St. Kate's MLIS Reorganization Discussion

It seems clear to me that fashionable management rhetoric about libraries constitutes a form of managing away the public sphere in librarianship–and possibly managing away the institution itself. It is a discourse shallowly conceived and logically incapable of defending the field long term. Such formulations can–and should–be routinely challenged. — John E. Buschman

So it begins!

by Paul Lai

I just wanted to drop in quickly to say that I’m hoping we’ll keep posting to this blog over the next few months at least. The semester just started this week, and people are all getting settled into classes and new routines. In the meantime, if anyone has lingering questions or concerns, feel free to share them with me as we continue to plan for the future of the MLIS program in its new administrative home.

Meeting with Colleen Hegranes and Paula King: The Report!

by Sara Z

This afternoon, Paul and I met with Colleen Hegranes, Senior Vice President of St. Kate’s, and Paula King, Dean of the School of Business and Leadership. The inclusion of Dean King was a bit of a last-minute surprise, but she turned out to be invaluable to the success of our discussion. Getting the conversation going in a productive direction was somewhat slow, but we did eventually succeed in sharing and understanding our different perspectives on the issue. We are grateful to VP Hegranes and Dean King for taking the time to meet with us, especially given that our own Associate Dean, Deb Grealy, has been on leave.

Of the questions we put forth in our email, we did get an answer that VP Hegranes made the decision to reorganize the schools in consultation with the President and some faculty members, and that the announcement of the decision was followed by a meeting at which faculty could voice their opinions and concerns. One of the highlights of that meeting was that faculty from the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program (which is currently our school’s graduate “business” degree since we don’t yet have an MBA) expressed gratitude at sharing a school with Education and Library Science because they felt they could learn a lot from us. This was important to helping us understand that faculty see our program as having parity in the value of the knowledge we bring to the school.

They characterized the reorganization as purely administrative and pointed out that faculty members had requested combining our schools because of our small faculty populations, relative to other schools. VP Hegranes pointed out that not only does this give faculty better representation in university governance, but it also more closely reflects alliances made between programs when the schools were initially being formed in the transition from College to University a few years ago.

Both VP Hegranes and Dean King were sensitive to potentially inflammatory terms and positions they felt we were taking without necessarily understanding their position. For instance, they objected to the perception that the LIS program might be “subsumed” into SBL, or that anyone from outside the program should look at our positioning within SBL and see it as making a statement about how we might be oriented towards business. They also noted that the SBL’s vision of business is very different from traditional business schools and is squarely aligned with the university’s social justice orientation.

We were relieved to hear that the school leadership has never seen and does not see this as an ideological influence on our program of study, but we were careful to maintain that there is symbolic significance to the prominent positioning of the term “business” in the name of our school. We spent some time explaining that librarians as a whole feel pressure to incorporate business terms and models of thought into the profession, and so this reorganization taps into a larger issue for us. Furthermore, while St. Kate’s may see its orientation to business in a very different light than the mainstream business world, others outside the university will not necessary understand the difference. Both Dean King and VP Hegranes were adamant that having “business” in the name of the school was not as important as the overarching social justice mission that permeates all aspects of learning at St. Kate’s, and there does seem to be the potential to create a more fully representative and meaningful name for the school. In the meantime, we continue to believe and will continue to articulate that the name of the school matters and that it can impact perceptions of our program in the larger library community. We look forward to continuing conversations within the MLIS program and with various members of the administration about this reorganization to keep the lines of dialogue open.

Finally, we learned that students in the MAOL program may be allies for us. In addition to being the one graduate program other than ours that is evening/weekend, in-person, and enrolls many midcareer professionals, Dean King says most of their students come from the nonprofit and government sectors and are about as “anti-business” as students in a business-related program can be. She expressed full support for continuing in that vein when an MBA program is established. While we can’t be certain how that will play out, we would like to encourage our student groups to reach out to MAOL and see if we can learn more about each other.

Moving forward, we expect that we students who are concerned about the encroachment of business thought into our profession will have to continue to notice, point out, and as needed, criticize the use of business terminology and evaluation models in our classrooms and libraries. We also hope that the faculty and administration can work together to develop careful, productive language for the website and other promotional material to explain the unique perspectives of the programs in SBL. One possible positive result we hope might come from forging new relationships within SBL is that we can explore that level of critical thought with like-minded students and faculty. We will continue to stand for our beliefs and ask for open lines of communication within the school, so that we can grow together, which Dean King seems very willing to support. In that spirit, she is also willing to come to a Monday night LIS event, so we will begin working on making that happen.

Questions for the meeting with Colleen Hegranes

by Paul Lai

We sent this message to VP Hegranes this afternoon in advance of our meeting tomorrow.

Dear Colleen Hegranes,

At our meeting tomorrow, we would like to discuss the following topics and ask these particular questions. We hope that you can provide us with concrete answers that will help us understand how to move forward with the administrative reorganization of the MLIS program.

First, we would like to impress upon you and other decision makers in the administration the difficult position the decision to move the MLIS program into a business school places us in as future librarians. You may not be aware, but as far as we can tell, St. Kate’s MLIS program is now the only ALA-accredited program in the United States that is housed in a business school. This situation is unprecedented and bespeaks a larger concern that many of us have about the encroachment of business logic into the world of librarianship. We hope to be able to explain to you, to President Lee, and to each member of the Board of Trustees what it means for the MLIS program to be subsumed under the School of Business and Leadership. It means a challenge to the public service ethos of librarianship and our commitment to access, equality, social justice, and other such values.

Second, we are incredibly disappointed that the administration made this decision so suddenly without input from faculty, staff, or students in the affected programs and would like to register this disappointment publicly.

These are our more specific questions:

1. Who was involved in the decision? We would like to open a conversation with those who initiated the change as we move forward together.

2a. What was the reasoning for the decision? Help us understand the logic for the decision so that we can contribute to solving whatever problem was identified.

2b. How does the reorganization benefit the Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation process? Though we have been told that the reorganization benefits the HLC reaccreditation process, we would like to understand specifically how it helps. From our perspective, the tremendous amount of work the MLIS faculty will have to accomplish to realign the program with the mission and key initiatives of the program’s new home, and hopefully to participate in revising the SBL’s mission and key initiatives, is of sufficient scope to warrant much caution.

2c. How does this new administrative home for the MLIS program benefit the university’s 2020 Vision strategic plan? Again, we have been told that this new home will also contribute to the strategic plan? What aspect of the plan? We have reviewed the documents online and been unable to ascertain what detail this reorganization supports. Our conversations with faculty and staff involved in the strategic planning process for the university also suggests confusion on their part about how this reorganization helps.

3. What strategies are in place to implement this change? Are there personnel charged with making relevant changes? Funds set aside for the work to be done? What is the time frame for making particular changes such as developing new strategic plans for the SBL?

4. What do you see as the impact of this change for the MLIS program? What aspects of the reorganization will influence how the MLIS program moves forward?

5. How will the reorganization affect funding priorities for the MLIS program in relation to the other programs in SBL, especially given the new mandate to create an MBA program? We are especially worried that because the School of Business and Leadership so clearly favors business over either librarianship or education that our program will not receive the resources and attention it deserves.

We look forward to our conversation tomorrow at 2:30. Paul, Sara, and possibly Joan will be present for the meeting.

On behalf of all concerned students,

Talia Earle
Paul Lai
Amy Mars
Linda Nguyen
Amelia Snetting
Joan Van Norman
Sara Zettervall

Cc: Lori Anania, President Andrea Lee

Wednesday’s student meeting recap

by Paul Lai

In brief, at the meeting on Wednesday evening, a few more students gathered to talk about the MLIS move to the School of Business and Leadership. We did not have any new information to share with each other since there have been no further communiques from the administration or faculty. We spent the time catching everyone up on what we discussed in previous meetings and emails. The relevant points are:

  1. We still have no good explanation for the decision.
  2. We do not know what the full implications are of this decision in terms of the MLIS program’s future prospects.
  3. We do not get the sense that any of the decision makers understand (or were even really aware of) the fraught relationship between librarianship and business, as entangled as the two worlds are. This final point is the most troubling as it suggests that there will need to be a lot of vigilance on the part of the MLIS program to make sure that it maintains a distinctive identity within the SBL.

We plan on holding a Monday night town hall type meeting for all students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other interested persons when the fall semester starts to talk about the decision and offer a forum for people to air questions and concerns. The specific format of that meeting is still up in the air though we hope it will be a chance to disseminate information about the change and perhaps to open up a direct dialogue with members of the upper administration. We are holding off on more concrete plans at this point until after the meeting with Colleen Hegranes this coming week. We hope to have a better sense of the decision process as well as hope to explain to VP Hegranes the danger of putting the library science program within the business school and will report back here on what we learn from her.

In the meeting, we also talked about how this decision might impact the program. Despite the administration’s claims that this change is merely administrative and will not affect the program’s curriculum, ALA accreditation, and general ethos, we remain skeptical. Though few of us have much experience with how higher education functions, together we were able to come up with a list of aspects of the MLIS program that will be affected:

  • New faculty tenure track lines will be authorized up a chain of command from the MLIS program faculty to the program’s associate dean, then the new dean of SBL (Paula King), and then to the Senior VP, President, and Board of Trustees. It is unclear to us how much influence (or veto power) upper administration has on faculty hire decisions, but the fact remains that there is now explicit oversight by the SBL rather than a school that has a different professional ethos than market forces. It will matter in the long run because the types of faculty expertise valued by a business-minded dean may very well differ from the expertise valued by a differently-oriented dean.
  • In a more general sense, the dean of the school administering the MLIS program is the one who advocates for the program to upper administration and to the Board of Trustees. While we do not wish to impugn the character of Paula King–indeed, we have heard only good things about her–we want to caution that our wariness of this move is not so much about Dean King personally as it is about having a business professional as dean of the MLIS program. Though every dean ultimately shares a background with only some programs in her school, our claim is that business and librarianship come from such vastly different philosophies that it will take much work to educate Dean King on librarianship and will also involve the more difficult work of unlearning the logics of a business mentality.
  • The change also seems to be poorly timed, given the six month time frame in which the MLIS program needs to realign itself in the new school. Also, we want to note that with leadership in a transitional state within the program, it seems a particularly bad time to make such a substantive shift for the program.
  • Relatedly, our concern with leadership extends to Dean King’s recently approved charge to create an MBA program. If her energies are directed to this new, intensive endeavor, will she be able to give the MLIS and Education programs the attention we deserve?

Again, if any of you have further questions and concerns you want us to raise with Colleen Hegranes, please feel free to leave a comment in the “Meeting with VP” post by Sunday. If you can come to the meeting, that would be great as well.

Said no librarian ever.

by Paul Lai

I do this for the money, prestige, and power. Said no librarian ever.

Via librarianbyday.

Meeting with VP

by Paul Lai

A few more students met yesterday evening to talk about what we can do in response to the administration’s decision to disband the School of Professional Studies and move the MLIS and education programs into the School of Business and Leadership. A summary of that meeting will follow later, but I wanted to put up a post about a scheduled meeting with Senior Vice President Colleen Hegranes this coming Tuesday, 8/21, at 2:30 pm. Our primary goal is to get some answers about this change and about the decision making process though we will also be articulating our strong opposition to a merger of library science and business in this new configuration.

If you are interested in joining us, please comment on this post with your name and email address by Sunday night. We’ll be in touch with you about the details of the meeting. The comments will be screened so that they won’t be visible to the public.

If you can’t make it to the meeting but have questions you would like us to ask, please post them in the comments as well.

By next Monday morning afternoon, we will also post a list of the questions we plan on asking VP Hegranes.

Michael J. Sandel’s “What Isn’t For Sale?”

by Paul Lai

In the April 2012 issue of The Atlantic, political philosopher Michael J. Sandel published an essay “What Isn’t For Sale?” based on his book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (FSG, 2012). The essay lays out some startling numbers about the range of things up for sale these days and discusses the dangers of privatizing the public good:

Why worry that we are moving toward a society in which everything is up for sale?

For two reasons. One is about inequality, the other about corruption. First, consider inequality. In a society where everything is for sale, life is harder for those of modest means. The more money can buy, the more affluence—or the lack of it—matters. If the only advantage of affluence were the ability to afford yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations, inequalities of income and wealth would matter less than they do today. But as money comes to buy more and more, the distribution of income and wealth looms larger.

The second reason we should hesitate to put everything up for sale is more difficult to describe. It is not about inequality and fairness but about the corrosive tendency of markets. Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. That’s because markets don’t only allocate goods; they express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged. Paying kids to read books might get them to read more, but might also teach them to regard reading as a chore rather than a source of intrinsic satisfaction. Hiring foreign mercenaries to fight our wars might spare the lives of our citizens, but might also corrupt the meaning of citizenship.

I’m curious to read the book and am interested in how he defines “morals” in the context of the public good.

Buschman, libraries, and the public sphere

by Paul Lai

If any of you have read some useful analyses of the relationship between the values of librarianship and the values of the corporate world, please share them in the comments of this post or email me if you’d like to contribute a guest post. I’d love to see more of this discussion foregrounded on the blog.

I’m about half way through John E. Buschman’s Dismantling the Public Sphere: Situating and Sustaining Librarianship in the Age of the New Public Philosophy (Libraries Unlimited, 2003), which Elaine Harger at Progressive Librarians Guild recommended as background reading on the dangers of mixing business and librarianship. The book is revelatory for me, and Buschman put into words (almost 10 years ago!) many of the vague concerns and frustrations I have felt this past year while immersed in coursework and trying to keep up with some of the current conversations in librarianship through online forums and in scholarly publications. I was pleased to hear from some of my classmates that they had actually read this book in their introduction to library and information science class. I plan on writing up a review of the book as a whole later, but I thought I’d share this paragraph from the end of “Chapter 5: Co-opted or Rolling Over? Follow-the-Leader Library Management and the New Public Philosophy”:

If the public founding of American libraries as a social institution helped to make it the embodiment of the public sphere (as I have argued), the trajectory of library administration is to manage away the public sphere. I have given clear indications of this throughout the chapter: the language of library administration encompasses an information capitalism view of the institution with users as “customers” and “markets” to be “captured.” Along the way, inappropriate business concepts are applied to libraries and cavalierly misused. Trends in buildings and collections have made this discourse concrete in some “transformed” and “reengineered” institutions. When the future of the library is talked about so incessantly in the language of economics, its public (nonprofit) orientation slowly slips away. One is reminded of Wollin’s formulations that “all public questions can be converted into economic terms” and “when the economy becomes the polity, citizen and community become subversive words.” Under such a management discussion regime it appears absurd to defend libraries’ public sphere role in democracy, public memory, embodying organized and rational discourse, and fair and free information as a democratic safeguard. The library-as-public-sphere is being managed out of existence.

. . .

It seems clear to me that fashionable management rhetoric about libraries constitutes a form of managing away the public sphere in librarianship–and possibly managing away the institution itself. It is a discourse shallowly conceived and logically incapable of defending the field long term. Such formulations can–and should–be routinely challenged. (100-101)

Buschman is quite a bit more pointed in his critique than I am, but he is very convincing and really pushes librarians to think through the logic underlying their decisions (most of which, Buschman points out, are ultimately based just in an economic logic without real weight given to the ideal of supporting the public sphere).

For those of you interested in reading shorter pieces of related commentary, please check out these links:

St. Kate’s student chapter of the Progressive Librarian Guild weighs in

by Paul Lai

The St. Kate’s student chapter of the Progressive Librarians Guild weighs in on the new business home for the MLIS program:

As far as the student chapter of the Progressive Librarian Guild goes, it may seem that the transfer of business operations of the Progressive Librarian journal to the St. Catherine University was ill-timed because of this reorganization, but I am choosing to look at this optimistically. The student chapter of the PLG will provide a much needed vehicle through which students can express their progressive ideas and collectively organize around this issue and other ongoing issues.

The student chapter recently took over administrative duties for the PLG.

Libraries and the cargo cult mentality

by Paul Lai

Over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Brett Bonfield has an interesting article, “The Ebook Cargo Cult,” about the legacy of how libraries have dealt with serials abstracting and indexing, especially when it comes to the new frontier of ebooks purchasing and licensing. He writes:

When there are inefficiencies in a system, entrepreneurship and private enterprise are generally the best ways to create efficiencies. Informed librarians, acting individually but uniformly, made a calculated risk, choosing to select and store serials themselves, and hire abstracting and indexing companies to catalog this material. Within our hierarchy of values, we placed immediacy above ownership, and convenience above preservation. And so, when it comes to serials, the library’s inherent character is compromised: the core values we apply in our other activities, most notably our work with books, are not applied to serials.

This discussion thoughtfully questions the impulse to turn to business models for efficiency and cost reduction by foregrounding all the dilemmas that libraries now face with lack of ownership and control over serials and ebooks. In essence, libraries compromised core values in favor of what businesses tell us is the best way to run things. (You’ll have to read the article for Bonfield’s explanation of what a cargo cult is!)