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.

Reference Librarian At Center Of Controversy Over Common Reading Experience

You would think that including the head of your reference department on the commitee that’s selecting the common book for a freshman reading experience would promote better relations between the academic library and faculty. But that’s hardly been the case at Ohio State University at Mansfield where Scott Savage, the head reference librarian, has become the subject of harassment charges filed by several faculty members. The controversy at Mansfield is detailed in a report that appears in today’s Inside Higher Ed.

How did Savage land himself into hot water with the faculty? It seems that after suggesting the book Freakonomics, as a non-ideological and less controversial book, faculty rejected the suggestion because it lacked the sort of controversy that would engage students in debate. Savage then suggested four additional books all of which were decidedly conservative (e.g., from authors such as Rick Santorum and David Horowitz), including one title that clearly contained anti-gay content. One needs only to read some of the e-mail that went back and forth between the committee members (see the document from the Alliance Defense Fund – a conservative organization – which has threatened to sue OSU if they don’t drop the harassment charges against Savage) to get a sense of the enmity this has caused between the conflicted parties.

I don’t know if the librarians at Mansfield have faculty status along with full tenure rights, but we often debate if academic librarians actually need the protection of tenure. This may be a case for us to watch closely. Shouldn’t having faculty status give librarians the right to express unpopular views or to recommend controversial or conservative books for community reading programs without fear of retaliation. Or must we be deferential to teaching faculty for fear that we will offend them and cause them to, as one of the faculty at Mansfield indicated he would, stop using the services of the library and encourage students to do the same. Savage did not respond to requests to be interviewed so we really don’t know what he was thinking. Having faculty status and the rights guaranteed by academic freedom and tenure does not give carte blanche to act in ways that are sure to be perceived as unreasonable and insensitive to one’s colleagues. Did Savage not see the firestorm he’d be creating with his suggestions? Did he intend to provoke his faculty colleagues because they rejected his initial suggestion as lacking controversy? I suppose we’ll need to watch this story as it develops to better understand the case against Savage. But I suspect that there will be some important lessons to be learned for academic librarians, both those with and without the rights afforded by tenure.

“There is more to life than work” – Gen X Faculty and U

This morning’s IHE brings us a report on emergent characteristics of Gen X professors, which brings some of the familiar characterizations of my generation into the study of faculty life. It turns out, for example, that we value transparency in the tenure and promotion process and the teaching component of academic life. Radical ideas!

As I read this report, I had two thoughts:

  1. this study seems somewhat “behind” the discussions we’ve had in the library community about Gen X professionals – likely because it takes longer to become credentialed and employed in an academic department than it does to do so in the library world; and,
  2. the fact that this study seems to bring key elements of the characterization of Gen X students into that of Gen X faculty members reinforces the importance of how we relate to the current generation of undergraduate students.

That is, if many of the characterizations that we (and others) have made about Millennial students and their relationship to the library (and, more broadly, to their information environment) carry forward in the same way, then we had really better focus our efforts on thoughtful transformation if we don’t want to read a report in 5-8 years telling us how Gen Y professors do or do not value the library.

“Can You Hear Me Now?” – EDUCAUSE Touts Information Literacy

In a brief discussion of the myth of student technology competency in this month’s EDUCAUSE Review, Diana Oblinger and Brian Hawkins remind the IT and higher education communities that the ability to download a ringtone to a cell phone does not equate to the ability to effectively locate, evaluate, manage, or present information.

For those of us in libraryland who have been conducting and presenting research on the information and technology literacy skills of our current generation of students, there is little new in the ER story (hence my double meaning of my appropriation of a familiar cell phone commercial tagline – yes, students can use technology, but what can they use it for and why should this seem like a new idea to the ER community given everything we’ve said about this for the past decade?).

For EDUCAUSE members, though, including campus CIOs and CAOs, the clear and cogent points that Oblinger and Hawkings make about the fact that one must be intentional and consistent about assuring that undergraduates do not leave college without well-developed ITL skills may be new. And, if so, they will provide an opportunity for discussion of ITL outside the library and in the environments where such discussions must take place if we are to provide the best instructional services that we can to our students and our faculty. If we’re lucky, we may be able to open a few doors to substantive collaboration with our colleagues (and to administrative support for library-based instructional initiatives) by plunking a copy of Oblinger and Hawkins (2006) down on the desk.

Bring “Helicopter Parents” In For A Landing @ Your Library

Today’s CHE provides a link to a Survey of Current College Parent Experiences (PDF), which, among other things, tells us that:

“Of the 839 parents surveyed, 74 percent communicated with their student two or three times a week and one in three did so at least once a day.”

This is consistent with what our Student Success people tell us here at Kansas and is one the the reasons why KU is one of the many institutions to have created a Parents’ Association, which begs the question: what are libraries doing for parents?

I first started to think about the significance of parent involvement a few years ago when the NSO staff at Washington State took the library off the standard summer orientation tour. I didn’t hear complaints about this from incoming students, but I did hear complaints from their parents who, for some odd reason, wanted their students to be oriented to academic resources as well as to social opportunities. That feedback helped with later NSO discussions. Here at Kansas, we have a very successful NSO workshop program, but the Parents’ Association is new and we’ll have to work to get involved. This would dovetail nicely with some development activities that we’ve pursued with parents of current students in partnership with the KU Endowment.

As the oft-cited-this-week Susan Gibbons mentioned in her presentation at the Taiga Forum, there is another dimension to “helicopter parenting,” as well. Her research showed that undergraduates are likely to consult parents during the research process and she concluded that effective ILI programming for parents could help direct their children back toward library resources and services during one of those weekly (or daily) phone calls.

So, another audience for our services and another opportunity to partner with our colleagues in Student Affairs!