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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Advising library schools

Yesterday, I met with the intriguingly named "One Heartbeat from the Top" group (assistant directors of public libraries in Colorado) who initiated meetings with the deans of library schools serving Colorado. (OK: they got the name from the title of a gag newsletter I wrote some 24 years ago with Bill Erbes, when both of us were Assistant Directors in Illinois. True fact: we sent it out to a variety of leading library lights at the time, and the only person who signed up for our subscription offer was Michael Gorman. Bless him.)

First up in our Colorado interviews yeterday was Dr. Gwen Alexander, Dean of the School of Library and Information Science in Emporia, Kansas. The local coordinator is the very bright and articulate Kelly Visnak.

Next was Dr. Mary Stansbury, Program Chair of the University of Denver school of library and information science.

Today, I attended the Front Range Public Library Directors meeting, where Dr. Alexander again made a presentation.

It's worth recording the recommendations from the field about what we really want from library schools. Here are the two biggies:

  • Children's librarians. Too many schools discourage students from pursuing children's librarianship. It doesn't have enough status, or doesn't earn enough money, or somehow doesn't seem cool or high-tech enough. But my colleagues and I have learned that children's librarianship is among the most crucial positions we have. We desperately need master storytellers, with a deep knowledge of children's literature, possessing a familiarity with the latest knowledge about brain development and early literacy. That's a track of library school study. Public libraries have many roles, but it all starts with inculcating the love of reading. I also made this point: children's librarianship is a terrific beginning for librarians interested in moving up. Compelling storytelling is the essence of leadership. You may quote me.

  • Public administration. "Management" or "supervision" doesn't quite capture it. We need a track for the thoughtful exposure to public finance (where the money comes from, how to calculate it, how to read a balance sheet, how to build a budget), public policy development and documentation, personnel structure and management philosophies, approaches to public input, the importance of data-driven decision-making, measurement that matters, project management, meeting facilitation whether in-house or serving as neutral moderator for external groups.

Other comments were made: the importance of merchandising, family literacy (particularly among many immigrant groups), and technology instruction.

Dr. Alexander faces some challenges, based as she is in Emporia and running truly international programs. Dr. Stansbury has leveraged her advantage of being local, and has made impressive strides in getting local players involved.

There are things library leaders can and should to do help library schools turn out graduates we can use:

  • Volunteer to guest lecture in classes.

  • Volunteer to plug students into a practicum or shadowing opportunity.

  • Provide scholarships for staff to attend library school.

  • Serve on advisory committees -- improving curricula, fundraising, etc.

  • Give in-house library students a chance to apply their studies to the organization.

  • Hire new graduates!

We all agreed on this: the MLS (Master's of Library Science) probably means that you will be called upon to assume some kind of leadership role in today's library.

I noted with some amusement that both Associate Director and Directors wanted library schools to give us emotionally intelligent, mature, skilled communicators. But of course, all of us have hired plenty of people who weren't and aren't -- and that can hardly be the fault of library schools, now can it?

The good news: we should be talking, regularly, with library schools. The bad news: library school is expensive, library pay is often too low, and our list of needs is disturbingly open-ended.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Thanks for this post. Having sat in on some of these discussions recently, it occurs to me that not all this needs to be covered in a master's level program. Continuing education also needs to support the growth and development of library staff. Now to sift out which is which and coordinate the efforts for maximum quality, inspiration, and truly meaningful development of staff.