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

Month: July, 2012

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!)

Some more clarifications and information

by Paul Lai

Here are a few more details to add to Sara’s excellent summary of our meeting with Mary a few days ago. As we noted before, our main purpose for that meeting was to ascertain how much information the faculty had about the decision. Although it appears that the faculty have basically the same, limited amount of information as students, Mary was able to provide some more insight into the workings of the university in general.

  • Regarding the status of ALA accreditation: In the fall, the MLIS faculty will write up a report about this administrative change and its impact on the curriculum to submit to the ALA accreditation folks. That report will stay on file but won’t be acted on until the program’s reaccreditation when St. Kate’s will need to account for the change more fully as it pans out. For those people concerned about accreditation status, this decision should have no immediate impact on accreditation.
  • There was also some reshuffling of administrative positions and structures more broadly in the university. In addition to the elimination of the position of the Dean of the School of Professional Studies, the deanship of the Graduate College is now taken on by Penny Moyers (previously, MaryAnn Janosik was dean of both the School of Professional Studies and of the Graduate College). I was unclear on the discussion at this point regarding whether or not other colleges/schools were moved around as well. If any of the other attendees of this meeting can clarify—was the College for Women—Weekend consolidated with the (day) College for Women? Here’s a link to the webpage with information on the administrative structure for the university: Academics.
  • In addition to writing up a report for the ALA accreditation board, the MLIS faculty will have to revise their mission and objectives statements to realign with the mission and objectives of the School of Business and Leadership. We hope that this realignment will be a two-way street, with the MLIS and Education programs having a say in revising the School’s larger mission and objectives as well.
  • The university faculty voted recently (April?) to explore creating an MBA program, which will be housed in the School of Business and Leadership.

Questions I still have (sorry for sounding like a broken record):

  • Who made this decision? The Board of Trustees? The deans? As far as we can tell, the deans affected by this administrative reorganization do not seem to have been involved in the decision, at least not until the latter stages.
  • What is the specific issue that those who made this decision hope to address with this reorganization? (Which objectives in the Strategic Plan?) What problem did the decision-makers identify as needing resolution? I think asking this question and receiving a response can only help the university community address it together, perhaps with a different solution than the one given to us.
  • Will the university give faculty in affected programs the resources (course releases, perhaps?) needed to overhaul their missions and objectives in time for the February 2013 reaccreditation visit by the Higher Learning Commission? I can’t imagine that coming up with realignment reports will be an easy task.
  • What plan does the university have in place to explain this decision to all stakeholders (students, staff, faculty, alumni, donors)?

Finally, I thought I’d provide some links to the university’s website that might be useful in understanding the decision and its impact:

Update and thoughts on next steps

by Sara Z

For those who don’t know, Associate Dean of LIS Deb Grealy is on medical leave, so Professor Emeritus Mary Wagner is covering her administrative duties. So it was that we–a group of six students–met with Mary on Thursday to find out what she knew about this decision to move the MLIS program into the School of Business and Leadership. The discussion lasted for an hour but revealed little: it seems the LIS faculty don’t know much more than the students about how this decision was made. We revisited some points that were made by Dean King in her responses here and elsewhere:

  • This move somehow (details unclear) is in better alignment with the goals of the 2020 strategic plan.
  • This move somehow (details unclear) will better position St. Kate’s for renewal of our Higher Education accreditation.

As we move forward with asking for a transparent accounting of the decision-making process, we will try to address these specific points to find out more about the reasoning (or, maybe, lack of reasoning) behind them. Paul has an appointment with (I believe–correct me if I’m wrong) Senior VP Colleen Hegranes later this summer to learn more.

We did learn a few things that help shed light on the decision, though:

  • Social Work is a joint program between St. Kate’s and St. Thomas and has its own Dean. They have tended to see themselves as separate from us. So, there are preexisting conditions, as it were, leading to their move.
  • This reorganization creates a more even balance of student enrollment between the Schools within the University. From a governance standpoint, this allows the leadership of the schools to speak to each other with greater equality.
  • The possibility of renaming the School of Business and Leadership has been raised, albeit without promise of immediate action. At the time the Schools were being named 3-4 years ago, the Board of Trustees mandated that the School housing MAOL have Business in its name. Mary suggested a case could be made for overturning that, but given that St. Kate’s will likely start an MBA, I remain skeptical.

So, what do we do next? As noted above, Paul will be meeting with higher administration, and he’s going to see if it’s possible to include others in that discussion. One idea that came out of talking to Mary is the possibility of holding a forum for students to discuss “what it means to be part of a School: how it impacts our program and how we can impact the School” later this fall. We were careful during the discussion to maintain something of a distinction between the concerns about transparent decision-making and concerns about business affiliation, and I think that suggestion falls squarely into the former. At first, trying to be respectful towards the largest possible audience of concerned students, I thought that might be a good idea. However, it’s not terribly interesting to me–I’d rather have a discussion with other students about their opinion of the role of business in (or threat of business to) our profession.

In other words: it’s not clear yet exactly how we’re going to move forward, beyond finding out more about the reasoning that went into this decision. But, I’d love to hear more from other students.


Google Doc in Development

by Sara Z

We’re currently working on a Google Doc outlining our concerns and some history of the development of schools within St. Kate’s as background. Any and all participation/viewing/feedback is welcome. Please email Sara or Paul for access.

Also, quick reminder: we will be meeting with Mary Wagner tomorrow and will have more info after that.

Paul has another blog post over at HLS

by Sara Z

I Moved Your Cheese: Other Life Orientations.

Not direct commentary on our situation but relevant to why it’s important that we have this discussion:

We find value in questioning what we are given as library science education, not to demean our programs and professors but rather to engage in productive dialogue about what we are learning. Sometimes, our questions are naive, but it is only in asking them that we gain greater clarity on the reasoning behind particular curricular requirements and class assignments.

Comments and Questions

by Sara Z

What are you thoughts about this change? Please reply with your comments and questions. We’ll do our best to get answers!

Begin at the Beginning

by Sara Z

For starters, the email all St. Kate’s LIS students received is below. I can also say that members of the MLIS Advisory Council received pretty much the same email, which means that internal and external information sharing has been the same.

The day this email came out, it was also shared on the Library Juice Press Blog and forwarded to the email list of the Progressive Librarians Guild. From there, it went to the email lists of SRRT and the ALA Council. The two major concerns raised have been the lack of transparency in communication/involvement of faculty and students by the higher administration at St. Kate’s; and, among those with a more progressive mindset, deep concern about what the association with the business school could mean for the program’s orientation towards a business model for librarianship. For further explication, check out MLIS student Paul Lai’s thoughts on his blog.

At this point, a group of concerned students is planning to take action through an open letter to administration and a possible petition. The letter is currently being drafted, and we have not yet defined our “demands” for a petition. We are not currently affiliated with any particular official student group at St. Kate’s but are hoping for the endorsement of student groups as we make progress. We are currently in an information-gathering stage and will be meeting with the acting MLIS program director this week (note that one of the challenges we face is our MLIS dean is on personal leave). We are also working on assembling a timeline of the changes at our school in the past few years that have led to this decision.

Updates will be posted to this blog for public scrutiny and discussion. If you’re interested in helping out, please email Sara Zettervall, skzettervall (at)

To: Current MLIS Students:

Two weeks ago Colleen Hegranes, Senior Vice President announced a restructuring of the St. Catherine University academic programs. The School of Professional Studies is being eliminated and the professional programs in MLIS and Education are being moved into the School of Business and Leadership under the leadership of Dean Paula King. Social Work and the graduate programs will be overseen by Dean Penelope Moyers. The decision to restructure was made after careful deliberation by the upper administration of St. Catherine University and was based on evidence compiled through ongoing annual assessment and strategic planning activities.

Although organizational change and shifts in leadership are always disconcerting, moving into the Business School has much to offer the Master of Library and Information Science Program. The School’s entrepreneurial bent, along with its focus on digital education and technology, can offer us many opportunities that a more traditionally academic organization might not afford. At the same time it is essential that we maintain our academic focus and identity–consistent with the expectations of the American Library Association and the ALA Office for Accreditation. The rigor of our teaching, the relevance of our curriculum to the LIS profession, and our compliance with ALA Standards for Accreditation cannot be called into question, as ALA will be looking at this summer’s reorganization with concern. Although our Biennial Narrative Report for AY 2011-2012 was accepted without question or revision and no subsequent report for AY 2012-2013 is required, we will be expected to file a report detailing the recent reorganization and its implications for MLIS. This report will be written collaboratively early this fall, and will be shared with our new Dean and the MLIS faculty and the MLIS Advisory Council for input before being sent to the ALA.

We were not consulted about the recent restructuring, but our role in making it work for us, the University, and the ALA cannot be underestimated. This is an opportunity for us all to look for ways to incorporate the resources and strengths of both the School of Business and Leadership and the other graduate programs on our campuses into our own high quality library and information educational programs. Dean King, in a conversation earlier today, indicated that she was pleased and proud to have had MLIS added to her portfolio. Central to this process are the creativity and dedication of our faculty, staff, and students. I know that we can all work together to make this transition an opportunity for positive change.

Deborah S. Grealy, Ph.D., Associate Dean & Program Director MLIS
St. Catherine University
2004 Randolph Ave., #4125
Coeur de Catherine 045
St. Paul, MN 55105