The future of the MLS: New report from the University of Maryland

University of Maryland logoLast summer, the iSchool at the University of Maryland launched the Re-Envisioning the MLS initiative. The premise is that future professionals in library and library-related fields will likely need fundamentally different educational preparation than what is provided by current curricula. Based on an extensive body of research, outreach, and analysis, yesterday the iSchool released its report Re-Envisioning the MLS: Findings, Issues, and Considerations.

The Maryland initiative is important to our work in public policy—particularly through ALA’s Policy Revolution initiative and ALA’s Libraries Transform campaign—as the field needs more professionals with an outward orientation. Fundamentally, the focus of library work is evolving from internal optimization of information resources and systems within a library to collaborative efforts across libraries and with non-library entities. Thus, the role of “policy advocate” becomes a greater part of a librarian’s job, whether that advocacy occurs at the community/local level, regional level, state level, or with a national focus. The Maryland initiative is important enough to me that I’ve served on the iSchool’s MLS Advisory Board during the past year to provide input into the process and this report.

As summarized in the report release:

The findings have a number of implications for LIS education and MLS programs, including:

• Attributes of Successful Information Professionals. Successful information professionals are not those who wish to seek a quiet refuge out of the public’s view. They need to be collaborative, problem solvers, creative, socially innovative, flexible and adaptable, and have a strong desire to work with the public.
• Ensure a Balance of Competencies and Abilities. MLS programs need to ensure that students have a range of competencies, but that aptitude needs to be balanced with a progressive attitude (“can do,” “change agent,” “public service”).
• Re-Thinking the MLS Begins with Recruitment. Neither a love of books or libraries is enough for the next generation of information professionals. Instead they must thrive on change, embrace public service, and seek challenges that require creative solutions. Attracting students with a strong desire to serve the public is critical.
• Be Disruptive, Savvy, and Fearless. Through creativity, collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship, information professionals have the opportunity to disrupt current approaches and practices to existing social challenges. The future belongs to those who are socially innovative, entrepreneurial, and change agents who are bold, fearless, willing to take risks, go “big,” and go against convention.

The report is far from the end point of the initiative, as the next stage focuses on redesign of the curriculum with continued stakeholder engagement and ultimately implementation. And, of course, there is much more in the report than described here; I urge you to take a look. Background materials and other research used to produce the report are available at hackmls.umd.edu. Feel free to provide comments, either to the University of Maryland folks or to me. I look forward to my continuing collaboration on this excellent initiative.

About Alan Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is the director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Previously, he was the coordinator of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President and a study director at the National Academy of Sciences. Alan completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

11 comments

  1. “Neither a love of books or libraries is enough for the next generation of information professionals. Instead they must thrive on change, embrace public service, and seek challenges that require creative solutions. Attracting students with a strong desire to serve the public is critical.”

    I agree attracting students with a strong desire to serve is critical, but we cannot discount a love for books or libraries. I recently conducted a nationwide survey of Millennial men enrolled in LIS graduate programs and 85% respondents said “Love of books, learning and intellectual stimulation” was a strong reason for choosing the library profession. What we are teaching in the classroom may not reflect the personal factors motivating students to attend graduate school. You can read the entire study here: http://works.bepress.com/heidi_blackburn/29/

  2. I realize this is only an excerpt, but it’s interesting that every point contains a seriously backhanded slam at library stereotypes BY THE VERY PEOPLE WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER!! “not those who wish to seek a quiet refuge out of the public’s view”… “progressive attitude” … “love of books” already mentioned above … “bold, fearless, willing to take risks, go “big,” and go against convention. Really? I am a liberal person, but this all smacks strongly of someone’s personal agenda. I’m happy to be a librarian. I am not an introvert. Neither do I have tattoos and purple hair because I don’t need any external trappings to signify who I am. I would much rather spend my time educating students and helping to advance research across my campus, but, U of MD, you want to be modern librarians fighting hegemony in your state of collaborative transparency, etc. [just insert whatever the jargon do moment happens to be here]. Frankly, you can make a lot more money in investment banking. Why not direct all that ferocious go-getting in that direction instead and scrap the whole “library” thing? It’s so antiquated anyway…

  3. I agree about the backhanded slam against introverts. I am an introverted person by nature and while I can and do work well with the public, I thrive behind the scenes. I also happen to thrive as a library professional, and I am tired of the claim that people who do not wish to work with the public do not belong in this field. Whether I’m creating catalog records, processing collections, purchasing new materials, providing remote reference, or the countless other things I do behind the scenes, I am removed from the public and grateful for that fact, but I am no less a library professional and I am just as passionate about connecting users with information. I feel like these kinds of studies zero in on one kind of library, be it public or academic. There are so many more opportunities for LIS professionals than serving the public in a library setting, and I think the true step forward is to highlight that variety to bring in a new wave of students, each with their own skills and personalities to serve where they best fit, whether that’s engaging with the public every single day in an extroverted and “big” way or quietly maintaining things behind the scenes. This study proves nothing else to me than the fact that I am tremendously grateful I didn’t choose UMD.

  4. This report totally nailed it. As someone who does a lot of hiring in a large public library, this is exactly where we need to head — and have already been doing so. We hire as many non-MLS professionals as those with an MLS in large part because many graduates that come out of MLS programs simply don’t have the right balance between aptitude and attitude, as the report so aptly articulates. If this is the direction of the UMD program, we’ll be happy to hire their future graduates.

  5. This is an excellent, thoughtful, and provocative report. Certainly it hits the realities of my current library (massive community demographic changes, big shifts in expectations from community leaders and those we serve, tech that’s changing entirely too fast, and competition from other information providers, just to highlight a few). In less than 10 years we’ve changed just about everything we do and how we do it, with a particular shift towards how we change the lives of those we serve. We’ve even renovated our space to reflect more of an engagement focus. It’s less about usage than the overall user experience. The issue with which we continue to struggle is matching these changes with staff. The report articulates precisely the issues we face regarding staffing. I will look forward to seeing how UMD turns the findings from this report into a revised MLS program. We need more LIS/MLS programs to take these issues on in such a direct way. The consequence of not doing so is already happening in our library — we’re hiring more individuals without MLS degrees because they are better suited to our current and projected context. It’s a buyer’s market: lots of people with MLS (and other) degrees — simply having an MLS is no guaranty of being hired.

  6. Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments. To those of you offended by the comments about “introverts” or “book-lovers,” as a co-author of the report and an introvert, the description was not meant to be derogatory, but rather reflective of the prospective students that we often (often not always) encounter.

    I read hundreds of MLS applications every year and there are many prospective students who list love of books and of reading as the sole reason that they want to get their MLS degree. A love of reading and books is great, but these kinds of applications and statements illustrate a misunderstanding of the many opportunities that exist in the profession outside of public service, literacy instruction, etc. What we are proposing is that people need to think beyond these types of roles whether that is behind the scenes or out in front. As stated in the report the core values (of which literacy is one) are essential, but so is the need to think beyond these.

  7. Kudos to the authors and UMD for this report. It’s about time that we had a national dialog that paralleled the current discussion regarding the Future of Libraries. As we (re)consider our institutions, we need to think about the future information professionals who will work in — and lead — our organizations. Do I agree with all that is in the report? No, but that isn’t the point. I welcome the voice it adds to a long overdue conversation that we need to have – and hard choices that we need to make (before others make them for us). It’s a good starting point. Having said all this, I don’t think one should lament stereotypes by introducing others. Is it really the case that only individuals with wild hair colors and tattoos exhibit the attributes/competencies/abilities articulated in this report? Perhaps we should add body piercings as well….Ironic that the report touches on the need to be more inclusive and diverse.

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