Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Dean Interview -- Part 1


University Appoints New Dean for SLIS*

Q> You joined the administration at a very challenging time for the profession and the world of information.  Any second thoughts about what you’re walking into?

A>  One challenge of the School is that it is both a graduate school introducing students to the world of serious scholarship and a professional school teaching students how to be librarians and other information professionals. This is not a new challenge, but those outside the profession don’t seem to understand the scholarship and management skills required to be a librarian.  Sometimes these goals of education complement each other and sometimes the goals conflict. I am going to emphasize both aspects of the process and encourage faculty to include components of scholarship and professional practice their courses.  Librarians need to understand the history and theory of the profession and learn the management skills to manage information and organizations. 

Libraries and information professionals have changed more in the years since 1990’s when the Internet proliferated than in the previous centuries.  We will be expanding the mission of the School to include more aspects of the information professions.  I am proposing the following as the revised mission. 

The mission of the school is to understand the history and sources of the information arts and sciences and to advance the theory, art, science, and practice of professions specializing in the use, creation, storage, organization and dissemination of information in any recorded form or format.

I have no second thoughts about this position and university.  While previous to my appointment, I had no direct connection to the University, many of the professors in the School were known to me professionally in person and by reputation.  We are very lucky to have many long term faculty members who will continue to teach, do research and contribute to the University and the profession.  We hope to hire some younger faculty to bring in new ideas and excitement to complement the current faculty.

Q> Has the University committed to hiring new faculty?

A> The School currently is recruiting to fill an existing vacancy.  We will be evaluating our role within the University and how we can expand our course offerings.  Some of our courses will be cross listed with other schools.  We plan to offer credit courses for graduate and undergraduate students who want to better understand scholarly research and how library searches and resources can help them in their studies. As our role within the University changes we will need to think about our staffing.

Q>  What kinds of librarians does the School currently educate?

A> There are four basic types of libraries who hire our librarian graduates, but some graduates work in other information professions and never work in a library.  Students may pursue a course of study to work in schools, academic libraries, public libraries, or special libraries.  Some libraries are combinations of these types.  For example a university library is an academic research library but also supports the curriculum like a school library and may have special collections like a special library.  A special library in a business may also have aspects of a research or archive collection.  We have programs to train medical, law, theological, and science librarians.

As a graduate school we want students to have solid subject knowledge before they start.  When I was in library school we debated whether education to be a librarian started in kindergarten or the first day of college. I voted for first day an infant learned a word.  One never knows when what you learn today will help you with a library task or working with readers tomorrow.

Some skills such as cataloging, searching, and administration are valuable in every library.  It does not matter which library one works in.  Skills such as children’s literature are valuable for those who work with children; a business librarian would not need to know the latest novels for teenagers.  We have a program to train archivists.  Archivists look at cataloging and collection building in a different light than academic and school librarians.

Q> Outside of libraries where do librarians work?

A> Our graduates know more about the flow of knowledge and information than any computer science or arts and science graduate.  We teach more about the theory of knowledge than any school in the University.  Some graduates work in IT departments as data base managers, information architects, and webmasters. One graduate from ten years ago is now the chief information officer (CIO) at a multi-billion dollar company.  Some graduates help businesses organize and better understand their corporate knowledge.  Some work as writers and teachers. Some work in the publishing business or other aspects of the book trade.  One former librarian is now a college president.

There are lots of jobs for those trained in our School, but one challenge is to help the world outside of academia to understand what we can do. The research agenda of several of our professors includes ideas on how we can improve the use and understanding of knowledge.  We will be encouraging students to learn about marketing and public relations. This is one area we can learn from the Business School.

Q> You talked about teaching management skills as important for librarians.  Would you elaborate?  What is your philosophy of management?

A> One of the most common reasons for people to be dissatisfied with their jobs is they feel they are not supported by the administration. They feel that comments, suggestions, and complaints are ignored.  Before I was a manager I said, “Sometimes when you bang your head against the wall, you break down the wall and sometimes you just hurt your head.”  People with their experience and knowledge are the organization’s most valuable asset. Some schools with administrations who rule by decree are full of unhappy faculty and students. So far this School has a great history of collaborative planning and problem solving.  The corporate culture ingrained on the faculty is co-operate and work as a team or leave.  I would not have accepted a position in an organization that did not believe in trust, collaboration, and shared planning.  The president and board of trustees have made it clear that faultfinding, blame, and finger pointing have no place in this institution.  There is always room for improvement.  Cooperation requires lots of meetings.  I hate wasting time at meeting.  I hope to create paths and systems to share information and solve problems with a minimum amount of time in meetings. Everyone will be required to prepare for large group or formal meetings. 

I hope that our way of dealing with planning and problem solving can be an example for the students.  I hope to be transparent when there are challenges and opportunities by telling students and faculty what is happening.  Social media and e-mail make this much easier today than when I was a student.  We must recognize that part of the education process is social. I’m talking about the opportunity to be near great minds. We need times for people exchange thoughts and learn from each other outside of the classroom.  We need to see each other experts and to meet each other.  This applies to distance learners, too.  I will encourage faculty to conduct on-line smooze sessions.  I plan to schedule a smooze session once a week using conferencing software.  The details have yet to be determined.

Basically my management philosophy is:  1) No one has a monopoly on the truth; 2) When I don’t know the answers I will seek to find them or someone who can help me find them; 3) To succeed together, we must learn to share, co-operate, set  good examples by our words and actions, and work as a team; 4) Dream for the best; 5) Make goals and plan for the future; 6) Have a backup plan;   7) Seek the truth; 8) Always find opportunities to learn; 9) Never stop learning; and 10) Never stop learning.

No fault, no blame methods of problem solving create an atmosphere of trust and help people avoid excuses and defensiveness. The emphasis is on solving problems, accepting responsibility and shared accountability.  At this time our problems and challenges are routine.  We always have to balance the demands of time, money, logistics and real estate.  I will have to keep reminding everyone of the”no fault” guidelines.  In a collaborative, teamwork environment, accountability rests with the individual(s) responsible rather than with the supervising authority. We try to do the right things for the good of the students, the School, and the University. We want everyone to look good.

Q>  One of your tasks will be to recruit new students. Given that some states are letting librarians go because of budgetary concerns, what can you advise an undergrad seeking to attend your school or any graduate school?

A> We will always need information specialists.  Almost every job today is an information job.  That includes jobs that were once only skilled labor such as repair people and unskilled labor such as cleaners of hotel rooms. Literacy in multiple languages and several academic disciplines is more important now in a world economy than ever.  Someone is going to need to act as the catalogers and organizers of knowledge while others are going to help people search and become fluent in information seeking behaviors.  We will always have too much information.  The librarians’ skills are to help others find the information needed in a timely basis.

We will need the brightest individuals to understand this complicated world.  I have to be realistic.  No graduate is going to have an easy task finding a decent job.  One may have to be open to moving to another city or taking a second choice position.  No one is going to be rich with money as a librarian.  No one going to law, business, or journalism school will have it easy either.  Perhaps the top lawyers or business people will earn more than the top librarians, but many of them will also struggle for a decent job.  Most will wonder at some time in their careers if they made the best choice.  Some of them will wonder why they didn’t become librarians.  One should enter a profession where they will not have to sell their souls to earn a living.

For most librarians the pressures of the job are a lot less than lawyers and business people.  We don’t have to worry about billable hours or sales.  I did write and article, “I am not a lawyer.”  I give information advice and point people in the correct direction.  I am not allowed to give legal or medical advice.

Hopefully, librarians will feel rich because they have made a difference in this world.  Perhaps their advice encouraged someone to learn and go on to greatness; perhaps they even saved a soul or a life?

Q> Thank you very much for your time.  I hope that in a few months we can share some more of your ideas.  Will your ideas change by then?

A>  You are most welcome.  My basic philosophy has not changed in many years.  But as I learn, the expression of the philosophy has improved. I am always open to learning new ideas and perfecting the old ones. I like to think that my actions build and improve on my past.

* Part one of an interview with the newly appointed dean of the University’s School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS).   Note this is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real university or dean is strictly coincidental. 

1 comment:

Aaron S. Huber said...

I have an MLIS and after I left the public library world I started a business providing research services to consultants and private investigators. The training I received on how to locate hard to find information is a very in demand skill. Librarians should really look into this field if they would like to work in a non-library setting.