The Opportunities and Obligations of the Knowledge School

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

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

Slides: Slides in PDF


Presentation Notes:

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

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

I further believe that in these times of alternative facts, fake news, and near contempt for public service, we have an obligation to lead.


That opportunity and that obligation are at the center of why I came to South Carolina.

It is what I saw in the School of Library and information Science. Here was a group of students, scholars, staff, alumni, and partners that were not content to simply document or study the world, they sought to change it. When the folks at SLIS looked to Corridor of Shame, they didn’t write an article and look away, but by God, they put Cocky on a bus with load of athletes and undergraduates and drove to the poorest schools of the state to give out books, and demonstrate that through literacy students could go to college, play sports, and achieve. When they saw the scourge of AIDS in the teen population, they built upon their research into graphic novels in the classroom by going into detention centers and working with gang members to create graphic novels to help other teens. Again and again I saw a program dedicated to social justice and action.


What I would like to talk to you about today is how we can build on that work, and the amazing work of you in this audience, to embrace the opportunities in building, together, a new school of thought around librarianship and meet our obligation to improve society.

Together, school librarian and professor, practitioner and academic, we are going to build a knowledge school. We are going to transform a library science school in Columbia, to a school of thought that influences the field globally.


How are we going to do it? First we must acknowledge that in trying to explore librarianship and information and media and technology, too often we have lost sight of our goal – our ultimate mission: to improve society – to help our communities make smarter decisions. I ask you to recall the optimism, the idealism of the rise of the Internet.
Before iPhones, before Apps, when the web was just starting to come into the classrooms. Our goal was not wireless networks for online testing and student management systems or RFID systems to surveil students. It was to bring the world into the classroom and the student to the world. Live feeds of world events in social studies, immersive language learning in Chinese classrooms. We dreamed of master teachers a click away, and repositories of lesson plans where thousands of teachers used, refined, and improved them.

Recall the days when textbooks were going to vanish, students would be citizen scientists contributing to global data collection.

Remember the near utopian belief that online information would recharge democracy itself. Citizens would be able to seek out and investigate candidates, keep tab on elected officials, and communities could make informed choices around policy.


Now you laugh, but actually, that is exactly what happened. It’s just that we thought, somehow, if we provided broadband, and software tools, and knowledge of information seeking, and information literacy, that it would bring us together. Remember when we talked about information overload as the biggest challenge?

You know why we don’t talk about it anymore? Because the solution is the echo chamber of social networks, and filter bubbles. What is an InfoGuide, but a filter? As library and information scientists we helped create the world we live in by providing technologies, and methodologies, and frameworks to the world. The CRAAP Test is a great way to find credible information – or to make lies look real. As a field library and information science provide the tools but neglected the responsibility. In a combination of techno-lust, seeking the attention of industry, and an attempt to increase our funding, we downplayed our social mission. A social mission central to librarians.


It is time for us – for you and me – to correct that.

We, you and I, are going to build a knowledge school and we are going to do it in South Carolina, and the rest of the world will then have to catch up to us.


Our first step is to build a team. At SLIS we already have a great team…and we’re making it better, let me introduce you to our newest faculty member,


Lucy Green.

And you are also part of that team. This is not just about supervising field work and interns, though please do that. This is about sharing your best practices. This is about developing new projects and new experiments. This is about you identifying the best future school librarians, and us ensuring they get the best education.

Here are two things I am asking from you:


If you know of a good student who wants to be a school librarian, call me.

Email me their name. Forget the deadlines on the website, if you think the field needs them, then we’ll get them in. Take a look at our marketing materials, and help us make them better. Where do we need to be.

The second thing I am asking from you is your participation. Next year we are going to be revising our LIS curriculum and you need to be at that table. This is not just about the reality of working in a school, but modeling our values and principles.


Our second step in building the knowledge school is realizing we can’t do it alone. Librarians talking to librarians about librarians is not the way forward. The knowledge school must not only prepare great librarians, but great supporters of librarians. We must prepare principles, and provosts, and mayors, and board members. We need a thriving undergraduate program that prepares principled information technologists. We need to prepare Geeks with Social Skills.

You know these people. They are in your library. They are gifted with technology, but want to make a positive difference in the world. They know how to use technology but don’t want to spend their days writing code and solving calculus equations. We need your help in recruiting these to our information science program – not to make them little librarians – but to make them successful information professionals in industry and government that understand the values and value of librarians. Stop by our booth – get some Geek stickers, help us craft a message to your students.


Lastly, and most importantly, I need you to take ownership of our school.

I work for you. The faculty, the staff, we all work for you. If you see a gap, or a misstep, or an error – call us on it. For the next year, I’m asking that you call us up versus a twitter storm, but in any case connect. I know you are busy. I now you are the only librarian at your school, or your district. But connect and let me know how we can make this connection better and stronger.

We have an opportunity before us, you and I. We have the opportunity to rebalance the civic discourse. We have the opportunity to shape the next citizen that rejects false news and alternative facts. That looks beyond the filter bubble, and sees the connected world as a place to engage, not to troll. You are doing that in your libraries and classrooms and we want to help. We are trying to do that in our classrooms and laboratories and we need your help. The future is in our hands. We have society’s greatest calling – to prepare the young to inherit the earth. We may lose sight of that testing regimes, and technical support. We may lose sight of our noble calling due to inadequate budgets and respect. It is natural. It is hard to rise above the daily grind. But we must. And we must help each other do so.

I came to South Carolina – you hired me – because I know that our bright future starts in the land of palmetto trees and rural communities. I came here because I have seen a people who stare down hurricanes and alligators. In my short few months I have found a deep pride in this state. A pride that does not ignore challenges or social inequality, but works to fix them. That believes in the inherit capabilities of all children. We are the future of this field, and I look forward to working with you.