The Next Evolution of iSchool

I read an article from Good about the next evolution of business school, and it got me to thinking about the current state of MLIS education. I put a few of the ideas on Twitter this morning.

Librarians spend a lot of time talking about grooming the next generation of librarians. Because my library is nearing the end of a (huge) transformation, it’s understandable that my interests in change management and visionary leadership have grown in the last couple of years. Last week’s Lead the Change leadership program taught me that leadership is a choice we make, not a job title. That being the case, I’ve made the choice to develop my leadership skills and to learn as much as I possibly can to become a more effective leader who focuses on the structural (analysis), interpersonal (human resources), political (coalition building) and symbolic (charisma) traits that I need to develop to be a better leader.

I think librarians at any stage of their career (present and future) would benefit from LIS education that is includes courses on leadership, change management, organizational design, and transformational planning.

When I was in library school (has it already been 9 years since I graduated?!), I remember hearing a frequent complaint from many of my classmates: library school wasn’t teaching them any practical skills that could transfer to real world library work. I understand the reason for those complaints: my fellow students and I were expressing our fears around unmet needs and our uncertainty about our future in the profession. As well, much of the curriculum was focused on theory – maybe too much. If you hadn’t worked in a library before, the only opportunity you’d get to do so would be during your (too short) practicum, or, if you were lucky, if you happened to score one of the few graduate assistant jobs on campus.

Learning about leadership, strategic planning, and development may not have seemed practical at the time, but they would have introduced us to concepts and ideas that would be transferrable no matter what kind of information organization we ended up in. Developing leadership skills and learning more about organizational culture and politics would have served me better than taking a course on how to develop programs for adults in the library.

I’m fortunate that I spent a lot of time as a student leader and in sororities, and had opportunity to practice a lot of these same skills.

(If I had to offer advice to a future librarian it would be this: (1) join a sorority – yes, even as an alumna; (2) volunteer for that sorority so you can make use of the free leadership workshops; (3) run for office or volunteer to lead some student organization that is tied to a larger international organization.)

This sort of stream would attract librarians who have library leadership as a professional goal. I know many librarians who want to be reference librarians, or who want to work at the entry level for the rest of their careers. That’s great! We need people like this in the library! But just because a librarian doesn’t want to lead a department or a library, it doesn’t mean she wouldn’t benefit from some of the lessons she could learn in this kind of curriculum.

I think we need more people who want to step up, who are interested in building influence and directing their personal passions for libraries toward envisioning and building the libraries of the 21st century. I think that teaching librarians that leadership is not a dirty word or something to be feared is vitally important.

As living, breathing, organisms, libraries continue to change, adapt, and grow. As they change, our curriculum and approach to developing librarians should adapt along with them.

(flickr photo from Wonderlane)