Why No Academic Librarianship Specialty Rankings

You probably heard by now that U.S. News & World Report recently issued its latest graduate school rankings. The big news was that for the first time in quite a few years U.S. News & World Report updated the library and information science program rankings. At their site, U.S News & World Report provides only the top three rankings in a variety of categories. Through the friend of a friend affiliated with a library school I was able to get access to the full top ten rankings. Truth be told, there were few surprises. Most of the top programs back in 1999, when the rankings were last done, were still the top programs with perhaps some spot shifting.

What I found more surprising was the choice of the specializations selected for rankings. They included archives, digital preservation, health, information systems, law librarianship, school library media, and services for children and youth. Those are useful specializations to rank, but why law, medical and school, and no academic specialty? After all, there are plenty of prospective students interested in academic librarianship who might like to know which schools have the top-ranked programs – for what it’s worth. Or can it be there is a perception that there is little interest in academic librarianship when compared to these other specialty areas? I’m not sure what explains the omission of academic library specialties, but I suspect the real reason is that the majority of the library schools don’t really have much in the way of academic library programs. My guess, is that like the graduate school where I teach a course, there is little more than a single course on academic librarianship – and little faculty recognition or support for academic librarianship. Since the rankings are based on votes from Deans, directors, and faculty, and academic librarianship is hardly on their radar screens, it’s perhaps no surprise that academic librarianship gets little respect in these rankings.

Do we care? If we do, and we want to promote academic librarianship – or at least give those expressing an interest in our field a better idea of which LIS programs offer the most support and educational opportunity for careers in academic librarianship – perhaps an ACRL section or committee can take on the task of developing rankings – or at least more information about educational opportunities for academic librarians at the LIS schools. Possible ranking criteria? Is there a dedicated course in academic librarianship? What are the qualifications of the instructor? Is there an advisor with academic experience (within the last 5 years or so) for students interested in academic librarianship? Are there specialized internship opportunities in academic libraries? What are past employment rates for grads in academic librarianship? How do recent grads of each program rate the schools on academic librarianship? Is there an ACRL student chapter? Does the school work with the regional ACRL chapter on programming? That’s just a start. Why wait another five or six years to see if U.S News & World Report adds an academic librarianship specialty next time they decide to rank LIS programs. Heck, we can do this on our own.

3 thoughts on “Why No Academic Librarianship Specialty Rankings”

  1. Part of me wants to say that I do not think it makes much of a difference, because there is no shortage of incredibly talented academic librarians. We seem to find our niche pretty well. However, I would have appreciated a rankings list of graduate LIS programs, produced by an outside source such as U.S. New, when I chose my graduate institution.

    An interesting thing I have noticed outside of the library field is that, when you tell people you are a librarian, they usually follow up by asking whether you work in a public school or public library. When I tell then that I am an academic librarian, they usuallly have no idea what I mean, and I explain to them what I do (which I love to do). The folks putting out these rankings may simply be unaware of who that person behind the reference desk is.

    One thing we can all do very easily is talk to the students that we serve. I have inspired several undergraduate students to study LIS and become academic librarians, and they usually had no idea who we were until I became a “mentor” for them. These students have professors who inspire them every day, so why shouldn’t we take a more active role in their academic development as well?

    Once we make our duties and activities more visible, students will take more of an interest in pursuing the profession, and there will be a demand for these rankings to be included in graduate school rankings.

  2. Mary, I hadn’t thought of academic librarians mentoring students in the same way that
    professors do, but now that I read your depiction, it makes perfect sense. One of the topics I always bring up to my students who are considering an academic career (I’m a professor) is the tight job market and the high probability that you’ll have to move to a new part of the country for a job. Are there similar concerns for future academic librarians, or is it an entirely different job market? And is this something we should even be talking about with our students?

  3. We try to mentor students interested in librarianship (with a href=”http://librariansatthegate.blogspot.com/”>a blog, among other things) but it’s trickier making the connections than mentoring students who are majoring in a subject. (It’s analogous to pre-law, onlyvery few identify themselves as pre-library-school.) But it’s only fair to tell them that first jobs aren’t a piece of cake to land and you’d better be prepared to move to where the job you want is, rather than try to limit yourself to jobs in a particular area.

    There has been a lot of chatter about the number of retirements coming up in the profession, and some sky-is-falling projections about a shortage, but unfortunately those who take the hand-wringers at their word and get the degree are often disappointed that finding that first job is still a challenge.

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