Monthly Archives: January 2012

Accreditation and lip service

“In the drive of an occupation toward professional status a substantial amount of attention is devoted to education and the establishment of professional schools, and accrediting bodies are created to watch over standards of educational performance. Too frequently these standards are more concerned with the outward manifestations of academic achievement than with the intellectual content of the discipline to be taught: the amount of study required beyond the baccalaureate degree, the number of faculty who hold the doctorate, the extent of ‘research’ activity as indicated by faculty publication, and other considerations that can be reduced to statistical quantification. Lip service is given to creativity and innovation but excessive departure from traditional course content may well be regarded with considerable suspicion.”

The words above came to mind when I listened to the latest news on accreditation at ALISE where the deans and directors were all informed, to our surprise, that more stringent reporting of student learning outcomes would be part of future accreditation exercises. These insightful words are from Jesse Shera, then dean of the School of Library Science at Western Reserve University, writing in 1967 for Science.  It seems from comments from others in Dallas that there is little real input ever from the academic side on accreditation and we are left subject to the whims of the year (currently learning outcomes but these are just added to previous years’ whims as additional burdens) in an endless compliance exercise. Isn’t it about time schools stopped ceding education standards to groups who neither understand universities very well nor seem particularly well-informed on learning theory (and show no interest in correcting their deficits)?  Check back in another 45 years….

  1.  Ref: Shera, J. (1967) Librarians against Machines, Science, May 12, Vol 156, 746-750.

ALISE 2012 done and dusted

I spent the week in Dallas at the ALISE conference which I co-chaired with the irrepressible Toni Carbo this year. Despite what people might tell you, chairing takes its toll but I was pleased with the results. I led the portfolio review section on Tuesday pm which involved meeting with (mostly) soon-to-be doctoral graduates who wanted to discuss their resume and interview tactics. I was ably assisted by a team of fellow academics and I believe we advised more than 20 interested participants in three hours. The process is rewarding even if neither group entirely understood in advance what the session would entail. That needs improving next year but the quality of resumes I reviewed was impressive.

Opening keynote speaker was David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, who gave a very engaging and direct explanation of NARA and the changes he was leading within that organization. I smiled when he reported that upon his appointment he was met with minor outcry in some quarters that he was not an archivist really but a librarian! I smiled further at his conviction to break down the barriers between libraries, archives and museums so as to focus each community on the essential similarities of their roles. Music to many of our ears I am sure. A lively Q&A followed and David was not shy about expressing his views on most issues (except SOPA!).

This year we imposed stricter review standards on papers and while most people seemed to think this improved the conference there were, as expected, some dissatisfied folks who did not get their work included. Not sure how people can expect us to have a vibrant program and more open acceptance but the number of opportunities for poster presentations means there is a way of enabling participation by those who otherwise could not get funded to come. Have to say, I have never been a fan of poster sessions though. I appreciate the opportunity for inclusion but I really dislike the dynamics which puts pressure on everyone to speak or listen in such a structured manner even when it is clear that mutual interest is limited. Variants that include 1-minute madness sessions are useful here as then every presenter gets a moment but when room layout dictates floor traffic, you know some folks are going to have a less than productive experience.

For the final session I led an interactive (and it was) session examining how ALISE, ASIST and the iConf might work better together. The idea was to engage the three main conferences where faculty and deans of LIS programs engage each other in research and education discussions but naturally I offended some other organizations by leaving them out. The general feeling I left with suggested there is some mileage now in our thinking collectively about reducing overlap, bringing relevant events together and even, given a suggestion by Marcia Bates (star of ALISE 2012 in my view) rethinking our various groups into a collective within an umbrella organization not unlike the structure of ACM. Time for an International Association of Information Societies anyone?

Downsides were few – but heaven help us, conference hotels on the side of the interstate that require you to find a cab just to get dinner should be blocked at the building approval stage. Yes, I know it’s Texas, and conference hotels are booked years in advance but if you’re spending more on cab fares than anything else, something’s wrong with the location. As always, you can’t be in two places at one time so no doubt I missed something or someone I should have seen but that’s life at a conference.