December 11th, 2013
Despite the efforts of the winter weather and an over-complicated information system owned by American Airlines (which has little real information to offer), I managed to attend part of the Council of Scientific Societies Presidents meeting in DC this weekend. Session for session, there is more substance in this gathering than I’ve experienced at other conferences. Every speaker seems really top-notch and able to deliver deep content in a manner that truly spans disciplinary boundaries. Most enjoyable was Rob Dietz’s overview of the Center for the Study of Steady-State Economy’s work on assessing the real costs and values of our current use of the planet. He made a lot of sense, and made an even stronger impression when he revealed he believed so much in this approach to economic modeling that he had moved his whole family into a sustainable community housing arrangement in Oregon.
Among his many messages, I took away the argument that economic growth is a really inappropriate measure or goal for a nation to live by and that we need to rethink our collective sense of what is good for our societies, measure this appropriately, and then set policy. Of course, much of this also requires behavioral changes that perhaps economists are not best equipped to understand. More interdisciplinary challenges ahead.
Lots of other good stuff at CSSP, including a too-short but important committee discussion on the need (or not, as I argued) for longer moratorium periods for scholarly work in open access publication processes. I understand the realities of professional associations and their publication revenues, but we are entering an age where the ideas and requirements for access will so fundamentally shift scholarly practices that locking material down to protect the market for certain journals will no longer seem viable. It’s fair to say, I was in a minority on this one but the discussion was instructive.
While CSSP is really a closed shop, it is possible to represent your society there without being president. I suspect the small size and selectivity is not independent of the resulting high quality discourse, but what a shame more academic gatherings were no so stimulating.
December 3rd, 2013
The release of the latest test results from the Program for International Student Assessment is big news overseas as most nations consider how well their teenagers are performing scholastically. The news has been a little quieter here in the US, perhaps because our 15 year olds perform below average on two of the three areas tested. You can get full coverage at the National Center for Education Statistics site where the measures, spread, and various percentages are cut open for examination but the big picture is one that does not paint a very optimistic picture. The Results by country or regional (some regions were assessed independently) ranking looks something like this:
3 Hong Kong
5 S. Korea
As you can see, there’s a strong Asian, then European domination of the top 20, with Canada being the only country represented from the Americas. The US ranked 36th overall. Within the US, several states were assessed independently, with Florida scoring below average on 2/3 areas also though Mass did a little better. Just looking at OECD countries, the US ranked 26/34 on Math. Sobering, is how some are describing it. Or as one way on the Washington post comments section noted ‘at least we’re tops in football’….I’m fairly sure he did not mean soccer.
November 12th, 2013
The first ASIST annual meeting under the new, non-national affiliation was held last week in beautiful Montreal and it was a raging success. Not only was the content much improved but the spirit of fun that emerged last year in hurricane-blasted Baltimore was sustained and enhanced. For me, the year was about internationalization and while the name change was important, the proof was in the attendance. By the start of the conference we knew 38 countries would be represented, a major increase over previous years, with attendees from as far away as Australia, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago. We had 40 attendees from various European countries and 89 from Canada. It was a pleasure to meet so many and to turn the attendee numbers back up into positive territory after several years of decline (we passed the 600 mark once walk-in registrations were counted). Kudos to the program committee and to the local help provided by the School of Information Studies at McGill who put in a lot of effort here, culminating in a fabulous dinner celebrating CAIS and ASIST at the university’s Faculty Club on Tuesday evening. If anything, the program suggests we need to think again about adding in Wednesday to the conference program, there is just too much happening in the evenings to get to everything. Regardless, this was the best ASIST conference in years, and the stage is set to move further into international leadership in the years ahead.
October 21st, 2013
The recent article in LJ about the real or imaginary differences between F2F and distance education was sparked by a survey of employers that suggested they prefer graduates from F2F programs. Cue an onslaught (well, at least a few) replies that spoke of the convenience of DE, how great their program is, and how there’s no real difference anyhow. I think this is the wrong argument. It’s not the medium it’s the message, or in this case, the content. Good programs are good programs. Poor programs are well….you get it. Sadly, there’s very little reliable information for those seeking guidance. I happen to think there’s a very real difference between the type of experiences you can get in a F2F program such as ours and one that lives entirely online. You just cannot replicate the interactivity, exposure and networking we provide in a purely digital program. But if you just want to talk classroom content, the goal, we hope, is to do a bit better than this:
September 10th, 2013
As I work my way through the documentation and data gathering required for our accreditation review, I stumbled across a current article on the ‘crisis’ in legal education by Genevieve Blake Tung. She presents rather alarming data points for lawyers and law schools of which I was not aware. For example, employment rates for law graduates have been on the decline since 2008 and less then 66% of law school graduates obtain jobs requiring bar passage. Projected graduate supply outstrips likely demand by 3:2 and there are now extensive critiques of the problems with legal education and the disconnectedness between law schools and practice. Sound familiar? I don’t have any similar readings in medicine, social work, architecture or education but I wonder how hard it is to turn up equivalent expressions of disquiet in these professional domains? I suppose the better question is, was there ever a time when the professional community in any field deemed the educational preparation of its future members to be appropriate, affordable, and sufficient?
September 5th, 2013
My colleague Phil Doty just pointed me to an interesting article in the Financial Times describing the new public library built in Birmingham, England, one of many such new libraries popping up in major cities around the globe. One important aspect that is discussed here is the willingness of municipalities to invest heavily in such constructions even as the basic public library infrastructure of a nation is crumbling. Britain has made a wave of cuts to their library system in recent years and the data suggest visits and circulation are in decline. The language is telling. New construction is justified in terms of the value of safe public space, education, and related important values of investing in a community even as the ironwork facing for this new architectural wonder, intended to celebrate the city’s traditional skills, has been outsourced to Germany.
One of the leaders in this new project speaks eloquently of the need to move libraries on from a transaction function of finding information and borrowing books to one of education. “The transactional function is withering as there are now so many more media than just the book” he says. Wonderful as that sounds, it tends to jar a little with reality and with the expenditure on new buildings in other cities which seem to emphasize a role for the library in cultural records management more than education, though of course these boundaries are blurred. One wonders if the building program is a boon to architects and the construction industry more than the outcome of any real effort at improving cultural life.
It is worth comparing this articule with “How Low can our book budgets go?” in this month’s LJ by Steve Coffman. The data he presents from the US are quite telling: Public libraries spend 11.4% of their funds on their collection, the lowest level seen on record. And this at a time when book sales in general have been increasing. Public libraries account for only 1.31% of the market in new books, which renders the threats often made to publishers to pay attention to libraries seem hollow. He also points out that despite the growth in the book sales, public library circulation rates are declining, countered only by an increasing usage of DVDs, audiobooks, and games (31% of all checkouts were for videos of one form or another in 2010). Coffman argues that we have real problem (OK, Steve writes provocative pieces all the time but he makes good points), and that diverting money from primary collection building means that libraries are less able to deliver on their primary mission, which might or might not be education but it sure ain’t competing with Netflix.
This is an important topic and one that is not helped by rhetorical flourishes about paradigm shifts from transactions to transformations. Even as the ALA Annual Reports encourage us to believe that more and more people visit libraries regularly, their own data points suggest there has been a significant drop in recent years (in 2008, 76% of respondents claimed to have visited a library in the past year, but in the most recent survey last year, this rate had dropped to 53%, and this leaves out the worry that any question of this kind carries a certain social desirability bias that inflates the answers). Perhaps we are moving to a period of libraries now being great statements of municipal pride, with elaborate new buildings and plentiful architectural awards but little real effort being placed on funding the kind of services that led to the creation of the public library in the first instance. Perhaps the only new part of this is the belief in creating the great statement, so one might be grateful.
May 21st, 2013
The question of value is a hot one these days. Just how is the return on investment for students who, it is often argued, are paying far higher tuition costs than ever before? It used to be that we accepted the standard measures that show those who earn degrees earn more over their careers than those who do not, more than enough to justify the tuition costs. The general trend is upward for each level, topping out at the professional masters level, after which a Ph.D tends to add little more earning power and in some fields even less. This of course leaves out all the other important variables like the benefits of having some choice over career and work prospects, and the sheer joy of learning one can experience in a true college environment.
Weekly earnings and unemployment rate by education level
The situation is more complicated than this basic data set suggests, not least by the hidden quality differences between education providers. A masters degree from UT is not the same as one from a diploma mill. Sorry if the truth hurts. No university describes itself as a mill where degrees can be bought but most of us are savvy enough to know the difference. Those that aren’t pay the price in more ways than one. I am particularly reminded of the inflationary production of degrees when I read data such as those mentioned by Richard Vedder in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently who argued that there are now 115,000 janitors in the US with a four-year degree, and that 15% of all taxi drivers are now similarly credentialed. I am sure some follow their paths by choice, but I suspect that in those numbers are more than a few who imagined a career path that was a little different than janitor, and who were probably sold that dream by a diploma mill.
May 17th, 2013
This weekend marks the graduation of another cohort of information students from the iSchool and I always love our convocation ceremony that we hold in the afternoon, before the main UT event. We try to make it a celebratory experience for graduates and their families, with appropriate reminders of the importance of education and the value of the the graduates’ achievements. This year, it will be particularly noteworthy as we are delighted to have as our guest speaker, Ambassador Sichan Siv. His is no ordinary story and my words cannot do justice to the man. You can find out more in the video below.
Interview with Ambassador Sichan Siv: From The Killing Fields to the White House and United Nations from Morgan Freeman on Vimeo.
Congratulations to all our graduates. You earned your degree by not taking the easy options. I salute you all and wish you the very best in the years ahead.
May 10th, 2013
Library Journal ran a column on the value of the MLS degree to budding librarians which seems to have caused a bit of a reaction among readers, some of which really makes you wonder about the type of education certain ALA-accredited programs are offering. Descriptors such as ‘dull’ ‘unnecessary’, ‘poor value’ are thrown about regularly and there is a strong sense that many graduates received little real education and merely acquired debt and the required membership card for some jobs.
The broad issue at stake here is just how well accreditation works and just what some programs are seeing fit to provide their students. When two major online programs are churning out close to half the accredited students that more than 50 schools graduated in total 10 years ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking the job market was booming. Think again. I don’t know where most of these folks go but I am fairly sure some of them are among the posters at that LJ site.
At Texas, we graduate around 100 masters students a year. Less than half go to work in libraries and archives, the traditional collection agencies of employment, but those that do are well equipped to contribute. The others go into a mix of roles that is not simply reduced to a few job titles, most are singletons, serving as some type of information specialist in a management, design, organization, or service function. It is not clear that these folks need an ALA-accredited degree but they certainly benefited from our education. And we do offer an education, not job training. And that’s just the problem: does accreditation really assess or evaluate the important qualities of a program or just the appearance of a process?
April 30th, 2013
It’s been awhile since the last ROI argument about public libraries which showed a 7:1 return on every dollar invested in a state’s public library system so it’s timely that a new study is just out looking at the recent situation in Texas. Here’s the official release — am no economist but it’s good to see the authors realistically talking about the difficulties of quantifying returns here while showing that what we can measure indicates real positive impact.
“The Texas State Library The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) has released a study showing that in 2011 the economic benefit from Texas public libraries totaled an astounding $2.407 billion, while collectively the libraries cost less than $0.545 billion. The return on investment was thus $4.42 for each dollar invested. The study was prepared for TSLAC by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Texas at Austin and is available at www.tsl.state.tx.us/roi for immediate review and dissemination.”