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.

When the World Changes on You

I was asked to give a lecture to our introduction to librarianship class on advocacy and leadership. The following are my written remarks.

I’ll be honest with you. Giving you this lecture, writing these words for today kept me awake last night. What do I say to you who are now terrified there will be no jobs? How do I give you tips on leadership and advocacy in a time of pandemics, of economic crisis? Of Increased partisanship when the country needs unity more than ever?

Here’s the thing. I’m the guy who tells people to change the world. No change is too big, none too small as long as we are seeking to improve the lives of our communities…but what happens when the world changes on us. No rousing speech or touching anecdote can change the course of the novel corona virus. No leadership or strategic process plans for shutting down society for a few months. No one plans on a society shaken to its core. Where national guard troops are called up to confiscate and redistribute medical supplies. No one works for a society where even looking down a 20% unemployment rate can’t stop political posturing. No one plans for a society where the mere touch of a stranger can endanger your family.

 What do we do when the world changes on us? It is a question that has be gnawing at me for these weeks at home. There are obvious answers. Those of us privileged to work from home can make sure the school is functioning. We can reach out to ensure students are OK in these “challenging times.” But the height of our brave action is, well, no action at all. Stay home, wash our hands, social distance. Yes, we change the world through flattening the curve, but it is frustratingly passive.

Then I realized…when the world changes on you, your job – our job- is to ensure that that disruption should be used as a tool for our larger mission – the improvement of society. Unlike the systems we build through code, law, or institution, this virus does not display bias. It works its way through society as an ahistorical force. In its wake, though, it lays bare the decisions we have made as a community, as a society, as a species.

In US cities, people of color have been disproportionately affected – not because of biology, but because of systemic inequity in housing, in health care, in economic opportunity. Too many of the most vulnerable in our society cannot social distance because they are dependent on income from low paying jobs, dependent on mass transit, dependent on physical services unable to afford telehealth or expensive home delivery.

When our schools closed, when our universities closed, when government and businesses sent people home to learn and to work, they assumed that the internet would keep us connected. Yet the internet is not a utility – that status was stripped by an FCC driven more by ideology than social good. The internet is seen as another commodity. The results are both urban and rural students unable to continue learning without connection. It will result in performance gaps already wide from inadequate access to good schools and needed social services. The Summer slide will become the pandemic avalanche. The virus has clearly shown the digital divide widening with no public library or school wifi to fill the gaps. It is commendable that some telecommunication companies have volunteered to lift bandwidth caps, but social good should not come solely from charity, and an unpayable bill with unlimited data is still an unpayable bill.

As our libraries- school, public, academic -shuttered their doors and went to serve online they ran into a copyright system designed for profit – no emergency contingencies to speed access to vital scholarship and story times alike. For all of our talk about community-centered libraries, the closing of doors left our publics with ebooks, but little vital social connectivity. To be sure there are some amazing exceptions – public libraries calling up their regular members to check in and provide a friendly voice – but too few.

The world changed. That fact, that reality, is hard to comprehend. The scale of what has happened over the past two months – 9% of the US Gross Domestic Product channeled into checks and loans, and programs meant to simply allow people to pay the rent, hundreds of millions of people ordered to shelter at home – those that have homes. Borders sealed millions unemployed, including health care employees because high profit elective procedures have come to a halt – showing how even our health care system is out of balance.

The objective actions of the virus have shown us the reality of our current surveillance economy. In China, South Korea, Taiwan, Iran, and Israel governments used mobile phone location data to enforce quarantine and monitor the infected. What’s remarkable about these systems is not the speed they were put in place, but the fact that they had been in place for more than a decade. In the US it wasn’t the phone companies that set up social distance monitoring systems, but advertisers. Advertisers sold the data they collected from us back to governments to locate hot spots and large groups congregating against emergency orders. Once again, what is remarkable was not the speed with which they set this up, but it showed how the exact same data and systems just two month ago were used to influence our buying and pollical behaviors.

In Wisconsin a pollical brawl endangered lives in the supposed name of democracy when a desire to hear the voice of the people became entangled in politicians seeking to pick which people’s voices were heard in a gordian knot of self-interest. Astroturfed protests called to liberate communities fly under a false flag of liberty – economics and the health of the population presented as a false choice. Conspiracy theories and miracle cures fly across the internet as people seek someone to blame.

What does a person seeking to change the world do when the world changes on them? They seek to ensure that the aftermath of the pandemic is not a rush to recreate what was before, but to reinvent a society for the better. As knowledge workers, our job is to fix the data and media landscape people use to learn and make meaning in their lives.

My big biggest fear is that in a month we are all going to be rightly centered on the economic fallout of this crisis. And then in a year a drift back to “normal” not having learned anything.

How do we avoid wasting the very human price of this pandemic? My answer to you is leadership and advocacy.

Advocate for libraries certainly, but advocate for responsive and equitable health care for those who can’t shelter at home because they have no home.

Advocate for better systems of education and more accountability for government officials in times of crisis.

What we have now seen clearly is that the basics for survival in a crisis are food, medicine, and meaningful, trustworthy information. Knowledge sharing that includes accurate data, but more importantly, accurate reflection on the human condition.

Librarians should be mobilized in times of crisis like medical workers to tend to the knowledge needs of our communities. Not to ensure there are enough ebooks to go around, but to provide comfort in knowing and understanding. Librarians with expertise in reference should be building fact sheets and infographics for our communities. Youth librarians should be doing story time and helping parents explain the crisis to children. School librarians should be helping parents provide distraction and growth. Our systems librarians should be transforming catalogs and social media sites into community forums.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina citizens of the flooded wards were seeking accurate information. Dispersed across the country or living in squalid conditions citizens sought out guidance for housing, loans to rebuild, relief of all sorts. They were met with contradicting statements at the local, state and federal level. The systems intended to provide relief instead provided confusion and anxiety after the waters receded. A local newspaper transformed their online comment system into community forums focused on individual wards. In those online sites citizens became the experts. They shared not what was being told, but what worked. In a time of confusion, the newspaper provided a platform for communities to take charge and find clarity. That’s what our libraries should do now.

We should be briefing mayors not only on the latest news and research, but the work and concerns of the people. Medical librarians and academic librarians should be mobilized to help the world sort through the millions of new scholarly papers and studies being shared well before peer review.

After the virus passes, we need a workforce dedicated to the workforce. We need librarians trained in not just finding jobs and helping write resumes, but in applying for the labyrinth of new programs to support small business and gig workers. Our public librarians and school librarians must partner with our community colleges and universities to provide a true university of the people. Our academic libraries need to reach out and continue connection to academic workers laid off.

A key to emerging from this pandemic will be contact tracing. We need to identify who is sick and who they have interacted with in a way that preserves privacy and values the individual. Every librarian who is laid off instead of re-tasked to build and staff that contact tracing system is worse than a lost opportunity, it is a failure of leadership.

Every hole we discovered in our social safety net during this crisis, every crack in our response, has a knowledge component. We have seen how data on infections and mortality can be misreported, misinterpreted, and ignored. We have seen how the perennial underestimating of the importance of teachers and professionals dedicated to education cannot be remedied with a few packets and additional load on overstressed parents. We have seen how our elders can be not only quarantined, but isolated and ignored – their plight underreported. We have seen how state and federal responses instead of bringing clarity, bring division. Librarians and the whole of the information science domain must take these failures as an agenda, a grand challenge.

To be sure there have also been bright spots in these past few weeks. We have learned community and companionship can continue in Zooms and FaceTimes and Facebook Lives. We have seen librarians read and council youth. We have seen through people’s backgrounds and video conferences interrupted by children and pets a humanity to our collogues. Your mission now, our mission as librarians and information professionals is to fix the broken systems, heal the shattered psyches, and help our communities find meaning in a time of pandemic and the aftermath.

You are powerful, you are instrumental, you are the future in this regard. It is a large, and frankly, unfair burden to put upon your shoulders. But know you will not be alone. I am here, your professors are here, your fellow students are here. This mission is not for a few, it is for all. We got this.

Real Time Archives

I hope you have had time to check out librarian.SUPPORT ( and the Real Time sessions. I have some great conversations and learned a lot on everything from scenario planning with Matt Finch, to Emergency planning with Jason Broughton, to universal access with Clayton Copeland, and graphic novels with Karen Gavigan.

Upcoming sessions are with Chad Mairn on how librarians can use extended realities (VR/AR/MR/360/3D), and Brad and Lucy Green on fostering literacy through music.

Check out the list of previous and upcoming talks. Also let me know if this is something to continue past April.

Carol Perryman: Building Community Online

Carol Perryman is Associate Professor, School of Library and Information Studies. She and I share a strong interest in community and librarianship. In reading my post today on community and isolation she had some great thoughts and reactions. I am sharing them here with her permission.

A touch on the shoulder is just one element (though important) of our interactions. We connect in so many other ways. Because of this, consideration of how shifted awareness, focused on additional elements of interactions, can be used to enhance online learning seems important in thinking about improving online learning (or even considering what it might add that isn’t available in person). 

I spent several years working in Second Life as a consumer health librarian, paid by a series of NLM grants, and learned much about trust and our connections. Groups there, such as the global gathering of people diagnosed with AIDS/HIV, established communities using avatars. In talking over years with others I consider ‘instinctive sociologists’ – natural, curious observers of human behavior – we observed that even online, when another person joined our discussion, we adjusted our social distance to accommodate the added person. 

In an asynchronous health support forum focused on smoking cessation, smaller communities within the very large one (over 100,000 members) emerged, and our relationships grew to include far more than smoking cessation. In fact, 20 years after I quit smoking, I am still part of one smaller group that first met in the forum. Children not yet conceived are now adults. Our number includes attorneys, nurses, a magazine editor, an artist/graphic designer, a 7/11 clerk in a small town; we have lost members to cancer. And we have met in person, many of us. 

We understand that it’s difficult to convey feeling in email, but our written words convey signals of affiliation. In the absence of expected signals, people will often ask outright for gender information, for example. We want to belong and to understand where others fit in our worldview. 

In online education, it does seem likely that community-building is more difficult. Our alliances are enforced by circumstance outside ourselves, temporary, and subject to evaluation. All performance is assessed. But this is also true in person. To think that students are not aware of power inequalities (or that similarly, staff and faculty and administrative personnel are not equally so) is wishful thinking.

What are the differences between the communities established in Second Life and an asynchronous health support forum, and online learning?

One is self-agency: In Second Life and QuitNet, people entered the space on a purely voluntary basis. They were free to perform their functions to the chosen extent – interact or not, disclose what they felt comfortable with disclosing. I entered Second Life as a paid consumer health librarian, deliberately exploring how virtual roles and spaces could be sites for library roles. 

Another is trust-building, our understood social contract, and the understanding of our virtual-space selves. When I interacted with people in the health support forum, it was always with an awareness of my role. For example, I considered how I could build trust with a carefully constructed appearance and with transparency: people knew my real name and role. I had a central identified purpose. Interestingly, not everyone had this kind of awareness. In fact, in Second Life, one avatar active in the library community had a habit of coming on to women in a very crude way. He and others somehow drew a line between ‘real world’ selves and represented personas, persuading themselves that trust was somehow different online. 

Purpose is an element: In the smoking cessation community, all entered (I presume) with that central purpose in mind, and personas were built around that core over some length of time, based upon readiness to interact and trust. That length of time, together with self-agency, may be important in understanding differences between in-person and online communities. One semester in terms of trust-building isn’t long. It seems likely that the additional social cues we get from our in-person connections, even just for one semester, support our interactive community-building. Even in person, however, not all community members feel an equal amount of ease, or trust. There are always those who sit in the back of the class.

Speaking more generally, we have been shifting from an entirely in-person world to one in which our lives span time and space (the final frontier!). Remember Max Headroom, the TV showed that tested our awareness of what was real and what was not; our discomfort (the ‘uncanny valley’) with robotic simulations of human life? How about social media trolls, who use their anonymity to harass others and excite controversy? 

I believe we are still traveling along a path of how we trust, as well as how we understand our asynchronous, temporary connections. There’s probably lots more to be said about this, and others have done so far better. 

None of these speculations offer answers to the question of improving online education. However, an awareness of the unique benefits and risks we take on in different settings may offer clues.

Community in a Time of Isolation

Tomorrow our Students return to class. All of our students they will return to class online. For our LIS students this will be normal. Except, it won’t be normal for them. They will be returning to their usual distance courses while sheltered in place, at home with children not attending shuttered schools, or parents closed off in senior communities, or spouses who have to exchange Zoom meetings for conference rooms, or perhaps they are now simply alone in a country whose borders have been closed in a world that counts every ventilator unit like it used to measure Gross Domestic Product.

In our classes we will be teaching these future librarians and information professionals a curriculum of skills. Yet all of these skills are founded on the values of service. And as much as we talk about virtual libraries and online communities our traditions and models and metaphors run deep with a reality of human contact.

I am reminded of talking with Chuck McClure about a study he did on reference transactions. It was the famous 55% study where he and Peter Hernon found about half of reference questions actually received incorrect answers. Yet an overwhelming percentage of people getting these answers were satisfied. When I asked how this could be, he asked “the number one way of increasing satisfaction?” He then reached out his hand, laid it on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and with sincerity asked, “does that help?” Human connection.

In the rise of social media, scholar after scholar, maven after maven, profit after profit have extolled the centrality of community and connection. I’ll be honest, in my 4 years at South Carolina I have struggled with finding ways to foster community in our online program. Traditional ways of bonding don’t work. Bringing in a speaker is difficult when the audience is of 10 bodies and an online audience of 50.

And yet the bond between faculty and student and school and alumni is strong. Why? Because our school library faculty are out in classrooms around the state. My faculty delivers workshops on universal design in a Center down the street. They hop in a bus to go to the neediest schools to read stories with the university mascot. They reach out to refugee populations. They sit with undergraduates in research and teaching and in protest of wrongs (including my wrong decisions). I still have alumni in Maine from a cohort decades ago that have a strong connection to the school because the faculty would make multiple trips a semester up north.

But now these faculty too sit at home with children and elders and spouses or by themselves in unprecedented times when social distancing, while novel, can too easily turn to fear of human physical contact.

I sent out a tweet asking if libraries around the globe are really closing, or are they shutting their physical doors but staying open online (and just to be clear they should close the physical doors out of concern for both staff and community). After all, libraries have been online for over 20 years. Some told of ebooks. Some of increased chats and reference transactions. Many talked about online story times and youth activities. Perhaps the most touching were the too few that were calling “regulars,” just to check in and make sure they were OK.

We talk about libraries and all kinds of information organizations building communities. We talk of social media as connecting and building relationships. But how many of us know our regulars well enough to call them and ask, “how are you,” and then, and I cannot stress this enough, listen to the response?

My inbox is full of statements telling me how much my gym, and my movie theater, and my airline care about me in these trying times. Telling me. None have called me or emailed me to listen.

It’s amazing in a time when Google and Apple know more about me than probably my mother, if they called and asked how I was, it would feel intrusive, even abusive. We have a deal Google, and I. They give me service and I give them data. It’s a transaction. One in which I know they know things I don’t want to talk about or share.

Are we preparing our graduates to create these kinds of communities or true communities founded on relationships and not simply aggregated data that can trigger a dopamine response when needed? Are our undergraduates using their skills in data analysis, design thinking, system design and so on to create engagement that can yield to analytics and be monetized? Or to connect? Are our graduate alumni going into schools, academies, medical centers, corporations, archives, and libraries truly prepared to serve and connect with compassion?

Paul Romer, a Stanford economist, said a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. He was talking about an economic crisis, and the need to rebalance an economy and the social compact between government, citizen, and business. We too must not waste this crisis. Every day of locked down uncertainty is a test of our ideals, traditions, curricula, and service.

How do we not only seek to answer more questions correctly, but reach out a virtual hand, rest it on the collective, sheltered in place, shoulders of our communities, and, with sincerity, ask, “does this help?”

Real Time Sessions Added to librarian.SUPPORT

Thanks to the great library community’s generosity we’ve added some great new sessions to the http://librarian.SUPPORT site:

March 24: Matt Finch

March 26: Jason Broughton

March 31: Erik Boekesteijn

April 2: Clayton Copeland

April 7: Karen Gavigan

April 9: Valerie Byrd Fort

Please check out for more information and new sessions.

We’ll be meeting every Tuesday and Thursday through the end of April (at least). If there is no guest speaker it will just be me and you having a conversation and answering questions.

All sessions will be at

Librarian.Support Real Time with Matt Finch

Join David Lankes as he talks with Matt Finch Tuesday March 24th 9-10 Eastern Time.

Matt is regularly invited to keynote at conferences and events. He is currently a facilitator on the Scenario Planning course at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. Join us to talk about Planning for uncertainty; scenario and foresight work for libraries; how to do the anticipatory groundwork for the post-pandemic ‘New Normal’ which awaits librarians, information professionals, and the institutions they serve

We’ll be using Blackboard Collaborate – a web based conference solution. We should have room for about 100 folks to join the “studio audience” and ask questions.

We’ll be hosting these sessions every Tuesday and Thursday morning through the end of April as part of the Librarian.Support effort. You can see the system requirements for Collaborate here:

SLIS Pandemic Resources

We have been fortunate that as our university moves online, we were already there. We are, however, working hard to ensure that our students can access our courses online with a particular eye to emergent digital divide issues.

I spend a fair amount of time talking about how the School of Library and Information Science seeks to have an impact in the community. We don’t just want to teach change agents, we want to be change agents – faculty, students, staff, alumni.

To that end I am happy to announce some of our efforts to support our communities.

First up the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy has pulled together resources for parents with kids at home and teachers:

We also know that a lot of libraries around the world have closed their physical spaces and a lot of library staff are working from home. To support librarians using this time to work on skills and engage in professional development I am proud to announce SLIS has teamed up with Public Libraries 2030 to put together Librarian.Support, a site (and to be clear one we are building as we go) to highlight some professional development resources from SLIS. Our focus is on preparing folks for better libraries after the virus.

We are adding resources as we go including archives of webinars, lessons from our online courses, guides to good learning resources, and we want to add more. Once agin this is a fluid effort, so all are welcome to contribute and please be patient.

Starting this Tuesday, March 24th I will be doing open support sessions every Tuesday and Thursday at least through April. I’ll be inviting faculty, staff, and great librarians from the field to join me in a call-in-style class/show. I’ve already had folks like Erik Boekesteijn for the Royal Libraries of the Netherlands, Karen Gavigan SLIS Professor and genius in everything graphic novels, Marie Østergaard director of one of if not thee most innovative public library in the world Aarhus Public Libraries in Denmark, and Kim Silk Strategic Planning & Engagement Librarian at Hamilton Public Library agree to join me for shows. The idea is a real-time conversation that you can join to ask questions and join the conversation.

I’ll do a separate post this afternoon with details, but for now know the link will be

9-10 Eastern Standard Time and archives of the conversations will be posted on the Librarian.SUPPORT site. It should be great to get a global view on librarianship. We can have up to 150 folks join the live sessions.

If you have a topic you or your library would be interested in, or want to be a guest, please email me at

Folks, this is an extraordinary time. Borders are closed, National Guards activated, quarantines enforced. Everyone has every right to be anxious. I have found that in times of anxiety it is best to do something – anything. Let’s use this time, if we have the resources, to first take care of ourselves, and then teach each other.

Corona Virus and Library Science Students

The following is an update I sent to our alumni. It is a version I sent off to our LIS students.

Greetings Friends,

As you may know the university has extended Spring Break through next week and is then going online with all of its courses (graduate and undergraduate) for two weeks after that (through April 3). For the latest information on the university’s response please see:

To be clear, this is the authoritative source for information. I haven’t emailed you before because the school has to wait for the university’s lead.

I wanted to reach out to see if you had any questions, and make you aware of a few things:

  • Next week is an extended break for the students, but busy for the staff and faculty. We will not only be adjusting dates and materials for course, but many faculty will have to move in-person classes online, and that will take work.
  • The university guidance also means changes in scheduled events. The Deans and Directors lecture on April 3rd has been indefinitely postponed. This includes the award ceremony and the Beta Phi Mu installation. We are working on a new date for these, or alternatives.
  • Right now hooding and graduation have not been effected, but the situation is “fluid.” As I learn something, you’ll hear it.
  • Offices and administration remain open at the university. Some staff and faculty will be working from home, particularly if they are in a high-risk group such as immune compromised. Also folks traveling may have to self-quarantine.
  • Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. If I don’t have answers, I’ll track some down.

And now a personal note. We got this. We as a school, as faculty, as students, as staff, we have this. We know how to work online sure, but more importantly, we know about using knowledge as an antidote to fear and misinformation. Some of you may find all of this an over-reaction. Some of you may have a heightened sense of anxiety in these uncertain times. I had a bone marrow transplant 18 months ago, so as someone who is immune compromised, I get it.

The answer is not to disconnect from community while we may shelter away physically. Some of our students are already working in libraries, all of them are being prepared to support communities. Right now what they’re feeling (anger, relief, anxiety, confusion) is being felt by the 3rd grader in a school library. It is felt by a spouse browsing the health books. It is felt by students in Thomas Cooper, or the person self-quarantined at home. Soon it will be their role to reach out to all of them. To let them know they are not alone. To provide what information we can, and all the compassion we have. In these times of conflicting stories the role of a librarian and an information scientist is to be trusted and caring.

I will send updates as I have them.


R. David Lankes
Professor and Director

School of Library and Information Science
College of Information and Communications
University of South Carolina