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Library School Rankings: None for academic specialty? April 17, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Academic Librarianship, ACRL, demographics, Library Related, Library School.
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USNews has just updated its rankings for graduate programs in library science after a break of about 7 years. Ours is 17th I believe, but the top school without a PhD. Pretty good.

But, I agree with StevenB over at ACRLog, who asks the question, “why no academic librarianship specialty ranking?” If USNews won’t take on this challenge, he tasks ACRL to begin its own rankings and offers some preliminary ranking measures. I, for one, would love to be on this committee. Where do I sign up?

But the question also, of course, has me reflecting on how this specialty is handled at my own university. Where the SLMS students have a very stringent educational plan and close advising and observation, we academic tract students are rather on our own. And that can probably be said of the other specializations as well. We enjoy a great deal of freedom in deciding our plans of study, and are encouraged to pursue real academic library experience through practicums and directed study.

Advising, in my experience, has been accessible and informative. But if there are hard statistics being kept by the program about how many students pursue this track and whether they are gainfully employed within the specialty within a reasonable amount of time after graduation, I am not aware of it.

Last year I attended a local ACRL conference that showcased a wonderful presentation by Stanley Wilder on the changing age demographics of our profession. As academic librarians retire, there are lots of positions opening up, right? As many of us said at ACRL, we need to see the numbers. Many positions are being filled by paraprofessionals and computer science engineers. A search engine is perceived to be all that is needed to begin one’s research or finish a paper. But at the same time there is a crisis in terms of information literacy in academia, and well-educated, forward thinking librarians are needed to help students learn not only how to find information, but how to find good information, and understand what to do with it once they’ve found it. For example if the University at Buffalo is to be a School of Excellence by 2020, graduating information literate students who are top in their fields and professions, it will obviously need to make libraries and librarians a high priority.

The quality of the education I am receiving now, (I am a student now, not in 2020) is paramount. But to me ranking isn’t as important as self-assessment, external review, and recommendations for improvement. Scarcity of economic resources may mean the field is more competitive than ever, and that means graduating students need to receive the most competitive education possible.

Update, June 29, 2006: I rarely go back this far in editing/updating a post but 2 things draw me to this one: for some reason this is the most consistently read/searched post on this blog, and given the university’s dismantling of the school the post now seems eerie. At the time I wrote this I really did believe in self-assessment as a powerful tool for improvement. Key word here is “self”. I assumed it was understood our LIS program was top notch but pondered how we could make it better. And apparently at the time I was writing this the Provost had already made up his mind that Informatics is not a viable academic focus and was making plans to break up the school.

Also at that time LIS was going through a GRUELING ALA Accreditation process of which I was a part (as a GA and also as a student officer). The school still awaits the final report and I fear the latest shenanigans at UB will affect that decision. I hope not. Initial feedback from the team included increasing financial aid opportunities and beefing up the technology lab. Both are legitimate. How in the midst of all this restructuring will the school not only comply with the forthcoming recommendations but move forward in terms of improving individual library tracks?