One Last Lecture

At Carolina’s School of Information Science graduate hooding ceremony to I give one last lecture:

I will not be the first nor the last to point out that you are graduating at a unique point in history. A time when people are talking about a reopening. A sometimes halting, undoubtedly uneven, and often inequitable reopening of society. It is easy to look ahead to this reopening, to the time after you graduate, to the time of vaccines. This is good, and you have certainly earned it. But I ask you to also reflect on the year that has just passed. I ask you to do this because it will be a time that will drive this nation in the coming decade and as librarians, as information professionals, you form the vital memory of our nation.

For all this past year has been one of loss. For too many the loss of a loved one, friend, or colleague. But for all a loss of certainty. In this past year a pandemic made us question the safety of our neighbors, the choices of our community, and the tenuous nature of health care in this nation. In the past months an insurrection at the Capital made us question the strength of our democracy, of our own ideals, and of the intention of our leaders. The murder of black men at the hands of police have made us question our own role in eliminating racism, in our privilege, and in the foundations of our civic institutions.

Continue reading “One Last Lecture”

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.

iSchool 2020 year in review

Greetings iSchool community,

Today is the last day of a semester that often felt like a sprint. We all nervously watched the COVID-19 Dashboard in August and read the stories of pool parties and thought for sure we would close the campus. But the numbers fell, the mitigation procedures worked, and we carried through. The school has had a few close calls, but we remain healthy. As we come out of Thanksgiving and into the holiday season, we do indeed have much for which to be thankful. 

We can be thankful for growing applications and enrollments in the MLISprogram. The investments of the past year in our reputation, our curriculum and in marketing the program are paying off. We can be grateful that our BSIS program enrollment has remained steady despite worries of dramatic reductions in on-campus enrollment. And we are seeing our BSIS grads getting high-paying jobs. We can be thankful that our Ph.D. program has just undergone a long developed program policy revision.

And our academic programs have not simply maintained but are growing. We approved significant changes to our gradate certificate, allowing students to get a specialized certificate along with their MLIS. The first specialization is in equity, diversity and inclusion and starts in the spring semester. Development of specializations in public, academic and data science are all underway building on our commitment and continued investment in the school library certification. The faculty also approved the creation of a new joint master’s in data communications with our colleagues in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. This will be the first college-wide joint degree.

We are thankful to begin a search for a new faculty position, focusing on the intersection of race, data, media and society. The new professor will join a faculty with a growing track record in research productivity and funding. This year we have multiple faculty awarded grants from IMLS — including the prestigious Early Career program at IMLS — and the Library of Congress.

New efforts in public scholarship like a podcast and regular column with Publishers Weekly join an impressive array of grants, peer-reviewed articles, book publications and conference participation. According to Academic Analytics, we rank ranked third among our peer iSchools for total number of books published by faculty and fourth in terms of the percentage of a faculty having published a book. That success continues with new projects under contract with MIT Press, Rowman & Littlefield and ALA Editions. And our works have been translated into French, German, Italian, Dutch and Spanish, with Arabic and Chinese on their way.

Our faculty continue to work internationally. We are part of an ERASMUS+ grant in the European Union and a British study for the World Intellectual Property Association. Our faculty have presented at conferences like ALA, ALISE, ASIS&T, the iConference and IFLA. We have presented to bodies such as the Advisory Group for the National Strategy for Public Libraries in Scotland, and the National Library of New South Wales in Australia strategic planning group. 

We are thankful for a public scholarship agenda always seeking to increase an already impressive impact within the South Carolina community. Even in a pandemic, the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy has brought Cocky’s Reading Express to thousands of children online, with a mayor, a university president and even “trombone guy” demonstrating the importance of literacy. SCCCL has secured tens of thousands of dollars to continue to distribute books, provide professional development in diversity in literacy, and even deliver mental health training to the citizens of the state. 

We can be very proud as well as thankful that this semester we put real action and resources behind the school’s standing commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. The work of the Augusta Baker Endowed Chair, with public lectures and conversations, is joined by new Spectrum scholarshipsto recruit and support diverse MLIS students and the development of new diversity fellowships with the Thomas Cooper Library. 

To end this update, let me say how I am personally thankful to be a part of the iSchool community. This age of pandemic, racial awakening, divided politics and an economic downturn has been hard on all of us. Isolation and anxiety exact a toll. We all worry about our loved ones as well as ourselves. Yet through it all I have seen students be resilient. I have seen faculty and staff devoted to student success. And I have seen alumni, students, staff and faculty rededicate themselves to making a better society through knowledge and service. 

So, let me end with this. Thank you all.

The Skillset Podcast

A quick introduction to the new Skillset podcast from The University of South Carolina iSchool and Publishers Weekly:

Check out the latest: http://publishersweekly.podbean.com

Here’s some text from the announcement:

We’re delighted to announce the launch today of The Skillset Podcast, a new free weekly podcast hosted by University of South Carolina professors R. David Lankes and Nicole A. Cooke.

The podcast is a joint effort from the University of South Carolina School of Information Science, the Augusta Baker Endowed Chair, and the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy, and Publishers Weekly.

Each week The Skillset Podcast will feature conversations with librarians and other key players in the information world seeking to illuminate the complex issues facing libraries and other institutions in these unprecedented times. New episodes will post on Fridays and will be featured in Publishers Weekly’s Preview for Librarians e-newsletter

“This podcast began with a problem,” says podcast co-host R. David Lankes. “Here at the University of South Carolina School of Information Science we had just added a course on Community Engagement and Service to the core of our library science degree. And suddenly, in 2020, with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and a long overdue racial and social justice awakening, everything we thought we knew about the subject went out the window. These massive disruptions have shaken the library world to its core. Libraries have long rested on their virtue, and their connection to the community. And suddenly, libraries were separated from their communities as their physical buildings were forced to close. And as a profession, librarians are finally committing to addressing their own issues, including the legacy of systemic racism, vocational awe, and the safety and well-being of our workers.”

Season One of The Skillset Podcast will focus on libraries in the wake of protests and the pandemic, and will feature conversations with an array of library directors, activists, and educators exploring how libraries are changing to meet the needs of their communities amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the movement for social and racial justice. And each season will be aligned with the academic semester, giving listeners an opportunity to explore the issues and themes being addressed by library science students today.

Last month, Lankes and Cooke also joined Publishers Weekly senior writer Andrew Albanese for the first webinar in a new, free series, Live From the Library Lounge, for a discussion that focused on how libraries are changing in these unprecedented times

“This podcast is an amazing opportunity for us to continue building those bridges between theory and practice,” says co-host Nicole A. Cooke. “It is an opportunity for us to connect with library professionals who are actually ‘walking the walk’ and using their expertise to educate our students about the true meaning of community literacy, and to expose new ideas and practices to a wider audience.”

First Day of Class in a Pandemic

Many folks have asked how the first day of classes were last Thursday. The University of South Carolina decided to have in-person classes (as well as virtual and hybrid at the faculty and student’s discretion). Here is a letter I wrote to the alumni:

Yesterday was the weirdest first day of classes I have encountered in 22 years as a professor. Normally the first day is all about a packed campus – and grumbling over waiting for that bagel that had no line the week before. It is about students coming into the office looking for classrooms. It’s about too many seats or too few seats in those classrooms. Online it’s last minute phone calls about registration, or a bill, or needing Blackboard access. It is a bit of endearing chaos filled with expectations of a great new year.

Image of an empty center of campus
The Horseshoe Thursday Morning

Yesterday I talked to two students who didn’t realize a course had been moved online and I thanked a class for wearing masks and keeping us all safe. That was it. Good lord it was even a productive writing day.

This oddly quiet day was a sign of success. While the chaos is endearing, it also can demonstrate gaps in planning or poor information sharing. A quiet opening day in a pandemic is about a prepared school. It is a testament to new all online orientation. It is about revised syllabi and a faculty taking the time to reach out to their students. It is about the often invisible labor of scheduling and budgeting.

The iSchool, your school, was ready for yesterday, just as we were ready to face the challenges of the pandemic last Spring. Through the work not only of today’s faculty, staff, and students, but those throughout the history of the school we are perfectly situated to respond in these days of crisis and need. We were already either online, or ready to use our long experience in online instruction to make sure all of our students met their learning outcomes. That’s thanks to folks like Dan Barron, Sam Hastings, Fred Roper, Charles Curran, Linda Lucas Walling, and Sarah Keeling that built the school over our 50 year history.

Our school is perfectly situated to help our society in these times of need. Active research and advocacy agendas in equity, diversity, and inclusion have provided valuable insight in the form of funded research, published scholarly articles, state-wide workshops, and online high-profile speaking events. We have an engaged alumni base that ensures attention to issues of racial justice. Our innovative graduates are defining a new normal in library service in the age of COVID. We are the hub of an international network of librarians, scholars, and information scientists sharing best practices and innovative projects.

All of our 50 years of history shows brightly now in dark times. This semester while our peer programs are dealing with a substantial reduction in graduate enrollment, ours Is up over 30%. We have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal research grants. We have hosted national events with the leaders in the fields of anti-racism. Our graduates are leaders of school libraries throughout South Carolina and in cities like San Francisco, Columbia, Spartanburg, Charleston, San Barbara and states like Vermont.

At the end of the day the lack of endearing chaos might have been odd, but the fact that the smooth surface of the day belied the amazing dedication and expertise of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni was nothing new at all.

It has been my honor and joy to be the director of iSchool these past four years. I wake up knowing that I am part of a community seeking and building a better, more just society. Thank you all for your help in making this a reality. I ask you to continue to support the school.

School of Information Science statement on diversity, equity and inclusion

The University of South Carolina’s School of Information Science community strongly condemns the systemic and systematic oppression of Black people, indigenous people, and all people of color. We stand with everyone who is actively fighting against repressive systems and we offer our support to those organizing proactive ways to combat racism. We stand with Black Lives Matter.

As scholars, educators, librarians, students, information scientists, and those who support educating the next generation of knowledge professionals we must instill great empathy in our students and equip them to directly fight racism. We seek a world where difference is sought out, the vulnerable are actively protected, and service is listening and learning more so than teaching and telling.

We pledge to not only promote equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice in our curriculum, research, and servicework but to reach out and purposefully include and promote the work of people of color. We pledge to hire, support, and promote people of color on faculty and staff. We pledge to protect in these challenging economic times community literacy centers and diversity laboratories. We pledge to support and encourage faculty with research agendas in uncomfortable and “challenging” topics like microaggressions, service to the LGBTQIA+ communities, and the refugee populations. We pledge to defend faculty who are active on social media and give presentations on #BlackLivesMatter and police brutality. We pledge to double our efforts to recruit and retain students of color in our programs and in the profession.

We must use diversity, inclusion, and acceptance as the guiding principles in the fight to end acts of prejudice, racial bias, threats of violence, and even blatant killing based solely on a person’s race or ethnicity.

The Faculty and Staff, Diversity Leadership Group, and Library and Information Science Students Association
School of Information Science, University of South Carolina

My Responsibility to Fight Racism

George Floyd Memorial

I woke to news of tear gas and riot gear in the streets of Minneapolis, an arrested Black journalist, and a presidential tweet threatening to mobilize the military and violence against citizens. This comes on top of police killing an innocent Black man over a $20 bill and a white woman in Central Park calling 911 in a racist attempt to use police against a Black bird watcher because she felt entitled to have her dog off leash. This all comes on top of an executive order seeking to undermine the first amendment even as it purports to uphold it.

It seems that rather than bringing out the best of us this crisis enables too many to embrace their worst nature. But of course, that’s too simple. The crisis may be the backdrop, but the institutional racism that kills Black men and calls out troops against Black protestors instead of gun wielding white ones has nothing to do with a virus. It is part of the country and institutional racism and discrimination in housing, in policing, in education, in all aspects of life.

I want to do something. I want to fix things, and I will do what I can. Which is the purpose of this post. Not what I can do as an individual, but as a director of an information school, as an educator of librarians, as a scholar. You see, a week ago, I was worried about a contentious debate in the library community around safety and reopening. I was worried about neighbors not wearing masks and folks partying on beaches as the deaths of the coronavirus passed 100,000. I now see these as connected.

As a director, professor, and scholar I must instill radical empathy in my students and information institutions and equip them to directly fight racism. I often talk about democracy and community. Yet do I do enough to connect those concepts to responsibility, equity, inclusion, and mutual support? The true participatory community is one that is culturally competent and anti-racist, where difference is sought out, the vulnerable are actively protected, and service is listening and learning more so than teaching and telling.

The pandemic has exposed how fractured and inequitable our information infrastructure is in this country. It has exposed how health outcomes disproportionately affect people of color. It has demonstrated how economic inequity furthers a digital divide and too often a racial divide. It has demonstrated how misinformation and propaganda can lead to censorship through noise and promote stereotypes and conspiracy theories. It has shown the privilege of the majority in how we choose which data we disregard. It has shown, once again, that willful ignorance is a destructive force and antithetical to the values of our field making the elimination of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny an active target of our work. A goal we may never reach but must never tire of attempting.

The easiest thing for me to do starts with my own work. I need to not only promote equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice in my writing but reach out and deliberately include the work of people of color. I need to not only use the phrase “vocational awe” in its true nuanced and complex form, but also acknowledge that it is a phrase created and developed by librarian Fobazi Ettarh, a queer, and disabled woman of color .

The next thing I can do as a director is hire, support, and promote people of color on my faculty and staff. It means not stereotyping or tokenizing them and not letting anyone else do that either. It means putting in place a concentration and soon a formal certificate in diversity at the graduate level. It means protecting in these challenging economic times community literacy centers and diversity laboratories. It means supporting and encouraging faculty with research agendas in uncomfortable and “challenging” topics like microaggressions (inside and outside of the profession), service to the LGBTQ+ community, and the refugee population. It means supporting and defending faculty who are active on social media and give presentations on #BlackLivesMatter and police brutality as they impact LIS. It means supporting the work of my associate dean of diversity Dr. Shirley Carter in connecting with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to create joint programs. And it means recruiting and retaining these students of color in our graduate program and in the profession. I present this list not as a self-congratulatory check list, but as a public commitment to continue this work.

The information discipline has greatly benefited from the explosion of technology investment and growth. Our programs are growing as more people seek to be part of the knowledge industries be it at Google or the local library. We must acknowledge that the growth of our programs and the industry came at a cost. We must also acknowledge that this growth comes with greater responsibility as well. A lack of diversity, and liberal amounts of sexism, classism, and ableism, in the tech industry and libraries alike are our shared responsibility and we share the blame. We must not only critically self-reflect and improve, but actively advocate on issues of social justice, diversity, and addressing systemic racism in our society and in our own academic houses.

Higher education is granted a unique position in society. It is set aside through public funding, through concepts like tenure, through accreditation, and legal authority to grant credentials to be a place of ongoing debate and investigation. It is an investment beyond the immediate return of product for the promise of a better society in the long term. This unique and privileged position is to be used to pursue knowledge and further a meaningful society outside of the normal market. To be sure we often undervalue this mission to the business of education and the very real pressures of the economy, and even more the negative impact on the debt of its graduates. However, in the face of global pandemics of a virus and racism, it has a duty to take a stand and act.

I would like to thank Dr. Nicole Cooke, Augusta Baker Chair at the University of South Carolina for keeping me honest and holding me accountable on this post and in my role as director. 

Photo by Lorie Shaull https://www.flickr.com/photos/number7cloud/49943807607

A Point of Closing Optimism

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.