"Let's just forget about the name stuff; it's not where the action is," said John King, dean of the School of Information at the University of Michigan, during a plenary session at the annual conference of the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE), January 11-14 in Boston. Dismissing the debate over whether our business is libraries or information as "a waste of time," he promptly generated lively discussion over the "L" word versus the "I" word that lasted to the end of the day.
King posited that opportunities for librarians have never been greater: "All we have to do is step up to the challenge." What he called "anxiety discourse" is an indication that "the biggest crisis in the field is a crisis of confidence." Pointing to the recruitment "crisis," he urged the gathering of LIS educators to stop worrying. Simple economics dictates that "when supply is below demand, the price goes up," meaning that the profession will get the better salaries for which it is striving.
To address the current funding "crisis" in school and public libraries, King observed that librarians "have to be experts in productivity." He emphasized that libraries are not so much "cultural institutions" as they are part of the "critical infrastructure" of society. The library "is not living off hard work and know-how; it's about creating hard work and know-how."
The "L" versus "I" debate got even more interesting as ALA President-elect Michael Gorman, dean of library services at California State University at Fresno, took on Special Libraries Association President Ethel Salonen, manager of external content for Millennium Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Explaining that for-profit needs are very different from those of the public sector, Salonen suggested that LIS graduates remove the "L" word from their resumes if they want better-paying jobs in private business.
"If you can earn $60,000 by pretending not to be a librarian, that's fine, but I worry about people who want to work in libraries," Gorman countered. Education for librarianship is not the same as job training, he said.
Observing a "convergence of the information professions," Randall Jimerson, president of the Society of American Archivists, noted that archivists "have a worse crisis of confidence" than librarians. He raised a question that echoed throughout many sessions in Boston: "How do we convince people that what we do is important?"
Keynoting another plenary session, William J. Mitchell, academic head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Program in Media Arts and Sciences, explained how library architects and designers are learning to incorporate technology and respond to the needs of library users. Noting an increasing demand for pleasant space and a decreasing demand for dedicated or highly specialized space, he said that "light and air and sociability" are what we are going back to, "nooks and crannies" in architecture, as in the new Simmons Hall dormitory at MIT.
Explaining that internet access alone would never be a good basket for libraries to put all their eggs in, Mitchell noted the demise of internet cafes in nearby Cambridge. Wireless technology has changed everything, he said, and the reason students come to the library is less for connectivity, which is ubiquitous, than for the social setting and the ambience.
"Where do librarians learn to teach?" asked Heidi Julien, associate professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta. Although library users may believe they are computer literate, she said during a panel discussion of the LIS curriculum from a global perspective, librarians are increasingly being called upon to offer computer literacy instruction. The fact is that most learn how to teach on the job, from their peers, from professional literature, or from adult education. …