Re-Envisioning the MLS: Final Report

Discussions on the future of libraries have become common place in the profession; from Pew and Aspen Institute studies to forums to articles, the topic is clearly on the mind of many. But the Future of Libraries discussion also necessitated a deeper look at emerging technology, information, demographic, and other trends — and a discussion regarding the future of librarians – and information professionals.

In August 2014, the iSchool and the Information Policy & Access Center (iPAC) at the University of Maryland launched the Re-Envisioning the MLS initiative as part of a three-year process that explores what a future MLS degree should be. That is, as we think about the mix of changes in the information landscape, our communities, information organizations, technology, the economy, workforce needs and trends, and other factors, what does a future MLS degree look like?

To answer this (and other) question(s), we hosted a speaker’s series, held engagement events, conducted regional visits, spoke with a range of leaders in the information professions, worked with our inaugural MLS Advisory Board, conducted extensive analysis and scanning, published a white paper, and more. You can find summaries and archives of these events, and documents, by searching our blog using #HackMLS.

We are pleased to present our Re-Envisioning the MLS report. The below summarizes selected key findings:

  • The Shift in Focus to People and Communities. A significant shift that has occurred in information organizations from collections to the individuals and the communities that they serve.
  • Core Values Remain Essential. The values of an MLS degree and information professionals remain essential, in particular ensuring access, equity, intellectual freedom, privacy, inclusion human rights, learning, social justice, preservation and heritage, open government, and civic engagement.
  • Competencies for Future Information Professionals. Information professionals need to have a set of core competencies that include (among others) the ability to lead and manage projects and people; to facilitate learning and education either through direct instruction or other interactions; to work with, and train others to use, a variety of technologies; a strong desire to work with the public; problem-solving and the ability to think and adapt instantaneously; policymaking; and relationship building.
  • Access for All. The tension between the growing societal gaps (income and other), a shrinking public sphere and social safety net, wanting to help those with acute needs, not having the resources or skills to, and questioning whether this is an appropriate role for information organizations and professionals was a recurring theme throughout the Re-Envisioning the MLS
  • Social Innovation and Change. By forming partnerships, information organizations are essential catalysts for creative solutions to community challenges in a wide range of areas such as health, education and learning, economic development, poverty and hunger, civic engagement, preservation and cultural heritage, and research innovation.
  • Working with Data and Engaging in Assessment. The data role for information professionals is at least three-fold: 1) helping the communities that they serve engage in a range of data-based activities; 2) helping communities leverage data to better understand their communities, community needs, and develop solutions to community challenges; and 3) using data to demonstrate the contributions of their libraries, archives, etc., to the community(ies) that they serve.
  • Knowing and Leveraging the Community. There is a need for information professionals who can fully identify the different populations and needs of the communities that they serve, their challenges, and underlying opportunities.
  • Learning/Learning Sciences, Education, and Youth. Information organizations have a particular opportunity to foster learning by attending to an individual’s particular interests, needs, and educational goals. A particular opportunity exists in focusing on youth learning, particularly STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).

These findings have a number of implications for MLS education, selectively summarized below:

  • Attributes of Successful Information Professionals. The findings indicate that 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. The debate between MLS programs needing to produce graduates with a “toolkit” of competencies versus providing graduates with a conceptual foundation that will enable them to grow and adapt over time evidenced itself throughout the Re-Envisioning the MLS Further interjected into this debate was the notion of “aptitude” (specific skills) versus “attitude” (“can do,” “change agent,” “public service”). Any MLS curriculum needs to balance aptitude with attitude.
  • 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. MLS programs must seek and recruit students who reflect these attributes.
  • Be Disruptive, Savvy, and Fearless. Through creativity, collaboration, and entrepreneurship, information professionals have the opportunity to disrupt current approaches and practices to existing social challenges. The future belongs to those who are able to apply critical thinking skills and creativity to better understanding the communities they serve today and will serve 5-10 years down the road – and those who are bold, fearless, willing to take risks, go “big,” and go against convention.

Over the next year the iSchool will consider these findings and implications as it revises its MLS curriculum. We welcome your comments and insights into our findings, implications, and report — and hope that you will stay engaged as we move forward.