ALISE Keynote: LIS Education in the 21st Century

Big, Complex, Demanding, and Competitive: The Road to Library and Information Science Education in the 21st Century
by Jorge Reina Schement (Dean of School of Communication & Information at Rutgers University)

First, yay for getting the code for the conference wifi (makes blogging so much easier)! And double yay to seeing some other people on iPads, laptops, and notebooks at the conference! On to the actual keynote–allons-y!

Converging Trends
1. The historic public commitment to higher education is at risk.
The percent support of state support is decreasing in some states, but others are increasing (but not by a lot given the low support). Many states are “stepping away” from their support of public higher education. Our challenge is to create a business model that “positions ourselves successfully.” We aren’t prepared for the period that is coming. The demand for higher education is continuing to increase, unlike the level of state support.

Schement posits that the state support level will not return to previous levels in our lifetimes.

2. Household income lags farther behind the growing cost of a university education.
Tuition continues to increase, but household income is not increasing. Undergraduates are engaging higher education as a “pay-as-you-go” proposition because of the realities of the economy. Also, we need to change how we “do business” at the university because of the increasing diversity of our country and our undergraduates.

LIS Education and Profession
Obviously, the above trends will affect LIS programs and the profession. We will have issues with attracting students if tuition continues to increase while the job market (and salaries) stagnate. Also, our faculties are not changing as rapidly as our student bodies to reflect the diversity of the students.

“Librarianship is an aging, largely white, profession that must plan for its future. Without aggressive recruitment among diverse student populations by librarians & library program faculty, the profession will incur the consequences of cultural isolation.” We need to figure out a way to get a more diverse profession to reflect the communities we serve. Schement suggests that, “LIS faculty should consider a joint campaign to recruit younger students to the profession” (and also to recruit minority students). (However, there is already a trend of younger students at LIS schools–at least at San Jose and Simmons.)

Four Modest Proposals for LIS Education

  1. In the midst of an economic transformation, we must recognize ourselves as an enterprise and minimize our dependence on subsidies from the university and the state.
  2. We must ride the demographic wave sweeping America and attract and recruit a diverse profile of students and faculty.
  3. To succeed nationally, we must succeed within our own institutions by showing our centrality to the mission of the university.
  4. Just as Americans are developing a national narrative to explain economic hardships and demographic change, we too must craft a national narrative of value, service, and leadership.

What about distance education?
Distance education is clearly something we have to do. We might think about offering distance education programs collaboratively with other programs. “Distance education is thinking outside the box.”

How do we succeed when there are no jobs for our students?
There are tension between profession and function of librarianship. (I don’t think that this question was answered well because we can’t deny that this is a tough economy for finding work, no matter what you call the degree or job. If organizations aren’t hiring, there isn’t much one can do.)

How do you change the face of LIS faculty when people want to hire people who “look like us”?
“Give people the benefit of the doubt.” People just need to find the most qualified person for the position, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, gender, etc. We also need to cultivate people for these positions.

Interesting review of changing demographics of the United States and how LIS schools need to change to reflect the diversity. I agreed with much of the talk, but I’m not sure how I feel about even more aggressive recruitment of students to LIS programs. I am in favor with increasing diversity in both the LIS faculty and student bodies, but not by promising that there will be employment after graduation for our students. I did completely agree with the need to be aggressive about showing and telling the value of librarianship to the public in order to create a narrative of value for the library that reflects the needs of society. Nice start to the conference.