Greetings Readers and users of the Atlas of New Librarianship, I need your thoughts. Next year is the 10th anniversary of its publishing. I’ve been talking with my editor at MIT Press and have a couple of options.
1. Ignore it. 2. Write a new foreword and perhaps a nice on the cover, or 3. Develop a second edition.
And here’s where I need your honest input.
A second edition would be a lot of work (it would have to be submitted by the end of the summer), but would it be useful, particularly with the New Librarianship Field Guide out there now? I know some of you use the Atlas for classes, so I am really interested in your opinion.
In August the University of South Carolina Columbia campus will welcome students back for the Fall semester. I will be there to welcome them. That is not an extraordinary sentence in most times, but, as we have all become sick of hearing, these are not most times.
You see, I have every reason not to be there. A new cancer diagnosis in 2017 led to a second bone marrow transplant in 2018. Two years may sound like a long time to recover, but unlike my first bone marrow transplant in 2014, this last one was a donor match and at this point in my recovery my oncologist estimates my immune system at about 25% of normal.
In early March when I asked him what would happen if I contracted the coronavirus his reply was succinct, “you would probably survive, but you would be very sick.” That was early days for this pandemic. His conclusion has not changed.
The university says I don’t have to be there. They have been clear that it is my choice to be on campus, just like it is the choice for students, staff, and faculty. I very much appreciate that choice. But, I will still be there.
The class I will be teaching is online. All of our graduate classes are, and our faculty teaching our undergraduate classes have plenty of experience teaching online. Looking at the teaching evaluations from this last semester, one might ask “what pandemic?” No scores were out of line with previous semesters. In the dozens of classes I looked at I found 4 mentions of moving online – and the only negative one was about how this student wished non-iSchool classes went as smoothly. My faculty doesn’t need me to help them in their classes. But I will still be there.
I love my job because of the people I work with. Staff and faculty left offices over spring break and haven’t been back since. However, not for one minute has the work of the school lagged or been derailed. GoToMeeting, emails, texts, and phone calls have demonstrated that my staff can do their work remotely and well. My staff doesn’t need me there to monitor them. But I will still be there.
I will be there wearing a mask. I will be there with hand sanitizer at the ready. I will wipe surfaces. I will stand 6 feet apart. I will be there because I am asking people I am responsible for to be there if they so choose. I will be there because I would never ask someone to do what I am unwilling to do.
This may seem like a lot of bluster for “so you’re going to do your job?” I get it. But the reason I write this is because we are at a very vulnerable point. A point of closing optimism.
I wrote on April 30 about a New Normal Agenda for Libraries in which I called upon all of us to help create an optimistic new normal for our communities. To ensure that a post-pandemic world was better than before – founded on correcting the fractures and disparities put on vivid display by this crisis: Truly bridging a digital divide where the internet is a utility for all. Working to reform a copyright system based on profit over knowledge creation. Expanding democratic participation, workforce preparation, and standing ready in times of crisis.
In literally the two weeks since I wrote that I have seen a rise of conspiracy theories and denying the very trauma we are living through. I have seen armed protestors defining liberty in the absence of personal and social responsibility. I have seen old political divisions intent on scoring points and raising poll numbers in the face of a generational wakeup call that screams for unity. I have seen times that try a world’s soul result not in calls for cooperation and equity, but in heated arguments on who can make who wear a God damned mask at Costco. Wear a God damned mask.
It has been a dark two weeks for me. And then I began to talk with librarians either opening their libraries or developing plans to do so. I have seen the Facebook posts and Tweets and petitions that libraries should just remain closed and there is no safe way to open. I get it. I would like to agree. To be clear I do agree that simply reopening libraries as they were in some sense of vocational awe or moral obligation is wrong. But that’s not what the librarians I have been talking to, watching, working with are doing. What these folks have shown me is that optimism without pragmatism is as empty as liberty without sacrifice. To get to that New Normal agenda, we have some hard and frankly frightening, and dangerous work to do. Not just in libraries or universities, but across the country.
The librarians I have been talking to are not only fully aware of the risks of opening, even for limited service, they are driven by it. The plans they have shared and put in place, often as a direct response to larger municipal and state mandates, are thoughtful, and, most importantly, collaboratively developed. They have been built on CDC guidelines. WHO guidelines. Guidance from universities. They have been reviewed, amended, and approved by unions, staff, and public health officials. They minimize contact between member and staff, between staff and staff, between staff and materials. They require social distancing, personal protective equipment, and security – like physical security for those who feel their right to infect others outweighs their responsibilities to wear a mask. They have circuit breaker provisions that close services and protect library workers in case of new outbreaks. They make provisions for high risk employees. And to a one, they include shared risk by all levels of an organization. All of them also continue to drive innovation and true community-centered virtual service that continues to demonstrate that libraries are about communities not just things we can loan out.
The reason I am writing this, sharing this, is because these conversations have shown me that my unique and privileged position requires me to be on the record. If those that I educate and collaborate with are required to state their position, then I am so obligated. Just as if I am going to support my university reopening the campus, I am obligated to risk my own health and be there (and work like hell to keep myself and everyone else healthy).
Here’s what we know. The virus is not going away. Sheltering at home flattened a curve and continuing evidence-based hygiene and social distancing precautions saves lives. We need massive, cheap, quick, and readily available testing now everywhere. Even when a vaccine is developed, it will have to overcome a number of obstacles, not the least of which is an anti-vaxxer movement that by all rights should simply disappear in the face of a global pandemic. We know that this pandemic and the resulting economic collapse has put our most vulnerable citizens, especially people of color and the poor at greatest risk. And we know that professionals dedicated to increasing societal knowledge and equity are vital not just online, but in the trenches. We also know that a second wave of infection is likely and we cannot be rash and undo the sacrifice of the past months.
But here’s what else I know. I know that the point of closing optimism must became the point of opening pragmatism or it became the moment of despair. I know that what frightens me more than the virus is a return to a nation divided, unresponsive to those in need, and all too often given to willful ignorance.
Some will criticize me for calling for a cautious reopening. I respect their opinion and continue to be open to conversation. If nothing else I hope this post shows my thinking and continued evolution on the topic. I know some may take these words as a sort of call for removing all restrictions or as a belief that everything is safe now – don’t. Such a reading is just dishonest at best. Let us all acknowledge the complexity of this situation and not be drawn into the trap of flattening narratives into right and wrong, good and bad, open and close. It was that thinking that got us here to begin with.
If you can stay home, for God’s sake stay home. If you have to go out to feed your family, to get medical treatment, to ensure our society still functions, please do so safely. If you don’t need that book, don’t do curbside pickup. If you learn well online, don’t come to campus. If you need to protest, wear a mask not a gun. But if you need a place to sleep or to get out of a dangerous home situation, or for your well-being you need to connect to people in md-August, I’ll be there to open the doors. If you need to connect to the internet to continue your education or keep your job or keep our government accountable, I’ll be there pushing for a new normal.
This week the scheduled Real Time sessions ended at librarian.SUPPORT. While it wasn’t intended to, the series of discussions and presentations really sparked some ideas for libraries moving forward. I suppose it was inevitable as we started with Matt Finch talking about scenario and foresight planning. On the Real Time session with Sari Feldman, Hallie Rich, and Galen Schuerlin we talked about advocacy and connecting to communities in a time of pandemic. As part of that we had a little discussion of the phrase “The New Normal.” It’s a phrase that’s right up there with “in trying times like these,” in the “speed to cliché.”
We were noting that it is almost always presented in a negative frame. That is the new normal is expressed as what we will lose – loss of jobs, loss of budget, loss of human contact, etc. But what if we looked at in the positive frame…what is it that we want to be normal after this pandemic? We all acknowledge that things are going to change, I feel an obligation and an urgency to shape that change.
What is our agenda as librarians and the libraries we run on behalf of our communities?
Before I list my proposed items for that agenda, I ask a favor: keep reading. I want to explain where these come from, but more importantly, why having an affirmative and proactive agenda for libraries is vital. This cannot be about trying to predict where things are going to shake out and then running to show our value in that world. It has to be about librarians fighting for social change based on our fundamental and enduring values. There is no doubt that the “how” of libraries will change. I feel now (prepare for another cliché) more than ever the “why cannot.”
I will also emphasize that this is an agenda for the impact libraries should seek collectively. That is, it is not an agenda for how we run or operate libraries (though there will be obvious impacts). This is an agenda for libraries to work toward for a new normal in our communities. How we get there (open access, improved working condition for library workers, new standards for library science education, etc.) is vital and important, but I feel separate.
As one example, we must lobby and work toward universal broadband. This comes from our enduring value of access to information. Yet the pandemic has shown us that the way libraries to this point have worked for universal access, that is by being internet points of connection with WiFi in our facilities or loaning out cellular hotspots is no longer enough. We have to leave our buildings and ensure real national resources and policy is in place so our provision of the internet in the library is completely irrelevant. A big change to how, but not to why.
So what do I see as an agenda for a New Normal that libraries must work toward?
Universal Broadband: Sheltering at home and closing schools and libraries has demonstrated that the internet must be a utility and available to all. The digital divide is wide, unjust, and the damage it is causing in this pandemic age is only highlighting the ongoing damage lack of access has caused for decades to rural and low income families and citizens. Some things to work toward:
Classify and regulate the internet as a utility
Build out rural access to broadband, including transforming libraries into Internet Service Providers
Remove data caps
Restore network neutrality
Workforce Development and Training: At no time in our history have so many people been out of work and the unemployment rate rivals the Great Depression. While we all hope that will change rapidly once lockdowns have been lifted (though that will take many months to complete) there is an acute need now to support people looking for jobs and re-skilling. Libraries must work with higher education, other government agencies, and the private sector to not only get people back to work, but help people find a place in a new knowledge economy.
Deploy adult education services like high school equivalency
Ensure certified school libraries in K-12 schools to ensure literacy skills needed for vocational education as well as college preparation
Team with higher education to support online learners in physical spaces
Provide single service access points to government workforce services
Provide permanent addresses and registration services for social welfare programs
Develop strong prison library services including transition to community connections
Expanding Voter Access to Democratic Participation: Voting is crucial to a well-functioning democracy but is insufficient for a healthy democracy (representative or direct). Eligible citizens must have access to the ballot and access to information on the issues and candidates they are voting on. They must also have transparency in the working of government at all levels to ensure it is the will of the people (all the people) being carried out. Libraries should be a safe place for contentious debate, and facilitators of a community dialog about the future and greater good.
Develop active voter registration and identification services
Host public forums on key community issues
Develop and maintain community strategic priorities
Ensure the Health and Well Being of Our Communities: In the immediate future, librarians must be key partners to public health in developing contact tracing efforts. The goal of contact tracing shouldn’t just be about surveillance, it must be about service. Librarians have not only a background in collecting and organizing information, they do so in a principled way that values privacy and is devoted to service. Librarians have a trusted relationship with their communities. When someone is sick, it is not just about finding out who they have been in contact with, it is keeping them home which means access to food and the outside world. Libraries cannot only track the infected but provide comfort and support.In a longer-term libraries need to form tight partnerships with mental and physical health agencies to guide community members to needed resources.
Provide service-oriented contact tracing services to town, county, and state health departments
Form partnerships with physical and mental health services and partners
Provide forums highlighting wellness programs and ensure such programs protect community privacy
Essential Crisis Response Capacity: In hurricanes, flooding, and civil unrest libraries have provided vital services to communities (academic, school, public, special, all types of libraries). The same must be true in this pandemic where our buildings cannot be a refuge. This pandemic has shown that the essential things in a crisis are food, water, medicine, and information.
Build in emergency provisions to the copyright law to allow for rapid research access to relevant scholarship on a crisis topic (virology for example) and continued education services to home bound citizens
Build citizen information services that not only disseminate trustworthy information on a crisis, but verifies the information and provides community feedback to decision makers
A few notes on these goals before we proceed. Libraries cannot achieve these goals alone. They all require strong alliances with government, industry, not for profits, and citizen participation. These may be part of our New Normal Library Agenda, but they are for the betterment of communities, not advancing libraries. While these are not ideological, they are political, and we should not pretend to be neutral in our goals. The right and the left can argue about how we achieve universal broadband (government policy like eRate or market forces and competition), but we must demand practical approaches to getting it done. The market has gone so far in say universal broadband, but as we saw with rural electrification in the Great Depression, government has to step forward. Lastly, these need to be done in alignment with our professional ethics – striving for diversity and inclusion first and foremost.
Librarians now must answer questions on tax preparation, the census, employment support, and a host of government services. All too often we stretch tight resources ever farther, and risk being a place to answer all questions…poorly. We must partner and advocate to fill these gaps. To build strong partnerships, we must be clear on what we value and what we contribute.
Effective librarianship means acknowledging our strengths and what we bring to the table. It also means advocating for the well-being of our communities beyond our doors and functions. Health information is not just the role of medical librarians, it is the role of the library to bring the health department with community health advocates. Why health and not just focus on “knowledge and learning?” Well, as is clear from Maslow’s hierarchy, people are not able to lean if they are scared, hungry, and sick. To ignore the need to keep people healthy, our mission on learning and community is hollow. Public libraries are not viable institutions if the community is unemployed and without taxes. We have seen this clearly in the English libraries where volunteer libraries have repeatedly demonstrated the need for professional librarians and real budgets. In effect to protect our self-interest, we must protect our communities.
Libraries can no longer pretend we are apart from the full spectrum of needs in the community, that we can remain neutral in the face of inequity that divides these communities, nor can we pretend that we can be the fabled savior acting alone to save communities…we are our communities. Librarians are citizens, voters are stewards of collections, experts are part of our true collection. To say we are about literacy and not partner with teachers means our dedication is to what we do, not what needs to be done from the perspective of the community. To say we are about community and only be a source of ebooks in a pandemic is hypocrisy. Yes, our fellow citizens need ebooks, but they need compassion, connection, and community dedicated to their full well-being.
A new normal is coming. Will this new normal be founded on what we lost, or what we seek to gain?
In the dark ages of European history, people lived literally in the ruins of the Roman Empire. Every day as they sought to survive disease, famine, and violence they were reminded of what they no longer had. It paralyzed societal development. It took a renaissance that respected and learned from the past, but confidently (and yes arrogantly at times) was dedicated to moving forward.
Will our new normal be libraries half empty by social distancing, or community hubs that extend beyond our socially distanced footprint to the kitchens and living rooms of every one of our community members? Will we tell of the time when we provided internet access in our buildings to over 90% of US citizens, or will we tell the tales of how we won with our allies universal access for all? Will we wait for a vaccine as our staff gets furloughed, cars park in our parking lots for WiFi, and we endanger our most valuable assets, our staff, in curb side drop offs? Or will we partner with departments of health, technology companies, and foundations to ensure disease is tracked and the sick are cared for?
We must fight for a new normal with our collections, our buildings, but mostly, with our expertise. Librarians by title, by education, or by spirit must bring about a new normal that pushes ahead society. It must minister to those seeking meaning. It must support better decision making in the wake of this pandemic and in preparation for the next crisis.
Greetings all. I think it is useful for folks to share what we learn as we travel. We can identify broader opportunities and learn about a broader landscape than we could on our own.
The past two weeks I have been in Europe. On the 15th and 16th of January I was part of two meetings. The first was with a group called Public Libraries 2030. It is a not for profit created to promote and support public libraries in Europe. They have built up an impressive roster of elected representatives to the EU Parliament that pledge to support libraries.
PL2030 also runs a number of funded projects with backers like the EU, Google, and Microsoft. They host an annual gathering for librarians and members of parliament called Generation Code: Born at the Library that is an interactive exhibition showcasing the top innovative digital exhibits from public libraries across the EU.
Aside from a general update meeting, we were writing up an Erasmus + proposal around building mentorship and projects for new librarians (with an opportunity for our students to participate).
The second meeting was with the Royal National Library of the Netherlands, the Berlin Public Library, several library organizations in the Netherlands, and Italy. We discussed setting up a system of projects across the EU on common themes that would also train new librarians and library science students principles of community-centered librarianship.
While I was there I also met with the instructor of a course in Community Librarianship that we at the University of South Carolina have teamed up with on the professional development front.
These projects have special significance for the Netherlands as they no longer have any library science degree programs. Hopefully something like this could serve as a foundation for one.
Thanks to School of Library and Information Science Fellow Erik Boekesteijn and to Lily Knibbeler Director General of the National Library for hosting us.
I also had the great joy of seeing the first draft of the Dutch version of the New Librarianship Field Guide (already sold out) and some of the students that are using it as a textbook. Special thanks to Gert Staal for his work in translating the book!
This week I have been in Norway. I was invited to speak at the wrap up conferences for two very interesting and important projects.
The first was a project across Scandinavia and Germany to study the effects of “digitization” on the public sphere called ALMPUB. Digitization here is not about scanning documents, but converting analog functions to digital like paying taxes, getting government information, e-commerce and the like.
Since 2016 the project team has been reviewing policies, conducting surveys and doing anthropological observation of folks in Libraries Archives and Museums. I strongly urge you to read the following report. It shows that as digital requirements have accelerated, so have use of analog public service agencies like libraries, museums, and archives. One hypothesis is increased digital has people seeking out the physical aspects of community.
Audunson, R., Aabø, S., Blomgren, R., Evjen, S., Jochumsen, H., Larsen, H., Rasmussen, C., Vårheim, A., Johnston, J. and Koizumi, M. (2019), “Public libraries as an infrastructure for a sustainable public sphere: A comprehensive review of research”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 4, pp. 773-790. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-10-2018-0157
One of the highlights of the trip was to meet, dine, and talk with the great Professor Ragnar Audunson of OSLOMet.
A VERY interesting thing that is happening in Scandinavia; the library legislation that mandates public libraries in Norway and Finland both have convening and facilitating “democratic conversations” as part of the law. Public libraries of all sizes are currently building projects and programs to meet the mandate. It should be very interesting to watch.
While in Oslo I got to tour the newly renovated branch libraries and the new central public library.
The two branches we visited had experienced 200% usage jumps after the renovations. The first was all about light and openness.
The second branch was all about being a living room and club in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood. Karen Gavigan would have loved it. A large part of the collection (like up to 70%) were graphic novels. They hosted an annual con there as well as two stages set up for live performances and music. The upstairs was dedicated to kids. Thee two libraries demonstrated in the most beautiful way how libraries should reflect their communities.
Then it was off to the new central library being built (I wasn’t allowed to take pictures because this is for the people of Oslo and they are really the first to experience it – love that). It is an amazing structure. However, what I found interesting was that only 50% of the collection from the former central library will be making the move. The rest have been handed to the National Library if they want them. The plan, by the way, is not to make room for newer materials, the plan is for a collection at the halved size going forward.
My last day in Oslo I gave a lecture to the library science program there (also an iSchool). They are talking about the fact that libraries are not required to hire librarians (those with a bachelors or masters) and some libraries are hiring folks from other fields (not familiar at all huh). They were very interested in the new curriculum we developed at SLIS both the process and the outcome, and the idea of a core course around communities.
My last stop in Norway was for a project funded by the National Library of Norway and headed up by the Tønsberg and Notteroy public library (about 1 1/2 hours by train south of Oslo). Libraries across the country surveyed the general population about where they got their information. It then examined the current tools and methods reference libraries use in answering questions. Lastly it engaged a marketing firm to think about a campaign around information consultants/reference librarians. The hope is possibly to build a national reference service.
I cannot express to you just how amazing the Tønsberg public library and those that work there are. It is literally built on the site of a former monastery and viking graveyard. The have kept the foundation stones for the monastery as a feature of the building, and carved replicas of the viking funeral boats into the floor. It is an amazing example of incorporating and honoring their past with their future.
A very special thank you to Britt Sanne and director Tone Eli Moseid (who introduced me to the life of a viking).
So there you are. I really think I am in love with Norway and certainly with the Norwegian library community. Thank you all for your hospitality. Apologies for errors and omissions – just let me know and I’ll fix them.
“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).
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.
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.
“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.