Thursday, July 25, 2013

Repurposing library education to prepare students for library consultancy


I am coming to a conclusion about the path that library schools need to take for the transformation of library education. However, to make that argument, I want to take my time and build a case using several blog posts. This is perhaps my first prelude to the argument, in a story or narrative form.

This story comes as a result of my concern that while libraries will or may continue to exist for a long time to come, library schools may not (or at least not in the form that they currently exist or existed as in the past). There are a number of systemic problems with library schools, which have not sufficiently adapted to the changing environment of librarianship in practice. The main problem:

 •Library schools are producing graduates who may be unable to find employment in libraries as they are overqualified for the shrinking quantity of positions that are available in existing public and government-sponsored libraries.

In an era where governments and municipalities are cutting budgets, contracting out services and looking towards privatization, employment in libraries is problematic. This problem is primarily documented in a number of professional blogs. A recent blog post by the Canadian Library Association's Government Library & Information Management Professionals Network (2013) recently reported statistical data showing that library science positions in the Government of Canada, 1990 to 2012 have been steadily declining. In addition, as the Library Journal report on salaries and placement of library school graduates indicate, there are challenges with getting jobs in government-funded public and school libraries, with growing vacancies in libraries for the more administrative and managerial positions (Maatta, 2012).

However, within these challenges, I perceive new opportunities for library schools to reinvent library education and prepare existing and new graduates for entrepreneurial opportunities within the current library employment situation, without removing an emphasis on libraries. As such, I present a tale to introduce this idea, that draws primarily on a retelling of Rubin's (2010) chapter 3 that discusses historical events that have shaped library professional education.

The tale

Once upon a time, there were no library schools. Persons coming to librarianship were scholars, who previously gained experience in managing libraries from managing their own personal library collections. These scholars in turn trained the next generation of librarians through apprenticeship.

Then came Dewey, an entrepreneurial American librarian. And he said: "let there be a standard system for organizing global human knowledge in libraries". And there was the Dewey Decimal classification and the card catalogue.

Dewey looked at his system and saw that it was good. Then he thought to himself, why not share this system with the world and train librarians to use it. So Dewey said: "let there be library schools at universities to offer professional education for those who want to be librarians and let them be trained in the Dewey Decimal system." And then there was the first library school.

Decades passed, and then came Andrew Carnegie, another American entrepreneur. And he said: "Let there be free public libraries." And there were public libraries, built by philanthropy, but maintained by the public purse.

However, Carnegie realized that many of these libraries were not being properly managed and maintained. As such, he decided to investigate the situation and concluded that these new institutions needed professionally trained persons who could manage them well. After investigating the education situation of librarians he then said: "Let every free public library be staffed and managed by a librarian that has attained professional education at university level."

And there was funding to universities for establishing library schools and the establishment of more library schools and library degree programmes.

Decades passed and as governments assumed control of the continued funding and maintenance of public libraries, then came a great recession. And governments began to cut their spending on libraries and on universities.

Then came the Internet and people began to question the need for libraries and library buildings.

Then some library schools were closed. And others transformed into I-schools or information schools. And a gulf began to separate scholars and researchers at library schools from the practitioners of librarianship.

While all this was going on, a small group of librarians became entrepreneurs, offering their expertise to other librarians. At the same time governments began to reduce library services, restructure libraries, lay-off expensive professionally educated librarians, outsourcing or contracting out work to cheaper labour sources and even privatizing some services. And in time, some of these government-run public libraries began to employ these consultants on a contractual basis to help restructure libraries or solve problems or provide advice on solving certain library organizational problems. Since then, this new group of library consultants have been growing, similar to how business students undertaking MBAs later enter the workforce as consultants.

And I wonder if perhaps this growing library consultancy industry provides an opportunity for library schools to repurpose library education and provide library school students with the skills and knowledge to become library consultants.


Canadian Library Asssociation (CLA) Government Library & Information Management Professionals Network. (2013, July 8). Library Science (LS) Positions in the Government of Canada, 1990 to 2012 [blog post]. Retrieved from

Maatta, S. L. (2012, October 15).  Placements & salaries 2012: Types of placements. Library Journal [blog post]. Retrieved from

Rubin, R. (2010). Foundations of library and information science (3rd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

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