science is limited and majority of studies have discussed the concerns of students regarding professional development, learning outcomes & practicum content. The concerns of practicum supervisors and the supervision process have not been given due consideration in library and information science literature so far. Thus, future research on the role of supervisor, supervision styles & competencies required to supervise library and information science practicum students is needed to advance theoretical knowledge on practicum supervision in the field. This future research may include investigation of opportunities for capacity building for library and information science practicum supervisors, including a detailed examination of the competencies required for practicum supervisors & also the development of competency skill sets needed for library and information science practicum supervision. Another important observation that a researcher must take into account is to compare and contrast the different roles that a practicum supervisor may adopt for effective practicum supervision in libraries. Similarly, it is worth examining how students perceive the role of supervisors because achieving learning objectives and effective management of the practicum supervision can be ensured based on clearly articulated roles of the practicum supervisor. Finally, an investigation into the library and information science practicum supervision style would help advance the theoretical knowledge of practicum supervision.


We would like to thank and acknowledge the tireless efforts of Dr. Amanda Cossham, Regional Editor, Information Research, for her valued suggestions on structuring and logical sequencing of this paper.

About the authors

Arif Khan is a PhD student at School of Information Studies, Charles Sturt University, Australia. Mr. Khan has nine years of professional training experience in public sector training organization, he has conducted several courses for librarians in Pakistan. He received his BSc in Computer Science & MS in Library & Information Science from Pakistan. He can be contacted at (akhan@csu.edu.au
Asim Qayyum completed his PhD from the University of Toronto, specialising in the areas of Information and Knowledge Management & also worked in the university library and taught part-time. Asim worked at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico for a few years, before moving to Charles Sturt University in late 2008. He recently completed projects focusing on information needs and uses. While completing his PhD in 2004, he was awarded the prize for best paper in information sciences by the New England chapter of the American Society for Information Sciences & Technology (ASIS&T). He can be contacted at (aqayyum@csu.edu.au


How to cite this paper

Khan, A. & Qayyum, A. (2019). Investigating the elements of supervision in library and information science practicums: a systematic literature review. In Proceedings of RAILS - Research Applications, Information and Library Studies, 2018, Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University, Australia, 28-30 November 2018. Information Research, 24(3), paper rails1813. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/24-3/rails/rails1813.html (Archived by the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org/web/20190829140845/http://www.informationr.net/ir/24-3/rails/rails1813.html)
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