Lankes Signs with Rowman and Littlefield for His Next Book

I am so happy to announce that I’ll be publishing my next book with Rowman & Littlefield. I am also thrilled to be working with Charles Harmon as my editor again.

The book should be published in 2021 and is about how the data and media landscape we live in has been shaped by a century of conflict and war. I am writing for a general audience and unlike my last books this one is not specifically about librarianship (though you know I’ll be doing my best to promote them).

The following is from the book proposal:

The first battle of World War I was not on land and not fought with battleships. It was cutting the telegraph cables that connected Germany to the rest of the world. With this action Britain not only launched the first information war but set in motion a series of events and ideas that shape our world. From the internet, to Google, to filter bubbles and Russian election interference, Lankes explores how we ended up in a society that values data over personal liberty and commerce over the public good. How our ideas of information and knowledge reflect the century of war that has militarized our worldview.

Using a series of trips through history from World War I until today, Lankes explores concepts from encryption and how it can be used to change our understanding of ownership to artificial intelligence and the wide scale adoption of software we don’t truly understand. He uses these grounded ideas to argue for a new humanism that focuses on how we find meaning in life and for an agenda to take back control of the world’s knowledge infrastructure. From Nazi espionage to smart appliances that spy on us in our homes to the COVID-19 pandemic this book is a clarion call for new polices in copyright, facial recognition, privacy, and in managing the trillion-dollar data/technology industry.

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

Expect More in Italian (Biblioteche innovative in un mondo che cambia)

Thanks to the amazing work of Anna Maria Tammaro and Elena Corradini, Expect More has been translated into Italian and is now available here ( Apparently the first printing has already sold out and they are making another run!

Anna Maria is also offering a course on the Library as a Platform. There is a new section starting June 18:

I have been fortunate to work with the incredible librarians of Italy and I can’t wait for my next trip to listen and learn. Thanks again to Anna Maria, Elena Corradini, and Editrice Bibliografica

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

Is It Time for a Second Edition of the Atlas?

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.

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.

One Last Lecture for the MLIS Class of 2020

Last Thursday would have been the hooding, and this past weekend graduation. While I would love nothing more than to be with you to say congratulations, I did want to use this opportunity to talk about tradition. As part of the academic tradition at the school you would have worn academic robes, and you would have to endure one short last lecture from me. While we are not gathering together, I wanted to at least pay homage to those traditions for this year’s graduates. I think in a time of pandemics, a lecture on those robes would be appropriate to talk about what we have prepared you for.

Many may have heard that academic robes are modeled on the robes of medieval monks. Monks held a special place in society in Europe – not least of which they were partially exempt from many of the daily chores of survival. They had to be literate to study and preach the bible. These two things made them ideal tutors for the gentry. They became teachers. As time progressed the gentry pooled their monies and gathered these tutors into colleges.

Some may have also heard about the hoods worn by graduates at the masters and doctoral level. The hoods symbolize where the monks would keep their food and wine. What folks don’t always know is that the food and wine were often the payment for their services. Hard currency was either hard to come by, or lacked reach for traveling tutors, so they took their payments in sustenance. The wine, fermented, was much safer than water at the time.

What many familiar with academic regalia do not know, however, is why at the big graduation ceremonies at most universities the procession of faculty is led by a mace holder. The mace is usually VERY large and ornate (check out UofSC’s here: ). Why a mace? It seems a bit discordant at a place of higher education that a weapon opens and closes major events.

Except, think about the origin of the symbol. You are a monk. You are carrying payment in the form of gold or wine or food as you travel to many often unknown locations. You needed your robes to keep you warm, your hood to carry your living, and a mace to keep you safe. The mace has become a symbol of academic authority because it recalls that the world of the educated is not always easy and, to an extent, must be protected.

This week you graduate. You have earned through hard work and long hours the right to wear those robes and claim your place as a master of your field. You are doing this in a perilous time. No one planned this, and no one wishes it upon you. However, here you are, and you must move forward.

Many of you are going into our state’s schools. There you will face education by Zoom, and a student body disconnected – sheltered at home trying to learn while taking care of siblings, struggling with technology, or all too often struggling with a lack of access to technology. Most of your partners in this endeavor, teachers and administrators, are teaching online for the first time, and are unable to truly comfort their students, much less push them toward excellence.

Some of you are headed, if not today, then in the future, to public libraries. Closed buildings will be reopening, most likely too soon, and you will be the face of local government hopefully in a mask. You will be asked to be a place of gathering for a community that has become suspicious of touch, and who are wounded by weeks of loss and isolation.

Some of you are headed to the nation’s colleges and universities. You will be facing a faculty also struggling to teach online, and students morning the loss of the college experience. Traditional means of creating a community of learners side lined for safety.

All of you will be faced with a world no one wants and be given a choice. That choice is what will the new normal look like?

You’ve heard the phrase, the new normal. But you have almost always heard it in a negative frame. The new normal is talked about what we will give up. A new normal of social distancing, of fear of infection, of shuttered businesses. But I ask you to ask what should the new normal be? What if we learn from this horrific pandemic and work together to forge a new normal founded on the principles of equity and inclusion?

What if the new normal is universal broadband access to erase the digital divide? What if the new normal is the gathering of local voices to make governments more transparent, accountable, and tied to accuracy? What if the new normal for libraries is not just serving people at home in times of crisis, but every day serving our communities wherever they must be – the mother and father and home bound? The elderly and differently abled? What if the new normal allows us to connect the scholar to research articles and kids to story time online without fear of copyright lawsuits? What if the new normal is access to the world’s memory and opportunity as defined by desire and not a zip code?

No monk foresaw today’s academy as he walked through dirty streets of desperation seven centuries ago with a loaf of bread tucked into his sleeve and a mace in his hand. No monk foresaw the gathering of the tutors, the creation of colleges, the advancement of education and the creation of a scholarship that pushed humankind out of the middle ages to explore the globe, and the moon. And yet, that monk didn’t have to – he merely needed to continue to teach and serve.

We – you and I- do not know what literally tomorrow holds. Will there be second waves of infection? Will classes ever return to full in-person? Will the next economic boom be about technology or medicine or learning? But what we do know, is that over these past years, you have been preparing to serve and inform, and educate. You have learned skills, but also principles that uniquely qualify you to shape the future. You will be entering into organizations reeling from change, and you will embrace that change, and with calm competent compassion you will lead.

I congratulate you on your graduation. I look forward to the great things you will do. Here’s to the class of 2020.

The “New Normal” Agenda for Librarianship

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?

  1. 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:
    1. Classify and regulate the internet as a utility
    2. Build out rural access to broadband, including transforming libraries into Internet Service Providers
    3. Remove data caps
    4. Restore network neutrality
  2. 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.
    1. Deploy adult education services like high school equivalency
    2. Ensure certified school libraries in K-12 schools to ensure literacy skills needed for vocational education as well as college preparation
    3. Team with higher education to support online learners in physical spaces
    4. Provide single service access points to government workforce services
    5. Provide permanent addresses and registration services for social welfare programs
    6. Develop strong prison library services including transition to community connections
  3. 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.
    1. Develop active voter registration and identification services
    2. Host public forums on key community issues
    3. Develop and maintain community strategic priorities
  4. 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.
    1. Provide service-oriented contact tracing services to town, county, and state health departments
    2. Form partnerships with physical and mental health services and partners
    3. Provide forums highlighting wellness programs and ensure such programs protect community privacy
  5. 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.
    1. 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
    2. 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.

Being Proactive

In 2014 I wrote a piece on the dangers of libraries, public libraries in particular, expanding their missions too far to meet the needs of a community. We can’t be a single institution making up for all the inadequacies and inequities of our communities or nation. Now, as when I wrote this, more and more government services are retreating from the public sphere. Physical offices and real people on the phone have been replaced by automated phone trees and websites. Libraries, in many cases, have stepped in to try and provide service.

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. 

I am making this document available for comment on Google Docs to see if we as a community can refine and improve it. Please join the conversation at:

Thank s to all who took the time to add comments. They are extremely helpful. I’ve turned off commenting for now so I can incorporate them into a version 2.

School of Information Science

This month the Board of Trustees approved a name change for the School of Library and Information Science to the School of Information Science. This post is the memo created by the faculty of the school requesting the change, documenting the process that led to the name change, and outlining a continued commitment to librarianship.

TO: Dean Tom Reichert

FROM: The Faculty of the School of Library and Information Science

RE: School Name Change

DATE: January 10, 2020

With this memo we are formally requesting the Board of Trustees change the name of the School of Library and Information Science to the School of Information Science. The request is made for several reasons:

  • To reflect the expanding academic and research programs of the school beyond the master’s of library and information science
  • To solve internal and external confusion identified in the College of Information and Communications strategic planning process, particularly as it relates to the university library
  • To reflect trends in peer library and information science programs at other universities

On December 7, 2019 the faculty and staff voted to change the name of the school with a vote of 16 yay, 5 nay, and 2 abstentions. A second vote then approved the name “School of Information Science,” 9 yay, 8 nay, 2 abstentions.

This comprehensive memo outlines the process of eliciting feedback from the school’s key stakeholder groups including current students, alumni, and employers of our graduates. This memo also outlines key issues identified in changing the name and corresponding responses. Finally, the memo seeks to make clear the commitment of the school to librarians and the libraries they run.

Why a Name Change

The issue with the current name of the school can be put simply as “people think we are either the university library, or that all we prepare are librarians.” The brand of library is strong, and due to the efforts of school faculty, getting stronger. Unfortunately, that brand is so strongly centered on functioning libraries, that people have a hard time seeing a school of library and information science as an academic endeavor that investigates: areas of librarianship, education, data, knowledge management, archives, records management, social media, user experience design, and strategic use of information in a business context.

  • To reflect the expanding academic and research programs of the school beyond the master’s of library and information science

The School of Library and Information Science currently offers a nationally ranked master’s in library science, a certificate program in school librarianship, a certificate of graduate study in health communication (an interdisciplinary certificate administered by the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior; the School of Journalism and Mass Communications; and the School of Library and Information Science), and a specialist program in library and information science. It also offers a growing bachelor’s of science in information science and a Ph.D. in library and information science. We are currently developing new programs with the School of Journalism and Mass Communications in data, media, and society at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

The undergraduate program prepares information workers and knowledge management experts for industry. Information science graduates connect people, technology and business objectives. Our undergraduates obtain jobs with employers such as AgFirst Financial, Colonial Life, IBM, and government agencies. They take positions with titles such as data analyst, knowledge manager, systems analyst, web developer, or information architect and several go on to graduate school, including our own program in library science. Our Ph.D. graduates go into faculty positions in information and business schools in addition to research and practice-based roles in archives, museums, and the information technology industry.

Our current faculty conduct research related to all types of libraries. They also explore important issues related to big data in the health industry; information use in faith-based organizations; universal design; diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice; copyright, publishing, and scholarly communication; community engagement and outreach services; issues related to literacy; technology and technology-enabled learning; fake news; knowledge management; and social, political, and theoretical implications of information access and use. Our faculty seek funding from multiple agencies such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the U.S. Department of State, the National Science Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and the Hearst Foundation. Faculty also seek and receive internal university funding in the areas of data mining and were very active in studying the impacts of natural disaster following the Columbia flooding. Faculty attend prestigious conferences in information science, computer science, health sciences, instructional technology, and entrepreneurship in addition to librarianship. The proposed name, School of Information Science, reflects these broader efforts.

  • To solve internal and external confusion identified in the College of Information and Communications strategic planning process, particularly as it relates to the university library

Over the past 4 years, it has become increasingly clear that while library science students are able to seek out the required graduate program to become librarians regardless of the name of the school (through listings of programs certified by the American Library Association, U.S. News and World Report program rankings, alumni and so forth), undergraduate students do not engage in such a targeted search. Instead, students exploring our bachelor’s in information science become confused, believing the undergraduate program only prepares librarians. It does not. There are no accredited library programs at the undergraduate level and there is no requirement for an information science undergraduate degree to get into our master’s program.

Likewise, faculty and administrators within the university have mistakenly assumed we are part of the Thomas Cooper Library. In addition to numerous anecdotes, it is most clearly seen in EAB, the academic analytics system the university uses. LIBR course prefixes are included in data on the school even though LIBR is the prefix for courses offered by the university library, not SLIS.

As much as we have worked to communicate the scope of the information science program to advisors at the university level, in other colleges, and at the honors college, high turn-over of advisors means that undergraduates are regularly told to take our major if they want to become librarians. People simply can’t get past the word library in our current name to see the full scope of what we offer.

  • To reflect trends in peer library and information science programs at other universities

This problem with naming is not unique to the University of South Carolina. The past decade has seen the rise of the iSchool movement[1]. iSchools are information science academic units (colleges and schools). Most have library science programs, but some do not. The iSchool Consortium is a group of schools from universities working primarily to clearly articulate what schools of information science offer. The iSchool Consortium, of which we are a member, works on international marketing programs, and seek to create greater awareness of information programs within the universities that offer them.

This movement is most evident when looking at the U.S. News and World Report rankings of library and information science programs. Of the 64 accredited programs listed by ALA, only 12 have the word library in their name. Of the top 10 ranked programs there is only one, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill which identifies itself as the “iSchool at Carolina” on its website. Changing our name to the School of Information Science brings us in line with our colleagues.

Process of Informed Decision

To be clear, the School did not come to the requested name change lightly, or quickly. The request comes after an extensive investigation and consultation over the past two and a half years. Strategic identity issues with the current name that were first identified within the school (primarily in our efforts to grow the size of our undergraduate programs) have been a recurrent theme in other ways of soliciting feedback from our community.

Four primary methods were used to gather feedback and reactions for a name change:

  1. College strategic planning process: The College of Information and Communications has been engaged in an extensive strategic planning process over the past 2 years. In the course of interviewing faculty, staff, students, and alumni confusion caused by having “library” in the name was a recurrent theme.
  2. Consultation with the library community: The library science graduate program is the core of our school. It is our largest enrollment, represents the topical focus of the majority of our faculty, and its graduates make up the bulk of our alumni. The library community is also represent the largest employing sector of our graduates. Needless to say, we do not want to alienate this community. Therefore, over the past two years, but particularly over the past 7 months, the school director has talked one-on-one with library directors of public and academic libraries throughout the South Carolina and throughout the United States. Formal presentations of the name change proposal were made at the South Carolina Association of Public Library Administrators, The South Carolina Library Association, and the South Carolina School Library Supervisors Group. Two online town hall meetings were held for all comers. The overall feedback received at these events was several strong voices for the name change, several strongly against, but a majority that were generally supportive. The one issue identified with uniformity was that the name of the Master’s of Library and Information Science degree name should not change. There are no plans to change the name of the degree.
  3. Canvassing alumni: To ensure the widest reach for input, a letter (see appendix) authored by current SLIS director David Lankes, previous dean of the College of Library and Information Science Fred Roper, and co-chair of the SLIS 50th Anniversary Committee and longtime supporter of SLIS Jack Bryan was sent to all alumni. Over 5,400 letters were sent out with a postage paid postcard for feedback included. At the point of the faculty vote, 91 responses were received. 30 of the responses were against the name change, 52 were in favor, and 9 comments did not address the issue of the name. It should be noted that those seeking to keep “library” in the name were passionate about that desire.
  4. Internal discussions with current students: As part of this process the undergraduate representative in Student Government conducted an online survey of undergraduate students. 23 of 33 either agreed or strongly agreed that the name of the school should be changed, with only 3 either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.

A Continued Dedication to Librarianship

In the process of soliciting input two overarching concerns were raised with changing the school name: loss of professional identity, and fears of the school losing its focus on librarianship. That is, worries that removing library from the school name would make librarians less visible in higher education, or that the school would redirect focus and resources away from the preparation of librarians. Among the faculty there was expressed a need to put on the record the schools focus and commitment to libraries and librarianship.

Libraries of all types are having a resurgence in the country and globally. Articles in major publication outlets such as the New York Times[2], The Guardian[3], CNN[4], and Forbes[5]make it clear that libraries are not only surviving in today’s connected and data driven society, they are thriving. Libraries are seen as vital social infrastructure. School libraries, for example, have a well-documented positive effect on preK-12 student performance. School librarians are in fact a documented critical area of need for South Carolina’s schools[6].

Public libraries while continuing to provide communities access to information (books, the internet, databases), serve as engines of economic development (supporting entrepreneurship, raising the quality of life), and they act as a safety net for often marginalized communities. Public libraries act as “universities of the people” and more recently focused on developing community narratives and identity.

In higher education, academic libraries support cutting edge scholarship and help undergraduates transition to college life. University librarians maintain historical collections that preserve our cultural heritage. Librarians in hospitals, law firms, and government agencies are at the forefront of data analytics, policy development, and support explorations into artificial intelligence and the ethical use of big data. There is virtually no sector of the economy and society that libraries and the librarians that run them do not effect.

Library usage in the US and around the world is increasing[7]. Put simply the need for librarians and library science education is more important today than ever before. The field of librarianship represents an annual investment of nearly $26 billion in North America and well over $40 billion worldwide.[8] In an age when traditional institutions are declining, library usage has grown steadily over the past twenty years. “One out of every six people in the world is a registered library user” and “five times more people visit U.S. public libraries each year than attend U.S. professional and college football, basketball, baseball and hockey games combined[9].” Here are a few more facts[10][11]:

  • Americans go to school, public, and academic libraries more than three times more often than they go to the movies. Almost 100 million more people visit their libraries (1.3 billion) each year than see a movie at the theater (1.2 billion)
  • More than 172 million Americans have library cards? That means that more than half of the American public has a library card right now.
  • Libraries are visited over 1.3 billion times a year which is 10 times more than MLB (68 million), NFL (17 million), NBA (22 million), Hockey (21 million), and Nascar (4 million) combined
  • Reference librarians in the nation’s public and academic libraries answer nearly 6.6 million questions weekly. Standing single file, the line of questioners would span from Ocean City, MD to Juneau, AK. Overall librarians answer around 250 million questions from the public each year.
  • Millennials use libraries more than any other generation.
  • Academic libraries held approximately 158.7 million e-books and public libraries held more than 18.5 million in 2010.
  • Americans check out more than eight books a year, on average. They spend $35.81 a year for the public library—about the average cost of one hardcover book.

Librarianship is also part of conversations at the University of South Carolina. Take, for example, the new centers of excellence. The university’s work on artificial intelligence builds on library science core research in the areas of ontologies and taxonomies. Concepts of information retrieval, long a staple of LIS research, underlie the development of search engines and social media alike. In addition to core scholarly topics of data and information organization library science provides a strong ethical foundation to the work on machine learning and deep learning.

In the area of Big Data and health the school’s scholars are driving understanding and development in the areas of social media, consumer health, and links to community-based outreach across the country.

Librarianship is also central to the university’s outreach to K-12 education in the state. Roughly half of the students in the school are preparing to be school librarians – certified teachers that partner with other teaching staff at schools to advance literacy and teach the core curriculum in information literacy – a vital skill in the world of fake news and a reliance on algorithms to select the information people receive. For over 10 years, the school has run Cocky’s Reading Express. We take Cocky to the most under-resourced schools in the state to not only promote reading, but to make it clear that the path to college is in literacy.

The change of name will not change the importance of librarianship. Instead it will allow us to expand the impact of librarianship. The name School of Information Science will remove barriers of nostalgia and outright incorrect stereotypes of libraries and librarians when seeking new students and new collaborations with peers. The success of libraries is dependent on having the support of bankers, lawyers, governors, principals, provosts, and the general public. Right now, too many of these vital conversations are being missed.

Our faculty and staff use the term library with pride. We take pride in building it as a strong brand that is overcoming the stereotypes. However, the brand that we have been a part of building, is, and should be, strongly associated with functioning institutions that provide access to materials and community support – not the academics that prepare people to work in and beyond libraries.

It is true that we are seeking a name change to engage in degree programs beyond the Master’s in Library and Information Science. It is true that we see room for substantial growth in our undergraduate program and a new Master’s in Data, Media and Society with our sister school within the College of Information and Communications. But it is the will of the faculty and staff of the school to always preserve the MLIS as our core program and the success and expansion of librarianship as a core goal.

It is true that some other library science programs that have transformed into so-called “iSchools” have done so to move away from or at least minimize library connections. That is NOT our intention. We continue to hire library science faculty on the tenure track. We continue to promote faculty who study libraries and teach library science courses to the rank of professor and associate professor. We continue to invest in academic and teaching support for our LIS program. We continue to seek out and support leadership posts in library associations globally. We partner with our own Thomas Cooper Library and libraries around the state to not only place our student but drive our curriculum.

If you look at new programs developed by the school over the past few years, it is clear that we have maintained our focus on librarianship as we have developed our undergraduate program and new partnerships. Here are just some of the highlights of our school’s support of the library community and mission in the last 4 years:

  • We have partnered with K-12 school districts on a cohort program to prepare classroom teachers to move to school libraries to meet critical state demands. This was with the Charleston, Florence 1, and Darlington School districts.
  • We hired Nicole Cooke, a globally recognized scholar in diversity in librarianship as well as fake news as our Augusta Baker chair
  • We promoted Karen Gavigan, an internationally recognized scholar in school librarianship, to the rank of professor.
  • We sought and received externally sponsored research funding in the area of librarianship including:
    • Hearst Foundation funding with the College of Education for the development of community literacy.
    • Library of Congress Funding to prepare K-12 teachers and librarians to use primary source materials in the teaching of civil rights in the classroom
    • Institute of Museum and Library Service funding in the exploration of school libraries and their role in guided inquiry and examination of library service to marginalized communities.
  • We hired Kim Thompson as a tenured associate professor who researches information poverty and holds a strong pedigree in library policy. She was recently installed as Associate Dean for the College.
  • We hired Ehsan Mohammadi with a background in scholarly communications and Vanesa Kitzie who researches library service to marginalized populations.
  • We hired Lucy Green, Valerie Byrd Fort, and Jenna Spiering for our school media program
  • We have expanded our South Carolina Center for Children’s Books and Literacy into the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy which still operates a working physical library that contains a unique collection of children’s books
  • We hired Jeff Penka who is a former administrator at OCLC, a global library cooperative company, and Zepheira (who developed BibFrame with the Library of Congress)
  • We put in place a Fellows program with notable library experts to help advise the school with our inaugural class consisting of Sari Feldman (former PLA and ALA president); Jason Broughton the State Librarian of Vermont; Lee Rainie director of internet and technology for Pew Research Center that regularly reports on the state of librarians and libraries; and Erik Boekesteijn is a senior advisor at National Library of the Netherlands.
  • We revised our LIS core curriculum after two years of exhaustive feedback from alumni and the library community
  • We have partnered with the university library at the University of South Carolina to revise and extend our courses in preservation and special collections
  • We have hosted conferences and gatherings for the Institution for Museum and Library Services (a discussion on the Laura Bush 21st Century Library program) and the American Library Association’s Library Research Roundtable
  • We have partnered with the Charleston County Public Library to develop professional development programs for library paraprofessionals
  • We sought and were re-accredited through the American Library Association
  • We have supported faculty travel to library association conferences
  • The school has established a “sister school” relationship with NCCU, a top library science program in Taiwan

That is a record we the faculty and staff are proud of and we believe compares VERY favorably to any library and information program regardless of their name.

Summing Up

We seek to change the name of the School of Library and Information Science to the School of Information Science. We do this to stay in line with our peer programs and reduce confusion related to the school’s mission within the university and beyond. This change in name does not change our mission. It allows us to expand that mission. The school still greatly values and supports the larger library community and will continue to do so.

Appendix: Letter Soliciting Feedback from Alumni

October 15, 2019

Dear Alumni,

We are planning the 50th anniversary celebration and exploring evolving needs for our curriculum, degrees, and program name. In doing this, we continue the path first developed in Davis College by founding dean, Wayne Yenawine. His Statement of Plans for the Graduate Library School included, “Our curriculum may not resemble the conventional Master’s program and may be strikingly different.” It was.

Through the first 5 decades of the program we have been known as the Graduate Library School, the College of Librarianship, and the School of Library and Information Science. Our flagship degree has been named both the Master of Librarianship and the Master of Library and Information Science, but now we also offer Bachelor and Doctorate degrees. So, much has changed, but much stays the same. As the Dean noted in his 1971 Statement of Plans, “Ours will be a multi-purpose library school, limited for the present to the Master’s program. Hopefully, the curriculum will be a vital, relevant one and that our graduates will be prepared to use information and modern technology to fulfill our community’s needs.” That is still our guiding focus as this evolution again occurs.

There is a lot of good news to report on from the halls of Davis College. We wanted to bring you up to date with your alma mater and ask for your help and participation as we prepare to celebrate 50 years of library science education at the University of South Carolina in 2020.

Enrollments at the graduate and undergraduate program are up. In 2017 we were re-accredited by the American Library Association for 7 years and we have just completed a two-year process to craft a new core curriculum for the Master of Library and Information Science degree that merges the best scholarship with the direct experience of front-line librarians. We have also begun programs with several K-12 school districts to address the critical shortage of school librarians in South Carolina.

Over the past 4 years we have hired amazing new faculty and increased the funding of our research. This year we welcome our new Augusta Baker Chair, Nicole Cooke. We have also launched a Fellows program connecting the school to outstanding internationally known librarians and information professionals.

Plans are also underway for a new master’s degree in Data and Strategic Communications with our sister School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Next fall we will begin offering specialist certifications for every library student that require no additional courses or tuition to help them stand out in the job market. We are also working with the Charleston County Public Library to develop a professional development program geared to library workers without the master’s degree.

This letter could go on for pages with details on these and other advances in the school. And please reach out to the school if you would like to know more. However, the primary purpose of this letter is to get your input.

As part of a college-wide strategic planning process several identity issues have been identified for the school. Namely, folks outside of the school do not understand all the areas we work in nor all the degrees we offer. Too many faculty in other departments at the university confuse us with the university library. Too many undergraduate students think that our information science degree is preparation solely for library positions. We also are looking to come in line with peer programs at other universities as we head into new U.S. News and World Report rankings for LIS programs – the majority now identified as “I” schools (for information).

We are proposing to change the name of the School of Library and Information Science and we are looking for your input and your suggestions. We are looking for a name that captures all of our degrees and impacts upon South Carolina, the country, and the world. Should we be the School of Information? Information Science? Information and Civic Discourse? What speaks to you? What continues the vision Dean Yenawine set out?

To be clear this in no way minimizes our dedication to libraries or librarianship. The degree name, Master of Library and Information Science, will remain the same providing vital continuity from our past innovation to our future impact. We continue to hire tenure-track faculty in librarianship. We continue to work across the state and across the globe on improving communities through librarianship.

Please know that your alma mater is strong and continues to make a positive difference. We remain dedicated to the advancement of librarians and the broader information domain. This is your school and the successes in Davis is directly tied to your good work.


R. David Lankes, Director

Fred Roper, Dean Emeritus and Co-Chair of the 50th Anniversary Committee

Jack Bryan, Class of 1974 and Co-Chair of the 50th Anniversary Committee






[6] Lance, Keith Curry, Bill Schwarz, and Marcia J. Rodney. (2014). How Libraries Transform Schools by Contributing to Student Success: Evidence Linking South Carolina School Libraries and PASS & HSAP Results. South Carolina Association of School Librarians

[7] and

[8] (accessed November 28, 2015)

[9] (Accessed November 28, 2015)


[11] Data on public library usage comes from the Annual Institute of Museum and Library Services report. This report includes data on the over 18,000 public libraries in the United States and the latest data is from 2017. You can find the data on professional sports attendance here and on movie theater attendance here. The data on millennial library use comes from the PEW report on libraries available here.