By Flagg, Gordon
American Libraries , Vol. 33, No. 3
Like their counterparts in the field, library school faculty face a myriad of challenges, from adapting to new technologies to dealing with fiscal constraints. At the forefront of these concerns for both librarians and educators is the recruitment of new members to an aging profession, prompting the focus of this year's conference of the Association for Library and Information Science Education. Held January 15-18 in New Orleans, the meeting's theme--in keeping with the host city's reputation as the birthplace of jazz--was "Faculty Recruitment in a New Key."
Conference Chair Elizabeth Aversa promised that this year's meeting would be more interactive than usual, with more opportunities for discussion. With that in mind, keynote speaker Clifton Forbes Conrad took an innovative approach. Conrad, professor of higher education at the University of Wisconsin/Madison and author of A Silent Success: Master's Education in the United States, did a close examination of LIS programs in preparation for his ALISE appearance. Conrad's role extended beyond the usual opening speech: He remained a visible presence for the duration of the conference, attending programs and socializing with ALISE members in order to lead what he called an intentionally provocative conversation on the future of LIS education.
In his keynote speech, Conrad noted that LIS programs have traditionally been subject to relatively little scrutiny, allowing them to be self-defining and to shape their own destiny. "That period," he warned, "is rapidly coming to an end." He offered ways to avoid pitfalls and seize opportunities in light of unprecedented pressures both external (demographic shifts, changing expectations of employers, technology) and internal (the changing nature of knowledge production and dissemination, the rise of the entrepreneurial "profit or perish" university, the shortage of qualified faculty).
He warned that recent innovations pose potential dangers: Online master's programs organized around high technology and high convenience can be very expensive, and the competition from the private sector will be fierce. Corporate training programs, while offering new audiences and revenue streams, could allow corporations to dictate the nature of our programs.
Conrad suggested five courses of action for LIS programs:
* Know thyself. Forge a programmatic identity, keeping the traditional mantle of librarianship while encompassing information studies.
* Embrace change and innovation in alignment with that programmatic identity. Examples of programs doing this are the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill's courses on Web databases and information security, and interdisciplinary faculty at the University of California/Berkeley and the University of Puerto Rico.
* Reconceptualize programs and practices. Recruit and retain diverse and engaged faculty, create participatory learning environments, and use innovative and interactive teaching and learning strategies.
* Incorporate assessment into program design. As Congress talks about accountability in education, we must develop new ways to measure quality.
* Ensure a community that is both intellectually fierce and sacred.
A reactor panel of three educators responded to Conrad's provocative observations. Noting that all of Conrad's recommendations involved change, Delia Neuman of the University of Maryland asked, "How do we ensure that we don't change just for the sake of change, but that we find ways to change that are improvements?" She voiced concern over a lack of understanding on campus about what we do, adding that we need to come up with ways to topple the stereotype arid gain our appropriate place in the university.
Doug Rader of the University of Tennessee felt that the external forces that are driving LIS education reflect "an increasing intensification of capitalist culture." Our response, he said, will be a balance between accommodation and resistance. …