Re-Envisioning the MLS Initiative

Originally published by John Bertot September 16, 2014 on blogMLS.

In Fall 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 year-long process that explores what a future MLS degree should be. How should our MLS program adjust to changes in the information landscape, our communities, cultural institutions, technology, the economy, workforce needs and trends, and other factors?

It’s no secret that the economic downturn has us all rethinking things in a number of areas. Higher education and cultural agencies such as libraries, archives, museums, and others have not been immune to our changing economic landscape. But focusing on the economy and economic pressures only explains part of the tension we feel. Changes in technology, community needs, learning needs, demographics, and the policy environments all contribute to a sense that something is different “this time” – and that we need to consider the implications of all this change on our Master of Library Science (MLS) degree program.

More specifically, our context is one in which:

  • The federal government is facing challenges. We’ve experienced sequestration and a shutdown, and years of continuing resolutions to fund the federal government. As noted in this report, the number of new federal employees has declined by 37.5% since 2009, and many of those positions were hires for existing positions rather than newly created jobs.
  • State and local government workforces have faced significant reductions since 2009. In 2011 alone, state and local governments cut nearly 250,000 jobs. Though there has been some hiring in recent months, the state and local workforce reductions have been significant, and likely will not grow to pre-recession levels (see Governing data for more details).
  • Securing a job can be challenging.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics data puts library job growth at 7%, which is defined as slower than average. Archives, with a projected 11% (as fast as average) anticipated growth rate.
    Libraries have faced budget cuts and hiring slowdowns.
  • The MLS fits into a larger library narrative of budgetary constraints, hiring freezes, and the shift to part-time or non-professional positions. For example, between 2007 and 2012, the percentage of public library staff without a master’s degree from an ALA-accredited program has increased from 32.5% to 34.1% (IMLS, 2009; 2012).
  • State Library Agencies have witnessed stagnant and or budget reductions as well (IMLS, 2014).
  • There are many market entrants who provide information and information services. Yes, Google is often mentioned, but it’s not just Google. Individuals have many options, of which a library or librarian might (or might not) be one when it comes to being a preferred information source.
  • The nature of information is changing. With the Internet of Things, Big Data, Smart Cities/Government, Open Data, and more, we are awash in all types of data and information. Being data and information literate (analytics, visualization, curation) will be critical to success in education, employment, and serving our communities.
  • Our communities are changing. We’re growing older and more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, income, ability, and many other factors. Meeting the information and technology needs of increasingly diverse populations is essential for future information professionals.

Some might take all this in and walk away depressed. I don’t. I see only opportunity. The needs of our communities – to ensure access to information, to ensure equity, to ensure that we preserve our cultural record, to ensure an open and transparent government, to ensure that all students are ready to read and ready to learn – are great, if not greater, than they have ever been. So while what have to now been our primary placements for students in our MLS program – libraries, archives, museums – are facing challenges, the information space is wide open and full of opportunities to innovate.

Our focus on information in an information economy is our competitive advantage. But what does the future MLS degree look like? What should it look like? More importantly, how do we ensure that our program prepares students to:

  • Inform, by serving as vital conduits to the information resources that people need when they need them.
  • Enable, by actively providing our communities with opportunities to succeed through the information, resources, and services we provide.
  • Equalize, by insuring that – regardless of background, ability, means, or any other factor – our communities have access to the information resources, services, and skills necessary for today and tomorrow.
  • Lead, by taking leadership roles in our communities around access to and the availability, dissemination, and preservation of information.

These values have served the College and our MLS program well for 50 years. The journey we are taking is about the next 50 years, and I hope that you will join us.

Why Three Years to Do This?

Our first year will focus on discussion and engagement. We want to hear from you, our newly formed Advisory Board, employers, partners, and others. We are launching a speaker’s series, discussion sessions, and visiting around the region. You can find details for our Fall 2014 events at For all of the events we’ll be live-tweeting from @i_UMD with the hashtag #hackMLS, feel free to follow along and join the discussion.

The second year will focus on incorporating all the feedback we receive into our degree program and curriculum design. In short, year two takes what we learned and builds that into a reinvigorated curriculum grounded in jobs of the future.

The third year will focus on implementation – that is, putting the pieces together to launch our re-envisioned MLS.

Our journey, therefore, is taking us on a path that meets the needs, careers, and opportunities of our students, communities, and employers. Do join us so that we can build the future MLS program together.

The Re-Envisioning the MLS initiative is sponsored by the iSchool and the Information Policy & Access Center (iPAC) at the University of Maryland.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2014). Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers, Available at:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2014). Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Librarians, Available at:

Governing. (2014). Governing Data: State and Local Government Employment Monthly Data. Available at:

Partnership for Public Service. (2012). Fed Figures: Federal Hiring. Available at:

U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. (2009). Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Public Library Data Files, FY 2007. Available at:

U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. (2014). Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Public Library Data Files, FY 2012. Available at:

U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. (2014). The State Library Administrative Agencies Survey, FY 2003–2010, 2012. Available at: