Libraries Leading the New Normal

“Libraries Leading the New Normal.” Computers in Libraries 2021. Online.

Abstract: Insurrection, pandemic, racial awakening, climate crisis, a looming wealth gap. Libraries of all types are functioning in a time unlike any in history. What role can librarians play in times such as these? The answer must be to rebuild trust and reaffirm the foundations of our very democratic ideals one community at a time. Librarians must join with those we serve in forging a new normal that embraces diversity over division, collaboration over ideology, and seeks a unified equitable future. Doing so requires us to build a pragmatic agenda for a new normal based on a foundation beyond collections and access.

Slides: Slides in PDF

Librarians Building the New Normal

“Librarians Building the New Normal.” Brazilian Federation of Associations of Librarians, Information Scientists and Institutions Keynote. Via Video

Speech Text: Read Speaker Script or in Portuguese

Abstract: If librarians wish a better world, they have to make it better, not wait for it to happen.

Alternative Video: Use this link to watch the video with Portuguese captions plus listed the the questions and answers.

Audio:

Librarians Building the New Normal from R. David Lankes on Vimeo.

[This is the script I used for my talk typos and all.]

Greetings, and thank you for having me. I would like to thank Dr. Prado in particular, not only for the invitation, but also for being such a great collaborator over the years.

I see that the theme for today is “Libraries for a better world.” I have to tell you that after the past year, I could certainly use a better world right now. After this past year, a world without COVID would be nice. Without the isolation of the pandemic, without the loss, and the fear would be nice. A better world where public health is not intertwined with political ideologies. Where a mask is not a statement.

A better world where we don’t pit the economy against the environment and where the color of your skin or the place of your birth does not determine your future.

Continue reading “Librarians Building the New Normal”

Lankes Awarded Isadore Gilbert Mudge Award

Portrait, Isadore Gilbert Mudge, dated April 1897 and "circa 1932", Historical Photograph Collection, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Portrait, Isadore Gilbert Mudge, dated April 1897 and “circa 1932”, Historical Photograph Collection, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

I am humbled to be “selected as the 2021 winner of the Isadore Gilbert Mudge Award, the Reference and User Services Association’s highest honor. In recognition of his 30 years of visionary leadership in reference services; for his national leadership in virtual reference; for his ongoing work in expanding reference services to build stronger communities; and for his excellence as an LIS scholar.” RUSA Website

I have to give great thanks to the selection committee. I am also indebted to the incredible Joe Thompson (who should be the next winner) for nominating me.

I am proud to join a list of awardees with some of my reference heroes on it like Joe Janes, Marie Radford, Cheryl LaGuardia, Nancy Huling, David Tyckoson, Linda C. Smith, Joan C. Durrance, Anne Lipow, and William A. Katz.

Lankes Named Visiting Researcher at French National Library School ENSSIB

I am proud to announce that I have been appointed as a Visiting Researcher to ENSSIB (École Nationale Supérieure des Sciences de l’Information et des Bibliothèques), the national library school in France. Previous Visitors include: Marie Martel, professeur et bibliothécaire à l’université de Montréal and Michael Buckland, Professor Emeritus at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Information.

This year I’ll be working virtually with faculty and students to organize some master classes on the topic of post-neutrality librarianship and some other projects. Thanks to ENSSIB director Nathalie Marcerou-Ramel and to Raphaëlle Bats for this amazing opportunity. I can only hope enough folks get vaccinated for me to actually travel to Lyon in the fall.

To prevent confusion, this is in addition to my current position as professor and director of the iSchool at the University of South Carolina.

What is a Librarian

“What is a Librarian?” Newcomer Project Meeting. Video Conference for the Erasmus+ NEWCOMER Project.

Abstract: What skills are needed by a librarian is set by how you define a librarian.

How Libraries Can Help Us Make a More Perfect Union – The Long Version

On January 22nd Publisher’s Weekly published on OpEd of mine in their Soapbox. It was based on a longer piece I wrote on Facebook. Here is the longer version.

On January 6th insurrectionists invade the Capital in Washington DC to attempt to subvert the will of the American people by attempting to overturn the presidential election. They did so after a morning, and indeed, months of instigation founded on misinformation, false grievance, and a climate that increasingly defines politics as a pursuit of power over the judicious use of power at the behest of the people.

It has taken me several days to begin to make sense of this, to get over my anger, and to affirm for myself a way forward. For me, as an information scientist; as a director of an academic program that prepares librarians and information professionals; as an author and speaker, the way forward is clear: we must rebuild the civic and educational structures that bring communities together.

This is not a shocking conclusion. One could even rightly say it is a self-serving one. After all, as a scholar, educator, and author I am invested in the success of these institutions. However, I am invested because I continue to see their value and positive transformational potential.

I am invested because I have seen when libraries break out of the artificial bounds of collections and neutrality, they become instruments of community cohesion. I have seen libraries host difficult conversations on race. I have seen libraries bring together a people on issues of immigration. I have seen libraries fight for the poor, and the incarcerated, and the all too forgotten in attempts to remove the alien nature of neighbors. From drag queen story hours, to human libraries, to simply providing a collection that captures the value and richness of the human experience, our public libraries must continue to weave together a fragmented social fabric one person, one neighborhood, one nation at a time.

I am invested because I have not only seen for myself, but read study after study on the power school librarians in the education of our youth. I have seen dedicated educators in out school’s largest and most inclusive classrooms, school libraries, make a safe space for the marginalized. I have seen school librarians go beyond the limits of testing to engage children in true inquiry and spark the passion for learning. I have seen school libraries with books and makerspaces, and hydroponic gardens, and talent shows, and whole programs give students status and meaning in an education system all too often focused on outcomes and curricular standards. And I have seen school librarians from the cities and the states again and again and again sound the alarm that literacy in this era must be more than reading and arithmetic but understanding and the ability to interrogate messages and claims in the media, on the net, and in the very conversations we have as a nation. Alas, I have also too often seen these heroes and their programs cut based on the false premise that the only learning that occurs in a school is tied to a textbook.

I am invested because I have seen academic libraries and archivists not simply preserve our cultural heritage, but make it accessible and meaningful to their universities, and the world at large. I have seen stewards of the record of our history, with a degree, or without, force us all to honestly acknowledge a past of racism, bigotry, exclusion, and authoritarianism that does not simply inform our present, but is part of our present mechanisms of systemic racism and political ideologies. I have seen medical librarians ensure that today’s front-line health workers are prepared to face the savage reality of COVID and the savage reality of non-critical thinkers that dismiss science for adherence to political messaging. I have seen academic librarians dedicate themselves to prepare college students of this nation to do actual research, embracing Google and social media, but also the scholarly record, and the foment of investigation.

I am invested because I have seen the power of the information professional, the IT worker, the social media strategist, the data scientist when they are prepared with the ethical skills to complement their technical ones. I have seen the IT manager and the business process analysts ensure that we never see our fellow citizens as simply consumers or dopamine triggered users, but rather as human beings. Human beings that at their core seek safety and certainty and meaning in their lives – and when an unjust society deprives them of means of engaging in the democracy and the economy, they have no choice but to turn to demagogues who mask narcissism in patriotism, and self-interest in twisted visions of greatness.

The future of this nation is not the sole property of a political party. The future of this nation is in the capabilities and education of its citizens. Again and again and again we see that when “enemies” come together in honest and civil conversations – when they are exposed to “the other”- they find commonality. It is too easy to hate through a screen, particularly when the person on the other end may not be a person at all.

My own work seeks to better understand the role of librarians in society. As part of that I have come to the conclusion that there is no neutrality in the work of information. All views are not equal, all visions for the future are not the same nor must they presented in an unbiased or equal fashion. A vision of the future where elections are overturned by the group most willing to tear down social norms and resort to violence is not as valid as a future where righteous protest over inequity are protected. A future where profit drives national narratives and is preferred over community forums of civic engagement is not the right future. A future where libraries and schools are restricted to providing only a prepackaged version of “objective belief,” must be rejected. In its place we must all embrace and prepare for a complex world where human desire for meaning must temper a baser desire for power and exclusion.

I am invested in the success of libraries, and schools, and academia because I believe they are the essential social infrastructure to move us past the dark actions of January 6th. I ask that we all invest in them and ensure our voices are heard and our democracy strengthened. I am not asking us all to magically agree, but to agree that it is through debate and seeking fair and equitable mechanisms (elections, governance, education) that we will be great. And I am asking us all to acknowledge that we are not there yet. I am asking us to invest not in a person or a party, but in our neighbors whatever their color, or whoever they love, or however they identify themselves.

I also acknowledge that I am making this request from a place of privilege and economic stability. I am making this request on lands taken from indigenous people, and I am asking for peaceful revision to a system that all too often used violent means to suppress people of color.

This country was founded with the following words:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

These words were a mission, not a statement of fact. It was the starting point…we did not form a perfect Union, we formed a government to seek one out. We, as a nation, a colonizing power, a slave owning nation, an imperfect collection of very fallible human beings, put in writing not some statement of success, but of aspiration. An aspiration that we MUST continue today. WE ARE NOT A PERFECT UNION. We will never be a perfect union because the definition of such a thing will change with the advent of new understandings of physics that can enlighten or build bombs; with new medical capabilities that both save lives and bankrupt those unable to pay for them; with new understandings of sexuality and gender that can both liberate and evoke fearful condemnation; and, yes, with new technology that can connect mankind and allow the worst of our human nature to seek out its peers.

I am invested in seeking out a more perfect union, and believe such a pursuit begins with equitable education, information, and conversation.

School Library Research + Teaching Fellowship

THRILLED to announce apps are open for a school library research + teaching fellowship at the University of South Carolina iSchool. Get your PhD and impact our profession as a school library professor! Study/research with scholars that make up the best school library program in the country.

For more information go to https://tinyurl.com/slrfellow

Applications are open for school library research and teaching fellowship

The discipline of school librarianship is continually enriched by strong partnerships between research and practice. At the University of South Carolina School of Information Science, the development of research and scholarship that investigates the structural and societal inequalities impacting school librarianship and K-12 education is a key initiative. The School Library Research and Teaching Fellowship Program aims to fund a student who is committed to development as a school library researcher and educator.

The iSchool at the University of South Carolina Doctoral Program

This research-intensive degree prepares student scholars for careers at universities, research centers and private businesses. Our students distinguish themselves in advancing the ways people and organizations create and use information.

Our students demonstrate excellence in:

  • Nurturing critical and reflective thinking on the fundamental problems related to using information.
  • Fostering an environment of successful mentoring.
  • Preparing scholars who are passionate about the role of information in human affairs.
  • Fostering cross-disciplinary thinking with research and academic expectations.
  • Mastering the literature and practices in the broad field of information science.
  • Developing in-depth knowledge in their specialty field.
  • Developing profound skills of synthesis and analysis of research. 

Read more about the Ph.D. program»

Applicant Requirements and Preferences

In addition to all standard Ph.D. application requirements, School Library Research and Teaching Fellowship applicants must hold an MLIS from an ALA-accredited institution and have a minimum of three years of experience as a school librarian in a United States K-12 school. Preference will be given to applicants who promote diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, and differently abled representation in school library education.

Expectations and Funding

The school library program at the University of South Carolina is a nationally recognized preparation program for school librarians, ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the number 5 school library certification program in the nation. Our fully online, 36-credit hour program is the only school library program in South Carolina preparing students nationwide. The large majority of our students are classroom teachers, and our enrollment has seen a 44.5 percent increase from 2017 to 2020. School library faculty are internationally recognized educators and researchers who currently oversee federally funded research and training efforts through the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Library of Congress.

The School Library Research and Teaching Fellow will be expected to participate in a robust preparation program for school library education and research, teaching two classes per semester under the supervision of school library faculty for the first two years of the award. In the third year, the recipient will participate in school library research efforts in preparation for a career as a school librarianship focused LIS scholar. The award provides training in online higher education course design and delivery, and three years of guaranteed funding; two years as a Graduate Student Teaching Assistant, and one year as a dedicated Research Fellow. The recipient of this award will also receive a healthcare stipend, full tuition for up to 18 hours per academic year, and a $30,000 a year stipend, with the option to apply for additional years of funding if needed.

Apply Now

Fall 2021 Ph.D. applications in Library and Information Science for the School Library Research and Teaching Fellowship are currently open. To be considered for admission, prospective student scholars should complete the following by March 1, 2021:

For More Information

For more information on the application process or to connect with faculty and current students, contact George Fetner, Manager of Student Recruitment at 803.777.5067 or fetnerg@email.sc.edu.

Starting the Spring Semester and Bringing Light

I sent the following message this morning to the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the iSchool here at South Carolina.

I am writing you from my office in Davis Hall. It is the morning of January 11 – the first day of classes for the Spring ’21 semester. Right now, I’m the only one here, a result of the reality around the pandemic. This semester we have no in person classes – though we will be setting up a regular in-person undergraduate joint study session soon. This semester we continue to adapt to a global pandemic.

Davis Hall Ready for the Semester

I also have to admit, that after the events of January 6 in the U.S. Capitol Building, I was not anxious to have a government building unattended. It is frankly horrifying that in classes where we are studying the global realities of the pandemic, the historic Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice, and the effects of the economic realities of the pandemic on communities, we must add armed insurrection. And yet, here we are. Our faculty, staff, students, and alumni are suffering and attempting to come to terms with a world that seems out of control.

In college I had a professor who taught an evening class. He said how he always loved teaching evening courses in the Spring because they would begin the semester in darkness, and by the end light would fill the classroom as summer approached. We too can see ourselves at the beginning of this semester in the darkness of winter, and we are seeking out the light. However, it won’t be a matter of simply waiting for the Earth to turn on its axis, but rather through action. We bring about the light by embracing our mission at the iSchool: to bring meaning and justice to communities through information and knowledge. 

We do this through our teaching. We share the skills and foundations for how organizations use information resources in serving people in ethical ways. We teach librarians, web designers, business analysts, future faculty, and future information professionals. This teaching, really a partnership of learning, continues to mesh skills with perspective and highlighting all of our commitment to a more just and equitable society. 

We do this through research, discovering new aspects of the human condition in a world of connection, data, and information resources. 

We do this in our K-12 classrooms as school librarians empowering our youth with critical literacy skills and a sense of passion for continuous learning.

We do this in public institutions – public libraries, government departments, and as citizens engaging in the democratic process – by ensuring transparency, by building knowledge platforms empowering citizens to find meaning, and by constantly refreshing, reifying, and reinvesting in democracy itself. Democracy, as we know, doesn’t live in documents and laws, but in the common commitment of the governed to seek out the community good.

We do this in universities and archives. We not only preserve the past, but ensure that a living past is not forgotten and informs our future. We provide vital support to scholars and faculty taking on the pandemic, on issues of systemic racism, and inventing new technologies.

We do this in business, academia, schools, colleges, government, and in our neighborhoods. 

This past week, and indeed this past year, have seen dark times. They are getting darker. COVID cases are rising, innocent Black citizens still face unequal justice, our fellow Americans and my fellow citizens of the world are losing jobs and the security of a home. It is easy, and even understandable, that in the face of overwhelming challenges we feel lost, or hopeless, or alone. You are not alone. For 50 years this school has sought to build and empower a community – a network of professionals dedicated to bringing light to the darkness of ignorance.

Through collections, and computers, and social media, and data mining, we have been part of a half century preparation for just this time. We send out a kickass chicken into the most under-resourced schools of the state to encourage literacy. We manage libraries – engine of innovation and service in San Francisco, Vermont, Santa Barbara, Charleston, Columbia, Lexington, Oxford and throughout the world, and we will continue to do so. We have alumni in DC and insurance agencies, state government, and startups that are part of a network committed to a better tomorrow. We are woven throughout the fabric of the nation, and now is the time for us to pull together and bring the light.

If you need support, encouragement, or simply someone to listen, please reach out. And if you have the strength, reach out to your fellow students, your fellow alumni, and show them we are together.

I know we will have a strong and successful semester. That, however, is not enough. We must ensure that we have a strong and successful nation. Let us bring the light.

One Last Little Lecture

One of my favorite parts of the school year is the hooding we do for newly minted MLIS grads in the spring and fall. I’ve gotten into a tradition of giving one last little lecture at each. I created a video of this year’s for those who couldn’t make it, and am sharing it widely.

First the video, then the script.

Congratulations on this great step into your future… we just have time for one last little lecture. Because this moment is no doubt not how you imagined it. A zoom’ed hooding was not a normal thing just a year ago.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about – what is normal. Because like it or not, it is a question that will be at the center of your job for the next several years. In your classes you have been taught skills to organize information, to find information, to use information to help people find meaning in their lives and for communities to make smarter decisions. All of those skills, however, are ultimately about creating normality. How the world organizes itself, the data it collects about its operations and the choices it makes based on that data is what we come to see as normal.

Things that we take as par for the course today – opinion polls, economic numbers, credit scores – are information creations of the past century. And we see the often grim new normal of data and collected information being formed around us today: positivity rates, mortality numbers, public acceptance of disinformation. This information can be used to enlighten such as exposing the outsized effect of the pandemic on communities of color. How information is organized and disseminated can also be used to blind: attacks on our very democracy masked as benign legal maneuvers.

Make no mistake, what is and will be normal, is a choice. Not just a choice as to what people expect or accept, but in what you will do and advocate for. It is the librarians, information professionals, educators, data analysts, and researchers that you are now that will shape the new normal. It is your unique combination of skills and ethical center that must fight disinformation and reweave the connective tissue of our communities and our very democracy.

You will do this person by person, neighbor by neighbor, student by student. You will do this by never accepting that people – children, mothers, brothers, flawed and glorious all – can be reduced to a stream of data or flattened to consumers. You will do this through difficult conversations in person and in print and in Zoom. Conversations on race, on ideology, on the very nature of truth. You will do this not by being neutral, but by being transparent and an example of knowledge informed by data and information, but more importantly by your humanity.

Today we celebrate – tomorrow we begin the work of forging a new normal where Black Lives Matter. Where the fate of a student in rural South Carolina is never determined by the zip code of their birth. Where the access to life saving medical treatment is not tied to the size of a bank account, and where borders never limit the span of our imagination or friendship.

This is your last lesson then. The true value of your degree, and your education is never determined by the diploma you receive, but by the communities you improve.