Library Renaissance: Building the International Knowledge School

tl;dr version:

Two years ago I did a world tour where I talked about a librarianship based on knowledge and community engagement. I ended up doing a lot more listening than talking. I met amazing librarians, I found common cause, and ideas of how we all could work closer together. So, now it’s time to bring together those seeking a new librarianship into an emerging school of thought. We’re having a planning meeting in Florence, Italy on September 18th. If you are unable to join us in person, we will also be bringing in folks virtually. At that meeting a group of amazing librarians, library organizations, and partners will plan a sort of international progressive conference. Want to play?

Full Version:

There is an emerging school of thought around librarians, libraries, and their relationship to their communities. This school of thought seeks to go beyond data, materials, and information to knowledge, helping people make meaning in their lives, and focusing on communities making smarter decisions. A school of thought goes beyond a smattering of innovative services, or single lighthouse agencies. It is a comprehensive approach to a discipline that ties in theory and practice. The power of these schools of thought can be seen in architecture (modernism that transformed urban living with skyscrapers), economics (changing how countries see debt and how to build global financial marketplaces), to the arts (impressionism), and research (naturalistic inquiry, critical theory, postmodernism).

Right now, this new school of thought in librarianship can be seen in a FabLab driving through the Netherlands, an advocacy campaign in the United States focused on transformation, on new service models in the cities of Brazil, in an atlas of new librarianship, in the advocacy MOOCs of Canada, and a distributed digital library master’s degree in the European Union, and a new public square in Pistoia. It is being shaped in the field, the classroom, and the halls of academia. It is championed by an international cast of librarians, scholars, government workers, and library supporters. The work has resulted in numerous publications, videos, and Internet sites.

There is a loose and growing network of people across the globe working to push the field of librarianship forward. This network exists in email threads, Tweets, Facebook groups, and conference sidebar conversations. It is time to pull this network together, forge a common narrative for the future of libraries, and produce an actionable agenda to equip global change agents to enact new library service in communities across the face of the Earth. While this change will happen with and within existing associations, institutions, and agencies, there needs to for a separate conversation to share knowledge, tactics, and resources to make these changes possible.

To this end, I am proposing a series of national “inventories” leading to an international academy where delegates of the national events share and learn with colleagues to build a strong collaborative network. The shape and nature of this network will emerge from the process and is seen not as an organization or “place,” but rather as an inter-personal connection for projects, mentoring, and support. The ultimate goal of the network is to constitute the new school of thought around a librarianship of knowledge and meaning over materials and buildings. The ultimate goal of the school of thought, what in South Carolina we have been calling the Knowledge School, is to improve society through helping our communities make smarter decisions.

As you can see there are a lot of details to be worked out. However, we already have a number of resources developed from text books, to curricula, to project plans, to documentaries. We also have initial buy in of several international organizations. On September 18th we will be gathering (in person and virtually) in Florence, Italy to plan for the international events.

I’ll be keeping folks up to date here as details and concrete plans emerge.

If you and/or your organization are interested in helping organize this endeavor let me know:

Hearst awards major grant to College of Information and Communications

Hearst awards major grant to College of Information and Communications
Posted July 5, 2017
by Rebekah Friedman
Photo: Students, faculty and staff participate in South Carolina’s “Read-In” at the State House.

The College of Information and Communications has received a $100,000 Hearst Foundations grant to strengthen South Carolina communities through comprehensive literacy efforts.

The grant will fund the Community Based Literacy Initiative, a partnership between the South Carolina Center for Children’s Books and Literacy (SCCCBL) and USC’s College of Education. The initiative builds upon work already being done by Cocky’s Reading Express, SCCCBL’s statewide outreach program.
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Summer SLIS Update

Greetings my Friends,

Normally summer is a slow period in academia, but not at the School of Library and Information Science. The faculty, students, and staff have been busy moving forward Carolina’s Knowledge School.

The big news is that the school’s graduate program in library and information science has been reaccredited by the American Library Association! This has been a multi-year process that has involved all parts of the school. The faculty worked with our National Advisory Council and our Diversity Leadership Group to put together a program report that covered all aspects of the school. ALA looked at everything from our curriculum, to the moral of our students, to the condition of Davis College. While there are always things for us to improve upon, the committee gave us the thumbs up.
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University of South Carolina LIS Program Re-accredited

The American Library Association (ALA) Committee on Accreditation has granted re-accreditation to the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program at the University of South Carolina. The designation, effective for seven years, is held by only 60 programs nationwide.

“Having accreditation from the American Library Association not only allows us to continue to serve the citizens of South Carolina and libraries around the world, but it’s also a mark of quality,” says Dr. David Lankes, director of the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS).

Members of the ALA’s External Review Panel visited the university in March to review all aspects of the MLIS program, from curriculum to faculty quality. Following that visit, the panel identified four strengths: community engagement, vision and strategic planning, graduate student access to faculty and faculty advising, and high morale among students and employees.

The accreditation announcement comes just months after U.S. News and World Report ranked USC among the top 20 ALA-accredited programs in the country and among the top five for the School Library Media specialty.

Lankes credits the SLIS community with the program’s success.

“This is the result of thousands of hours of dedicated work by faculty, staff, students and professionals from the field,” Lankes says. “We believe that time was well spent and represents our dedication to librarianship and the power of librarians to transform lives and communities across the globe.”

For more information on the School of Library and Information Science, visit

A Carolina School of Librarianship

“A Carolina School of Librarianship” Metrolina Annual Conference. Charlotte, SC.

Abstract: In academic and disciplinary circles there is a rare occurrence when a school, an organizational unit, transforms into a school of thought. This kind of school of thought galvanizes thinking between scholars and practitioners to change how we think about something. Classic examples include the Chicago School of Architecture where new building technologies lead to a way of designing city buildings that eventually defined modernism, the modern skyscraper, and changed the look of cities forever. There was also the Chicago school of economics and social science. These influential communities of thinkers and doers can change the whole world.

I think we are ripe for a Carolina School of Librarianship. In North and South Carolina we have a concentration of outstanding scholars and libraries. We have library leaders in public, academic, school, and special libraries. If we can come together to think together, to develop common impacts, to share we can forge an agenda and way of thinking about the field that would have global influence. In this talk I would like to outline some aspects of that school that I think can serve as a foundation for this and talk about the outsized influence the people in the room can have across the globe.
Slides: Slides in PDF

Metro from R. David Lankes on Vimeo.

Librarianship is a Technical Profession…That is All About People

[This is an edited version of the script I used for my talk. However, it is not a word for word transcript. Aside from added comments during the talk, I have edited and expanded the notes here to make them more readable. You can see a screencast of the actual presentation here.]

When I was invited to give this talk, Kim Tallerås told me that I could address:

  • What technological expertise should librarians have?
  • What should we leave to other professions?
  • Generalist vs specialist?
  • What does knowledge organization mean in 2017?

A simple list, right? I particularly like the “etc” just in case I might have some extra time.

So where to begin? I could start with my opinion. I could start with the curriculum that we are developing at the University of South Carolina. I could, of course, pretend to answer the questions by “framing the debate,” where I list some international competencies, throw in a bit of criticism, but really leave the questions unresolved.

Instead, let me start with a question that isn’t on this list: are there right and wrong answers to these to begin with? Is there some foundation that we can test our opinions? Because it turns out what looks like topics for debate, are in fact answerable, but only if we start from a firm foundation.
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The Opportunities and Obligations of the Knowledge School

“The Opportunities and Obligations of the Knowledge School” South Carolina Association of School Librarians. Greenville, SC.

Abstract: An overview of strategic directions for the School of Library and Information Science and a call for participation.

Slides: Slides in PDF


Presentation Notes:

[This is not an actual transcript of my talk, but rather speaking notes I used to prepare and captures the main points. Excuse the typos and lack of copy edits]

I believe that we have an amazing opportunity before us. An opportunity not only to increase the impact and reputation of the school, not only to advance the cause of school librarianship within the state, but to set the agenda for library and information science nationally and globally.

I further believe that in these times of alternative facts, fake news, and near contempt for public service, we have an obligation to lead.
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Eisenberg to Give Deans’ and Directors’ Lecture April 3

Postcard for the event

iSchool movement co-founder to deliver annual lecture 

Dr. Michael Eisenberg, dean emeritus and professor emeritus of the Information School of the University of Washington, will deliver the 2017 Deans’ and Directors’ Lecture on Monday, April 3, at the South Carolina State Library, located at 1500 Senate Street. His presentation “South Carolina – Your Time is Now,” will begin at 7 p.m.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is hosted by the School of Library and Information Science.

Eisenberg served as founding dean of the Information School at the University of Washington from 1998 to 2006. Known as an innovator and entrepreneur, Mike approached the iSchool as a startup—transforming the school into a top-ranked, broad-based information school with academic programs on all levels, increasing enrollment 400%, generating millions in funded research, and making a difference in industry, the public sector and education.

Prior to the University of Washington, Eisenberg worked as professor of information studies at Syracuse University, where he created the Information Institute of Syracuse. A prolific author, he has worked with thousands of students, as well as people in business, government, and communities to improve individual and organizational information and technology access and use. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University at Albany (SUNY).

His address will make the case for the importance of the information and communications fields in every area of human endeavor. Eisenberg will challenge South Carolinians to embrace that importance by thinking and acting big and bold, broad and deep to make the world a better place through programs, research, services, and engagement.

The School of Library and Information Science Deans’ and Directors’ Lecture honors the previous deans and directors of the school. A reception and ceremony for outstanding students and the induction of new members into Beta Phi Mu, the national honor society in library and information science, will take place before the event.

For more information, contact Angela Wright at or 803-777-3858.  Find more information on the School of Library and Information Science at

Sarasota Panel on Shared Issues with Librarians and Reporters

Sarasota County Public Libraries Staff Day: Panel on the News and Libraries

It was a great and pretty wide ranging discussion around fake news, editorial responsibility, possible collaborations, and even a little net neutrality thrown in for good measure.

Panel members Tom Tryon – Opinion Editor for the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Janet Coats – Founder & CEO of Coats2Coats, , and R. David Lankes, Director & Professor, University of South Carolina, School of Library and Information Science.

Celebration Through Action: The Obligation of Information and Communications in a Time of Alternative Facts

Three years and a day ago a nurse injected me with a lethal chemical cocktail designed to kill any remaining cancer cells in my body, destroying my bone marrow in the process. Three years ago a doctor pushed harvested stem cells directly into my heart where they were pumped to the rest of my body to regrow my marrow and save my life.

For my third birthday I was going to post an inspirational missive on moving forward and on the  obligation to use the gift of life to improve the lives around us. Then I realized actually working to improve lives is more important than talking about my experience. So today, to mark my third birthday I want to talk about action.

We scholars and academics in the information domains have a special obligation in these days of alternative facts. We academics working with both information and communications have an even more urgent obligation. That obligation is to work with communities around the country and around the world to actively build knowledge and a common framework for evaluating the work of politicians, scientists, activists, and the citizenry.

Some will say that this is a function of better education. If we could do a better job of building literacy in our communities – information literacy, media literacy – then the natural result would be a more unified view of the world. The problem with this argument is that the current political separation is not the result of a lack of information or access to the media, or a naivety around information. The increasing ideological divide is not because our communities have too little information, or even a general gullibility. No, the increasing divide and introduction of alternative perspectives is rather a result of sophisticated and conscious information behavior.

Remember that the filter bubble problem we now face was a solution to the problem of information overload. It is the result of information scientists and communication scholars studying the idea of matching information seeking behaviors, tuning search engines to user preferences, sentiment analysis, hyperlocal information needs, hyperlocal news, that has shifted agency and decisions to the individual. We saw the flood of information and in a deliberate attempt to buffer a “fire hose” of information we built data science and interfaces and algorithms and newspapers of the future to lower cognitive load and better meet the needs of the user/reader/citizen/patron.

We are not facing a gullible public overrun by the algorithms of the greedy and the manipulative. We are facing citizens engaged with tools built with the best of intentions that, yes, can be (and are being) manipulated, but ultimately allow people to view knowledge as simply an information problem. That is, what one believes to be true, like information, is to be managed, tailored, and individualized without the necessary social responsibility to connect, debate, and develop consensus.

The danger is not seeing truth and meaning as contextual; it is in not proactively working to shape that context. This is not about alternative facts, propaganda, nor misinformation. These concepts have always been at play. The fake news of today is the yellow journalism of a century ago – defined more by profit motive than ideology. The problem is not in construction of meaning or in agreeing on facts, but rather the necessary social component of defining what those facts mean.

Librarians and journalists alike have been about helping communities make better decisions through access to knowledge. We both hold to a code of ethics and principles that favor rationalism and both at their core require an internal motivation to seek out the truth. But – and this is vital – we both also believe that such motivation must include a social knowledge aspect. That is, both believe that communities must act together as well as individuals within a community. It is not simply speaking truth to power; it is understanding that true power comes from common effort. Librarians and journalists must be part of moving people to action. Exposing corruption in the news must be met by editorial calls for consequence. Teaching information literacy must also mean teaching information activism. It is not about highlighting inequities; it is about fixing inequities. It is not just about calling for diversity; it is about empowering diverse voices.

And so I come back to action.

Our goal must be to be knowledge schools. Pushing forward our different fields of information, librarianship, journalism, and communications, yes. But also working together around a common mission of impact. A knowledge school must seek to not only document society, but to improve it. Not to be neutral, but to be truthful and to actively work with our communities to knit a common and ever-evolving worldview. In this worldview there will be disagreement and argument, but it will serve as a common framework for debate and ultimately learning.

I am alive today because scholars in the fields of biology, chemistry, medicine, nursing, public health, pharmacology, information, and communications strived not just for knowledge, but impact. The same scholars that developed deadly chemical weapons in World War I later saw that mustard gas could be used to stop the uncontrolled replication of cancer cells and would develop life-saving chemotherapy. I am here today because information scientists built technology to transfer billions of points of data into journals and clinical trials. I am here today because journalists, and public relations experts, and communication scholars helped transform cancer from a shameful scourge to a noble curable fight in the mind of the public.

We have seen the power of scholars in information and communication coming together to save lives by fighting the misinformation campaigns of big tobacco. We have seen reporters work with librarians to uncover corporate malfeasance where carcinogens pollute the environment. We have seen those same reporters and librarians then hold those responsible accountable.

We all stand at an inflection point with the current national political climate. We have seen a resurgent press seek to hold politician and policy accountable. We have seen librarians stand up for the rights and voices of all community members. In the halls of academia, we must also seize this moment with our research and our teaching and our service. We information and communication scholars need to develop a response (systems, theories, courses, graduates) that replace walls of isolating code that encircle ideological factions, with platforms of community knowledge building. We must model that strident argument and sincere disagreement does not have to result in factions and fractures, but in a clearer understanding of the world. That has been the cornerstone of scholarship since Socrates, and it is our responsibility to promote that throughout society.

* Thanks to Professor Ernest Wiggins for his feedback