information school battle lines

My program held a town hall meeting a couple weeks ago. It’s the second one of this year, and the first of the semester. It was started last spring as a way for students and faculty to connect on department-wide issues. Like last semester’s event, it was well-attended. There are plenty of things that library school students gripe about, as my local and national colleagues are probably aware. People don’t feel like they’re getting the preparation they need because much of the material seems irrelevant or outdated, and if it is relevant, it’s skimmed over or only mentioned in passing. Everyone seems to have a complaint, even if it’s about the people who complain.

At the last meeting, I was vocal about the expectations of SILS students and how realistic the curriculum actually is. At 48 credits, one of the highest in the country from what I know, two years is not a long time to do much exploration. For those that come into the field without a big picture look at the profession, opportunities can and often do zip by. Or people who thought they wanted to do one thing have now changed their mind. I’ll hold off on my “advice for incoming library students” for a different time, but as someone who did come into this with a passion and a plan, I still felt like I was just along for the ride.

With this most recent meeting, I got the sense that not many felt satisfied with the way the faculty responded either, or even with the attendance of faculty. This forum was one that was pushed by the ILSSA president, and supported by administration. It’s certain a great idea.  Facilitated by both him and the dean, there was an outline of concerns to be addressed. Discussions ran the gamut from specific class offerings to the division between the graduate and undergraduate programs. All in all, people were able to offer an opinion. But what now?

The faculty that the comments were intended for were not present. That is to say, feedback was for a greater majority of the faculty than those who were there. The role of the dean is to supposed to be, among many things, a representative voice of the department. I imagine that he’ll rehash the major points at a faculty meeting, with the few faculty who appeared–but will they be able to champion our case effectively? Some students lamented the lack of evidence of any action taken after the last SILS town hall, and that begs the question of its usefulness.

There are also committees comprised of both students and faculty, but there is a lack of transparency in their practices. At the beginning of the year, our ILSSA president put out a call for nominations for several of these committees, which people were barely aware of. One of the committees is the Master’s Commitee, and here’s a truncated description:

This committee’s primary responsibility is to monitor the two master’s programs, the dual degree programs, the graduate certificates offered by SILS, and the Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) program to ensure that the courses and experiences offered within these programs are appropriate. To this end, the committee must:
–Review these programs and their curricula for needed changes uncovered by the committee or suggested by others, and recommend actions to the faculty based on this review
–Ensure that the SILS catalog and webpage descriptions of these programs are accurate

The assignments are now set, so technically, there are students who are giving their input on these issues. The only problem is that we have no idea who they are or were last year? What are they doing and what have they done in the past? These lucky few students are now “part of the system”, but no one else has any idea what’s going on. Those in the know are not vocal or tend to politick, offering canned answers to questions that require a more critical response. And the frustration builds.

I’ve asked a lot of questions here, and I don’t have a lot of answers. My involvement within my program is high, yet I’m still not privy to all the inner workings of this department. I do understand how organizational systems work in general though, and I believe that we all need to demand more from our school and from ourselves. It’s not a problem with any individuals. The faculty and students are fantastic. They’re here because they’ve been vetted and because we want the best.

Unfortunately, we don’t work together. It’s easy to blame someone–staff, faculty, or even students–but in the end, it comes down to whether or not we’re able to all come together in more than just small microcosms.

7 thoughts on “information school battle lines

  1. Mike Nutt says:

    Brian, I think you nailed the call to action in the last sentence. We idealize examples of successful collaboration (like Wikipedia, for instance), and tend to ignore the fact that academia is incredibly conservative about its systems. It’s a problem at SILS, but it’s a problem in every academic department at UNC. Holden Thorp talks about the importance of bottom-up innovation, but UNC has to empower students with better structures to facilitate collaborative, positive change. That can mean some radical re-thinking and self evaluation. That’s a painful thing for University employees to do, but students sure are good at that kind of thing. We just need some good levers.

    1. admin says:

      Mike – Definitely agree. It’s hard to say what model will work best, but ever since you mentioned “bottom-up innovation”–a new phrase for an existing idea–I’ve been thinking a lot about how that might be accomplished successfully in bubbles like academic institutions.

  2. Chris Cline says:

    Hey Brian,

    Great post. A lot of what you said really resonated with me, and I’m glad you’re thinking about these issues and reporting them. You’re right, we should demand more from our school and from ourselves.

    1. admin says:

      Chris, thanks for commenting. It’s good to know that I’m not alone. Hopefully blogging is one way to keep SILS accountable.

  3. Liz says:

    Hi Brian,
    Your post is a great start towards the transparency that should happen. I served as the LS representative on the Masters Committee last year, and Kjersti was the IS representative. If you ever want to hear about what went on in the meetings, feel free to catch up with me… I’m happy to talk with you!

    1. admin says:

      Hey Liz – I would interested in hearing your perspective, and it’d be great to catch up as well! Thanks for the comment.

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