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.