Community in a Time of Isolation

Tomorrow our Students return to class. All of our students they will return to class online. For our LIS students this will be normal. Except, it won’t be normal for them. They will be returning to their usual distance courses while sheltered in place, at home with children not attending shuttered schools, or parents closed off in senior communities, or spouses who have to exchange Zoom meetings for conference rooms, or perhaps they are now simply alone in a country whose borders have been closed in a world that counts every ventilator unit like it used to measure Gross Domestic Product.

In our classes we will be teaching these future librarians and information professionals a curriculum of skills. Yet all of these skills are founded on the values of service. And as much as we talk about virtual libraries and online communities our traditions and models and metaphors run deep with a reality of human contact.

I am reminded of talking with Chuck McClure about a study he did on reference transactions. It was the famous 55% study where he and Peter Hernon found about half of reference questions actually received incorrect answers. Yet an overwhelming percentage of people getting these answers were satisfied. When I asked how this could be, he asked “the number one way of increasing satisfaction?” He then reached out his hand, laid it on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and with sincerity asked, “does that help?” Human connection.

In the rise of social media, scholar after scholar, maven after maven, profit after profit have extolled the centrality of community and connection. I’ll be honest, in my 4 years at South Carolina I have struggled with finding ways to foster community in our online program. Traditional ways of bonding don’t work. Bringing in a speaker is difficult when the audience is of 10 bodies and an online audience of 50.

And yet the bond between faculty and student and school and alumni is strong. Why? Because our school library faculty are out in classrooms around the state. My faculty delivers workshops on universal design in a Center down the street. They hop in a bus to go to the neediest schools to read stories with the university mascot. They reach out to refugee populations. They sit with undergraduates in research and teaching and in protest of wrongs (including my wrong decisions). I still have alumni in Maine from a cohort decades ago that have a strong connection to the school because the faculty would make multiple trips a semester up north.

But now these faculty too sit at home with children and elders and spouses or by themselves in unprecedented times when social distancing, while novel, can too easily turn to fear of human physical contact.

I sent out a tweet asking if libraries around the globe are really closing, or are they shutting their physical doors but staying open online (and just to be clear they should close the physical doors out of concern for both staff and community). After all, libraries have been online for over 20 years. Some told of ebooks. Some of increased chats and reference transactions. Many talked about online story times and youth activities. Perhaps the most touching were the too few that were calling “regulars,” just to check in and make sure they were OK.

We talk about libraries and all kinds of information organizations building communities. We talk of social media as connecting and building relationships. But how many of us know our regulars well enough to call them and ask, “how are you,” and then, and I cannot stress this enough, listen to the response?

My inbox is full of statements telling me how much my gym, and my movie theater, and my airline care about me in these trying times. Telling me. None have called me or emailed me to listen.

It’s amazing in a time when Google and Apple know more about me than probably my mother, if they called and asked how I was, it would feel intrusive, even abusive. We have a deal Google, and I. They give me service and I give them data. It’s a transaction. One in which I know they know things I don’t want to talk about or share.

Are we preparing our graduates to create these kinds of communities or true communities founded on relationships and not simply aggregated data that can trigger a dopamine response when needed? Are our undergraduates using their skills in data analysis, design thinking, system design and so on to create engagement that can yield to analytics and be monetized? Or to connect? Are our graduate alumni going into schools, academies, medical centers, corporations, archives, and libraries truly prepared to serve and connect with compassion?

Paul Romer, a Stanford economist, said a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. He was talking about an economic crisis, and the need to rebalance an economy and the social compact between government, citizen, and business. We too must not waste this crisis. Every day of locked down uncertainty is a test of our ideals, traditions, curricula, and service.

How do we not only seek to answer more questions correctly, but reach out a virtual hand, rest it on the collective, sheltered in place, shoulders of our communities, and, with sincerity, ask, “does this help?”

Real Time Sessions Added to librarian.SUPPORT

Thanks to the great library community’s generosity we’ve added some great new sessions to the http://librarian.SUPPORT site:

March 24: Matt Finch

March 26: Jason Broughton

March 31: Erik Boekesteijn

April 2: Clayton Copeland

April 7: Karen Gavigan

April 9: Valerie Byrd Fort

Please check out http://librarian.support/category/real-time/ for more information and new sessions.

We’ll be meeting every Tuesday and Thursday through the end of April (at least). If there is no guest speaker it will just be me and you having a conversation and answering questions.

All sessions will be at https://us.bbcollab.com/guest/efd8f17225514d5f83dba12dcb50d7ae

Librarian.Support Real Time with Matt Finch

Join David Lankes as he talks with Matt Finch Tuesday March 24th 9-10 Eastern Time.

Matt is regularly invited to keynote at conferences and events. He is currently a facilitator on the Scenario Planning course at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. Join us to talk about Planning for uncertainty; scenario and foresight work for libraries; how to do the anticipatory groundwork for the post-pandemic ‘New Normal’ which awaits librarians, information professionals, and the institutions they serve

We’ll be using Blackboard Collaborate – a web based conference solution. We should have room for about 100 folks to join the “studio audience” and ask questions.

https://us.bbcollab.com/guest/efd8f17225514d5f83dba12dcb50d7ae

We’ll be hosting these sessions every Tuesday and Thursday morning through the end of April as part of the Librarian.Support effort. You can see the system requirements for Collaborate here: https://help.blackboard.com/Collaborate/Ultra/Administrator/About_Collaborate/Browser_Support

SLIS Pandemic Resources

We have been fortunate that as our university moves online, we were already there. We are, however, working hard to ensure that our students can access our courses online with a particular eye to emergent digital divide issues.

I spend a fair amount of time talking about how the School of Library and Information Science seeks to have an impact in the community. We don’t just want to teach change agents, we want to be change agents – faculty, students, staff, alumni.

To that end I am happy to announce some of our efforts to support our communities.

First up the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy has pulled together resources for parents with kids at home and teachers:

We also know that a lot of libraries around the world have closed their physical spaces and a lot of library staff are working from home. To support librarians using this time to work on skills and engage in professional development I am proud to announce SLIS has teamed up with Public Libraries 2030 to put together Librarian.Support, a site (and to be clear one we are building as we go) to highlight some professional development resources from SLIS. Our focus is on preparing folks for better libraries after the virus.

We are adding resources as we go including archives of webinars, lessons from our online courses, guides to good learning resources, and we want to add more. Once agin this is a fluid effort, so all are welcome to contribute and please be patient.

Starting this Tuesday, March 24th I will be doing open support sessions every Tuesday and Thursday at least through April. I’ll be inviting faculty, staff, and great librarians from the field to join me in a call-in-style class/show. I’ve already had folks like Erik Boekesteijn for the Royal Libraries of the Netherlands, Karen Gavigan SLIS Professor and genius in everything graphic novels, Marie Østergaard director of one of if not thee most innovative public library in the world Aarhus Public Libraries in Denmark, and Kim Silk Strategic Planning & Engagement Librarian at Hamilton Public Library agree to join me for shows. The idea is a real-time conversation that you can join to ask questions and join the conversation.

I’ll do a separate post this afternoon with details, but for now know the link will be https://us.bbcollab.com/guest/efd8f17225514d5f83dba12dcb50d7ae

9-10 Eastern Standard Time and archives of the conversations will be posted on the Librarian.SUPPORT site. It should be great to get a global view on librarianship. We can have up to 150 folks join the live sessions.

If you have a topic you or your library would be interested in, or want to be a guest, please email me at rdlankes@gmail.com

Folks, this is an extraordinary time. Borders are closed, National Guards activated, quarantines enforced. Everyone has every right to be anxious. I have found that in times of anxiety it is best to do something – anything. Let’s use this time, if we have the resources, to first take care of ourselves, and then teach each other.

Corona Virus and Library Science Students

The following is an update I sent to our alumni. It is a version I sent off to our LIS students.

Greetings Friends,

As you may know the university has extended Spring Break through next week and is then going online with all of its courses (graduate and undergraduate) for two weeks after that (through April 3). For the latest information on the university’s response please see:

https://sc.edu/safety/coronavirus/

To be clear, this is the authoritative source for information. I haven’t emailed you before because the school has to wait for the university’s lead.

I wanted to reach out to see if you had any questions, and make you aware of a few things:

  • Next week is an extended break for the students, but busy for the staff and faculty. We will not only be adjusting dates and materials for course, but many faculty will have to move in-person classes online, and that will take work.
  • The university guidance also means changes in scheduled events. The Deans and Directors lecture on April 3rd has been indefinitely postponed. This includes the award ceremony and the Beta Phi Mu installation. We are working on a new date for these, or alternatives.
  • Right now hooding and graduation have not been effected, but the situation is “fluid.” As I learn something, you’ll hear it.
  • Offices and administration remain open at the university. Some staff and faculty will be working from home, particularly if they are in a high-risk group such as immune compromised. Also folks traveling may have to self-quarantine.
  • Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. If I don’t have answers, I’ll track some down.

And now a personal note. We got this. We as a school, as faculty, as students, as staff, we have this. We know how to work online sure, but more importantly, we know about using knowledge as an antidote to fear and misinformation. Some of you may find all of this an over-reaction. Some of you may have a heightened sense of anxiety in these uncertain times. I had a bone marrow transplant 18 months ago, so as someone who is immune compromised, I get it.

The answer is not to disconnect from community while we may shelter away physically. Some of our students are already working in libraries, all of them are being prepared to support communities. Right now what they’re feeling (anger, relief, anxiety, confusion) is being felt by the 3rd grader in a school library. It is felt by a spouse browsing the health books. It is felt by students in Thomas Cooper, or the person self-quarantined at home. Soon it will be their role to reach out to all of them. To let them know they are not alone. To provide what information we can, and all the compassion we have. In these times of conflicting stories the role of a librarian and an information scientist is to be trusted and caring.

I will send updates as I have them.

__

R. David Lankes
Professor and Director

803-777-3858
rdlankes@mailbox.sc.edu
School of Library and Information Science
College of Information and Communications
University of South Carolina

Remarks at Winter 2019 Hooding

The School of Library and Information Science hosts a hooding for those graduating in the Fall and Spring semesters. It is an important small gathering of graduates and family. I take the opportunity to give “one final lesson.” Here are remarks for this hooding.

Welcome to the last graduating class of the decade. I fear you’re not quite done yet. There is only time for one last lecture.

As I was preparing my remarks, I found myself thinking about global issues. Divided politics, monetizing privacy, the growing specter of artificial intelligence developed outside of social responsibility, growing economic disparity, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria. A little Ghostbusters humor for you there.

I started to write the now formulaic doom and gloom and your job is to save it message. But, as I learned in a very personal way this semester, this is not how I need to send you into the world. Our communities don’t need you to save them – they need you to inspire them. Our students in the poorest and richest school need an ally to accept them as they are, lift what burdens you can, and let them know they are worthy and important. Our neighbors need a partner and a friend to learn and dream with them. The doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, and public servants need an expert that not only serves but makes them better. Our elected officials need role models in integrity and trustworthiness.

Just as you don’t need to be reminded that the world can seem overwhelming, neither do our communities. They need a light to shine a way forward, not spotlight challenges.

So here then is my final lesson for you. Fight injustice, fight inequity, fight apathy, but do not be consumed in that fight. No one is served by a librarian lost in despair. 

In a recent interview Paul Bloom a Yale psychology professor made a distinction between empathy and compassion. Empathy, he pointed out, is taking on other’s emotions as our own. To be empathetic is to feel the pain of others as our own. Empathy can be exhausting and depleting. It can also be debilitating. Imagine, he pointed out, the oncologist that has to constantly feel the fear of her patients, or the social worker lost in feelings of hopelessness of his clients. 

Bloom argues that that doctor and that social work, need to be compassionate, not empathetic. You need to be compassionate and understand the struggles of those we serve but not be debilitated by it. Preserve your optimism and use it to lift up those around you. Your professional responsibility is not to suffer, but to prevent suffering. Your professional responsibility is not to despair, but to bring hope to the despondent. Seek out those in need and remember that what they need is assistance and support and celebration in addition to service and dedication.

Every great librarian I know has a story – a moment when they made a difference in someone’s lives. For some it is the glow in a child who has been shown the best book ever. For some it is the student who passed a class, or their part in a scientific breakthrough. They can be large moments or intimate connections, but they are all anchors. They anchor us to why we do this and an appreciation of the good we do.

Find your moment.

Never Neutral, Never Alone

“Never Neutral, Never Alone.” Transforming LIS education for professionals in a global information world: digital inclusion, social inclusion and lifelong learning IFLA Satellite Conference. Vatican City (via video).

Speech Text: Read Speaker Script

Abstract: Library science is getting harder to teach. The variety in libraries of all types is increasing as more and more mold themselves to their communities rather than field-wide norms. How can library science education change to meet the new variety, and the variety in a post-neutrality world.

Audio:

[This is the script I used for my talk. I’ve also taken the opportunity to add some foot notes and links.]

Never Neutral, Never Alone

August 22, 2019

It is time to have a frank conversation about LIS education. The problems with how we prepare librarians are often phrased as a gap between theory and practice. The argument goes that library schools are not producing graduates with a real-world practical skills; instead focusing on generalities and theory. This is a perennial argument, and if there was a library school in ancient Greece, I’m sure Dewey’s Socratic equivalent would be criticized for not preparing students to argue effectively in a marble building as opposed to a brick one.

This theory/practice gap, however, is not the real problem. The real problem is that no one knows what new librarians need in the second year of their career, much less their 25th. There is no common entry point, because there are fewer and fewer commonalities between libraries. As libraries of all types are organizing themselves around the local needs of a community – be it a town or a university or a school or a hospital, the differences in working environments for librarians is changing not only quickly, but diversely. What once was applying a standard set of reference skills to an owned set of databases, or applying cataloging skills to local classes and codes, is now about community outreach librarians knowing the unique culture of a city, or a user-experience librarian learning the realities of undergraduates in a particular school at a particular time.

The libraries that we hold out as global exemplars like Dokk1 in Aarhus, or LocHal in Tilberg, or San Giorgio in Pistoia, or the libraries at University of Michigan or there at the Vatican with its petabyte data center and global digitization initiatives are as diverse as they are impressive. No one school can prepare all starting librarians for all libraries. This doesn’t even consider the inclusion of archives, special collections and research services that are not even connected to traditional library institutions.

The standards and competencies we develop will continue to become more general, and more focused on lifelong learning and community engagement areas. Where once we could define cataloging skills down to the standard, we now must recognize that information organization can take the form of MARC, RDA, FRBR, Dublin Core, or just general concepts of the semantic web. Theories of classification still apply, and still must be taught, but the specific skills that accompany these skills are now purely illustrative. Where once we taught reference as a series of genres like atlases, and encyclopedias, today we teach learning theory and pedagogy. These are important areas to teach, but they will never meet the mark of first year practical skill.

Before I jump into thoughts on addressing this situation, let me say these are good problems to have. The reason there is no canon of skills is that librarianship is a vital and dynamic profession. The reason there is so much diversity in the field is because the need for librarianship is growing. The communities we seek to serve are becoming more diverse and varied because we are at least attempting to go beyond real barriers of class and race. If all we were doing was preparing spare parts for a handful of libraries that hadn’t changed in decades, our stable and satisfying curriculum would be the surest sign of the impending death of libraries.

No, the answer is not to try and develop a single standard for all, but to create continuous systems of learning that are agile, connected, and embedded. The library education of tomorrow, and increasingly, today, must smash the divide between the “real world” and the “academic.” It must also break the idea that one degree at the outset of a career is sufficient preparation for an entire lifetime of serving a community. Lastly, it must also fully embrace that we are preparing librarians, not library workers. And accept that librarians are not neutral, and must develop skills that are as much about resilience and self-examination as they are about how to run an organization.

Let me take these ideas in turn. I’ll begin with agility. What is an agile system of library education? It is one that is constantly seeking out not only best practices in librarianship, but innovative ones. It develops a curriculum and means of delivering that curriculum that are flexible and can be deployed quickly. One example of this is in Norway where the Akershus University College of Applied Science’s Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science holds a biannual conference for its alumni and other librarians. It is a chance to not only bring in the latest thinking from the field, but to connect and listen to graduates and what they need.

At the University of South Carolina, we are pairing every library science degree with a specialized certificate that documents areas of focus such as data science, health information and so on. However, we have structured the certificate so that the specialties can change from year to year. We see students getting certificates in artificial intelligence and librarianship, library construction and design, and service to refugee populations. The list of specialties will be long and change year to year, student to student, as the world these librarians seek to serve changes.

Which brings me to my second new “standard” for library science education – connected. I would love to say my faculty represented hundreds of specialists all expert in the latest develops in the field. They do not. They are scholars with specialties and a broad view of the field, with an ability to connect practice with larger concepts. However, our alumni and the institutions they work for, and that we partner with, do represent hundreds of specialists developing and deploying innovative services in communities across the globe. Library schools must be a part of creating a network of libraries directly engaged in the education of new librarians. 

This goes well beyond a set of adjuncts who teach a few classes, or internships, or field trips. We must develop a network of libraries that share both in the responsibilities of education and the funding of such systems. The library science school of tomorrow is truly a hub that delivers a core of library concepts and research skills, and then connects students with developing innovations in the field. Your faculty may be on the tenure track or working the reference desk. Your mentor may have the tile of professor, or librarian, or archivist, or programmer. The hub ensures rigor in the learning, but more importantly ensures cohesion in a student’s degree.

The dynamism in the library profession can be clearly seen in the enormous offerings of professional development. A librarian could spend a week just sitting in webinars and online workshops in just about any aspect of the library profession. Our library associations, our vendors, our universities, our publishers, our libraries are in the midst of an amazing creative rush of developing online education. However, there are no real attempts to coordinate and link all of these together into a coherent understanding of the field. Faculty in the library school of the future will spend as much, if not more time evaluating portfolios of these diverse online resources as they do teaching classes. The days when the expertise of a field was contained within a single library school are gone. The days when the totality of library expertise could be represented in a single faculty are gone. 

We must look to other models of how we prepare professionals, hence, “embedded.” That network of libraries and expertise we build must also be seen as places for residencies where we embed students for direct, contextualized learning. The advent of online education has made place irrelevant in many of our programs. You no longer have to move to Columbia to get our degree. However, in making this shift, we have also lost the power of place. We must now join the power of place with the flexibility of online. 

Students will no longer move to Columbia because that’s where the faculty are, they will move to Aarhus, and the Hague, and Taiwan, and Charleston because that’s where innovative practices are being formed. Taking a page from the medical residence, we are turning our network of partners into residency opportunities for our students. Libraries can use these residencies to attract the best new librarians to job openings, and the students gain authentic specialized knowledge on top of the core we provide. And hosting these residencies is an opportunity to expand the learning of the students to the learning of the whole organization.

In Charleston South Carolina, the local school district pays for 10 in-classroom teachers to get their master’s degrees and become school librarians. The funds for these cohorts are then re-invested in the school district. The tuition of the students pays for national speakers, onsite workshops, even open course development that are provided to the entire district. This creates a sustainable means of continuous library education well beyond the granting of a degree. By enrolling 10 teachers, the district enrolls the whole district in library school.

And what are these students learning in their residencies and in the network? They are learning to be librarians. Not people who work in a library, but a set of values, research skills, and a mission they will take with them to jobs in libraries, or the technology sector, or the banking sector, or government. They will be going into these libraries, and businesses and governments a point of view. They are not neutral deployers of skills, they are professionals on a quest to improve communities through learning. They will go not as parts of a system, but as advocates for inclusion, privacy, access, and openness.

In order to prepare these librarians, we must develop a curriculum of self-reflection and analysis. We must address, in the curriculum, self-care, vocational awe, resiliency, and self-awareness. These are not soft skills, but techniques that allow our librarians to assess, engage, and adapt to community needs and realities. It is no longer acceptable that we send out librarians into communities prepared to answer reference questions, but unable to process the poverty they may find there. It is no longer acceptable to train academic librarians to recognize gaps in the collection, but not to recognize student homelessness. It is no longer acceptable to train archivists who do not understand the politics inherent in controlling the memory of a community.

Analysis cannot be limited to the individual and introspection, however. Methods of analysis – of research- are necessary. No matter the environment our new librarians find themselves, they will need to know how to understand a community, how to assess services, how to collect, analyze, and protect data. Participation is a goal, and we shall never know how well we are matching that goal without instruction in research methods – instruction that is embedded in real communities with real questions, and contextualized methodologies. 

And so these are my new metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of a library science program:

Agility – what ongoing methods are in place to identify, evaluate, and prepare students for developments in a rapidly changing profession?

Connectedness – who are the partners networked with the program and its faculty to ensure direct connection of the classroom to the field?

Embeddedness – what are the program’s ability to deliver authentic field experiences to students that allow them to contextualize theory and research methods?

Resiliency – how prepared are librarians to face, understand- that is analyze-and solve the problems in a community in line with the professional mission and values of librarianship?

Today the librarians we prepare are building makerspaces, they are crunching masses of data in civic redevelopment projects, they are saving tweets for posterity, and housing masses of research data. Our graduates are delivering knowledge and food to rural communities left behind in an information economy. They are supporting the research of Nobel laureates and citizen scientists fighting for clean drinking water. They are fighting for access to the world’s knowledge in developing economies and bring dignity to marginalized communities. They need a strong platform to prepare them for this work and then support them throughout that work. Library science programs can be that foundation, but not alone. We must connect the innovative librarian stifled in a large bureaucratic library with an innovative librarian revolutionizing a small town a continent away. And connect them both to scholars and the means for continuous learning.

Library schools are a vital part of the reinvigorated library profession. Yet, just as we have seen the road to success for libraries is in adapting to and including the community, so too must our schools become open platforms orchestrating participation and adapting to the community of our alumni.

Thank you.

The Knowledge School: or Why Teaching Library Science is Getting Harder

“The Knowledge School: or Why Teaching Library Science is Getting Harder.” École de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l’information, Université de Montréal. Montreal, Canada.

Abstract: A school of thought represents a shared set of approaches, beliefs and values shared by a diverse set of players. A prime example is the Chicago School in architecture that wasn’t a department, but a shared vision of architects, engineers, and city planners. In this presentation, Lankes discusses the merging knowledge school and how it is shaping the field globally.

Slides: Slides in PDF

The Library as a Movement

A conversation between Marie Østergaard, Library Director Aarhus Public Libraries in Denmark and R. David Lankes, Director of the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science on the idea that the library is a movement of communities members, librarians, politicians, partners and more.

If you would rather just listen, here’s an MP3 version.

Audio only of the conversation

Reception at ALA

Davis College

If you are attending this year’s ALA Annual Conference in D.C. or are in the area please join the University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science for a reception celebrating great librarianship. Great librarianship exemplified by our alumni, faculty, students, and staff.

This year, we will also be celebrating the life of the great librarian and 2019 Margaret E. Monroe Library Adult Services Award winner Nicolette Sosulski, who passed away this year.

So, if you are an alumni, South Carolina librarian, friend of Nicolette, or just want to share some great company, please join us:

Friday June 21st. 6-8pm

The Loft at 600F 4th Floor (Retreat Room)

600 F St NW

Washington, DC  20004