Institute for Advanced Librarianship Idea

Map Location
E, 8
Thread Location
Page 184

R. David Lankes

Agreement Description

A Note about the Description

Developed initially as part of ongoing dialogs with the Free Library of Philadelphia and other library and information science schools, the Institute is an example means of expanding the educational ladder (see “Need to Expand the Educational Ladder”). The ideas within this example could certainly be replicated at any prestigious and/or progressive library (academic, public, special, governmental, etc.). The following description is a slightly modified version of a proposal prepared for the Free Library of Philadelphia. It has been slightly modified to make it more generic, but it is still a proposal and reads as such.


The Institute for Advanced Librarianship is envisioned as an elite clinical teaching and research environment that seeks to innovate current library practice and invent the future of the field. It shall prepare future leaders in information science and technology with world-class academic and research programs that emphasize innovation and realword impact. The Institute shall be a shared effort of the library science community, housed at one of the nation’s leading universities and located at the world-class library. Rather than competing with other library science programs, it will work with and enhance the current offerings of these programs.

Each year the Institute will offer 10 fellowships to current LIS students who have completed their basic or core instruction (normally their first year of a full-time program). These students will be in residence at the partner library for two semesters, where they will study as a cohort, improving and innovating real services for real users. They will gain invaluable technical and organizational skills (marketing, change management, risk assessment, budgeting) from fulltime faculty, experts from industry, visits to policymakers, and top practitioners all in the framework of innovation and change. They will then return to their home schools to graduate.

Detailed in this agreement are the concepts, structure, and aspirations for the Institute. It is divided up for easy access to the particulars, but taken as a whole it is a vision for harnessing the strengths of partners and location to improve libraries and, ultimately, the communities they serve. The Institute is a place to prepare change agents in the academy, industry, government, schools, and towns throughout the continent.

The Need

Libraries in North America are seeking a new mission. Beyond the advances in technology and the explosion in information production, the communities they serve are changing, forcing libraries to adapt. These communities are changing as a result of the increasing capabilities of and reliance on a digital information infrastructure. This digital transformation shows up not only on the Internet but in areas as diverse as entertainment, where digital distribution of media is changing television and music distribution alike; government, as essential services such as tax payment and even voting are becoming digitally enabled; banking; and health care. Whether a community member interfaces with this new digital world through a computer, cell phone, or mediator such as a bank, the digital pressure is changing nearly all aspects of daily life. In such a world of connected massive stores of diverse data, no wonder libraries that seek to serve these communities are facing a challenge of identity, resources, and mission.

While library science and information schools have traditionally served as facilitators in such field-wide examinations, their effectiveness in this role has been blunted. There are several reasons for this:

• A Greater Emphasis on Research Funding: The economic realities in higher education drive any discipline in today’s universities to greater emphasis on research funds; there is also greater pressure to grow existing degree programs and start new ones. The need to expand budgets through research funds means a greater emphasis on applied research in “hot areas.” Today, with information being central to so many endeavors, those hot areas are in defense, telecommunications, and economic development. Further, although many universities are trying to reverse the trend, career success for research faculty still comes through increased specialization, making the results of research harder to translate into broader settings, including libraries.

• Pressure to Expand Enrollment in Degree Programs and Start New Degree Programs: Although research dollars are an expanding part of a school’s budget, in most programs tuition pays the bills. Add to this the pressure of growing college enrollments and a societal pressure for more universal postsecondary education, and classes are getting bigger. Where more library science students may not be found, new programs at the master’s and undergraduate levels are leading to larger schools with more diverse foci. In some universities, information science is being cast as an essential curriculum, and schools are being asked to take a greater role on curricula throughout a university or college’s offerings.

• The Increased Shifting of Boundaries in the Information Professions: As more and more industries are awakening to the value of effective information utilization, they are seeking the graduates of library and information science schools. The realities of higher salaries—and, in some students’ minds, greater chance for change—are putting pressure on schools to deliver more transferrable skills. As such, many classes teach vital skills but without a library-centric view.

• The Lack of a Continuing Education Model: The main problem that library and information schools face is the lack of a continuing education model for the field. There are few requirements for ongoing engagement between schools and professionals beyond the initial master’s degree. What’s more, with a wide variety of conferences and workshops offered by a vast range of nonuniversity organizations, it is nearly impossible to maintain a long-term dialog between the schools and the profession. So while universities have much to offer to the library profession in terms of new models, missions, and skills, their most efficient corridor to the field is through new graduates who enter an organization with little cultural knowledge and low professional status.

Far from being seen as universally negative, the ability of the library and information science schools to adapt and, in many cases, thrive in the current higher education marketplace is a good thing for library science as a whole. There are more students enrolled now in library science programs than ever before, and they are graduating with new and valuable skills. However, there are few if any places where library innovation is being examined in a holistic way. This has led to the profession forming a series of leadership programs. However, as Jana Varlejs (2007) of Rutgers University states, “Leadership institutes for librarians have proliferated recently in the United States, yet there has been little evaluation to show whether they are effective in producing leaders.” These programs tend to be short term, with a week or two attendance, and uncoordinated. However, such programs have shown success. The goal of the Institute for Advanced Librarianship would be to build on these programs designed for mid-career professionals by preparing leaders earlier in the process and concentrating on change management and innovation.

As the library science schools expand and succeed, there is an increased need for a program that can concentrate their success and learning to the library as an institution. As the library profession forms leadership programs, there is a need to concentrate their lessons earlier in the career and in a greatly expanded format. The proposed Institute is presented as a means to these ends.

By proactively engaging the next generation of leaders and giving them the skills to enter, innovate, and, most important, institute lasting change in organizations, the Institute shall prepare libraries for the changing world they exist within. Furthermore, the Institute shall create a dedicated cohort of change agents that will position libraries as leading institutions within their communities, where they can garner greater support and respect through excellence in service.

Institute Impacts

Margaret Mead is quoted as saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” It is this sentiment that shapes the Institute to be small in terms of people but large in terms of impact. This plan lays out a program with 10 students per year and three fulltime faculty. These numbers are unheard of in a field where full-time faculties can be as large as 45, and schools can graduate more than 200 students a year. The size does not represent a lack of ambition but instead a strong desire for focus. In essence, this program seeks to create Mead’s small group of “thoughtful, committed citizens” who shall change the world. This impact approach is based on the realities of the library field.

Librarianship is a profession that is diverse in its settings but coherent in its membership. One can reach a large percentage of the library profession efficiently through the Internet and conferences. Once you reach this core of engaged individuals, one can have enormous impact. For example, presentations at the American Library Association’s annual conferences reach provosts at universities, school librarians in K–12 schools, public librarians, and even Chief Information Officers in industry. Furthermore, rightly or wrongly, individuals have been shown to have a large impact on the thinking of the profession. From Melvyl Dewey to F. W. Lancaster, the field is often primed for dynamic individuals with a compelling mission.

The potential for impact can be seen in the rise of virtual reference. In a little less than 8 years, a relatively small group of researchers and practitioners were able to transform answering reference questions online from a novelty to a broadly implemented basic service in public, academic, and corporate settings. Similar experiences can be recounted in the metadata and public access computing communities.

The Institute shall have the following short- mid-, and long-term impacts:

• Short Term: The Institute will be quickly positioned in a leadership role within the library practice community, given its home at both a library and a prestigious university.
• Short Term: Library and information science programs will seek partnership with the Institute due to its position within a prestigious university and the ability to highlight their own contributions to library science.
• Mid Term: The Institute shall highlight the utility of library and information science through an expanding network of partnerships with industry and clinical faculty.
• Mid Term: The experiences of the Institute in working with students from a diverse set of LIS programs will aid partnering schools in refining their curricula by providing direct feedback on student preparation by comparing students across programs.
• Mid Term: Projects of the Institute will improve service offerings at the Free Library of Philadelphia and partnering practice environments.
• Long Term: The growing cohort of Institute graduates will take on leadership positions within library science, thus providing a greater platform for library innovation and positive change.
• Long Term: Libraries will improve and increase their benefits to their communities.
The Institute shall not be simply a school but a school of thought. It shall have a focused and integrated intellectual signature that will diffuse throughout the field through its research, students, and operations.

The Curriculum

The curriculum of the Institute shall be an equal mix of practica and symposia taught by some of the nation’s leaders in information science, marketing, technology, and librarianship. Rotating hands-on practica shall place students in direct contact with the subject matter and the community. Students shall learn customer service skills from reference librarians, vice presidents, and marketers. They shall learn information organization from catalogers, metadata specialists, and digital library researchers. They shall learn technology from IT staff running libraries, corporate CIOs, and university provosts. They will learn policy from visits to Congress and participation in legislative days. This experience-based learning shall be complemented by symposia—highly interactive classes with scholars, business entrepreneurs, and thought leaders from around the world. The net effect will be a continuous cycle of ideas and innovation matched to the realities of real-world institutions.

Structured Outcomes, Unstructured Courses

The Institute curriculum shall take advantage of the small number of students, the focus of innovation, the location at a world-class library, and ready access to a deep pool of expertise in the region by not using a traditional 3-credit hour topical structure. Instead, the structure of the courses will be highly fluid, with only a few structural components consistent from year to year:

• A standing daily symposium for the cohort and faculty to exchange ideas, plan new experiences, and jointly explore topics.
• A year-long practicum where the student explores an area of librarianship and produces a functional system (piece of software, service, collections, or process) that has been implemented and is appropriately sustainable.
• A colloquium on the topic of their practicum that the student organizes and is delivered to the library community.

In place of formal classes and traditional structure, the Institute’s curriculum shall be founded on the growing model of assessment in high education: outcomes. Through the course of planning and launching, the overall goal and objectives of the Institute in technology, innovation, and change will be refined into a rubric. This rubric constitutes a sort of contract between the Institute and its academic partners. To provide real evidence and outcomes, the Institute shall use a series of mid-semester reviews and a portfolio to ensure student achievement.

The actual content of the curriculum will come from a variety of sources:

• The Faculty: Full-time faculty, clinical faculty, and faculty of practice will work one on one with students and as a cohort to explore aspects of librarianship and information industries. They will share their own expertise and craft practical engagements to cement concepts.
• Directed Readings: Each year, with the input of the faculty and the Board of Visitors, a reading list shall be constructed. The readings shall form a common core of information that students and faculty alike shall use in their interactions and projects.
• Field Experiences: Visits from and to libraries, information science schools, government, and industry located throughout the region.

The core of the Institute’s educational program lies in a practicum experience. The students, working with the faculty, shall devise a yearlong project that they will have to plan, execute, and evaluate. This project (practicum) shall incorporate outcomes from across their experiences, and they shall reach out to experts at their home schools, other LIS programs, industry, government, and the not-for-profit sectors.

The bottom line is that with a strong focus on outcomes over courses, the Institute shall be responsive to current events and able to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. In many ways, the Institute’s curriculum shall reflect highly successful PhD and management programs.

Research in the Curriculum

A heavy dependence on faculty for a curriculum centered around innovation requires that the faculty involved are engaged in innovation activities. To that end, core faculty are expected to have active research agendas. These agendas shall include funded research activities from multiple sources. They are also expected to include cohort students in these projects. In fact, student practica may be portions of these funded research projects.

Faculty Model

A diverse and fluid Institute requires multiple types of faculty to serve differing purposes, including providing consistency across cohorts, direct guidance on research, library-centric viewpoints, and broader information perspectives, as well as highly specialized expertise in areas such as marketing and economics. The faculty model of the Institute breaks out each of these roles and their responsibilities.

Core Faculty

The key personnel of the Institute are three tenure-track professors who run the Institute, have the most contact with students, and provide the scholarly underpinnings of the program. Because the primary aim of the program is innovation and re-invention of a vital field, the scholarly core is essential. True, lasting innovation must be derived from core principles and theory. The core faculty must be academically rigorous to ensure a strong conceptual foundation for this new approach to librarianship.

Core faculty are seen as innovative, with excellent reputations and research skills, yet they are in the middle or even early phases of their careers to provide long-term benefit to the Institute. They shall have PhDs in the library and information science domain and would be expected to actively seek external funding for research and projects.

The three core faculty would each have distinct roles:

• Director: Oversees the Institute, is the interface between Institute partners, and provides overall vision and leadership for the program.
• Associate Director for Research: Is tasked with seeking out and creating funded research opportunities, provides methodological guidance to other faculty and students, and interfaces with research funders.
• Associate Director for Academics: Oversees other faculty types, works to bring in the highest quality clinical faculty, and structures and schedules curricular activities.

All faculty would be expected to be on the tenure track and comply with tenure requirements at the university partner. This is vital not only to ensuring the quality of the faculty (and making that quality evident to those outside of the Institute), but also in terms of recruiting and sustained performance. It will be nearly impossible to recruit top-tier faculty to the Institute without the protection of tenure. The market for LIS faculty is currently competitive, with existing information and library science faculties growing rapidly. Given the choice between a tenure-track position and a non-tenure-track spot, the natural inclination will be to a school offering tenure.

Clinical Faculty

Clinical faculty members are affiliated experts in their disciplines who teach symposia and aid students in their practica. They are expected to have full-time careers outside of the Institute and to maintain outstanding reputations in those outside endeavors. These are not the traditional “adjunct” faculty who are brought in to teach regularly taught courses, but rather leaders in industry, government, and librarianship who share their valuable time once or twice a semester.

Faculty of Practice

Faculty of practice are full-time employed staff at the partner library and partnering organizations that provide direct oversight of students as part of their regular duties. Examples might include the head of the Business and Industry Department who will work with students and show them how to manage such an operation, much as an internship supervisor might. It should be noted that not all staff at the library would be considered a faculty of practice—only those staff members who show excellence in their operations, dedication to the mission of the Institute, and great engagement in their interaction with students.

Plan Partners

Partners are essential for its creation and continued success. While the list of partners will grow as the Institute moves from planning to implementation to continued operation, the types of partners needed at this point are clear:

• A Setting for the Institute
• Library and Information Science Schools
• Libraries
• Academic Home
• Funders

Each of these broad categories is addressed in greater depth below.

The Setting

The Institute shall be physically housed in a large library with ready access to regional resources in commerce, government, and nonprofit sectors. The size of the library matters in that it must provide many rich opportunities for experimentation. The physical location of the library is also important in that it should provide access to multiple library types for student projects. So while Institute students may meet in a public library, for example, they may be doing their project work across town in an academic or a school library.

Not an Apprenticeship Program

It needs to be made clear that the Institute is not envisioned as an apprenticeship program or some sort of superinternship. This is not intended to bring the best students to the library to learn existing practices and spend their days mastering the tools of present librarianship. Although some hands-on work is needed as a basis to launch innovative services, the focus is on developing new and better practice. This development will be done through scholarship and experimentation, not replication and praxis. In this way, the Institute does not represent a step back to the days when library schools were simply outgrowth of library training programs, but a new paradigm where outstanding scholarship is done at the point of impact, much like a university hospital where new treatments are developed.


There are 56 ALA-accredited library programs in North America.1 These programs represent a wide variety of institutions—from the small and specialized to the large and diverse. The LIS programs are vital partners for the Institute in three ways:

1. Shapers of the Innovation Curriculum: Participating schools will be a large source of the initial and ongoing shape of the Institute’s curriculum. Through consultation with standing bodies of LIS programs like ALISE and the iSchool conference, as well as members of the Institute’s Board of Visitors, the experiences of LIS programs will help shape the offerings of the Institute.
2. Pool of Applicants: As of 2004,2 there were nearly 17,000 master’s students working toward a degree in library science (Wisser & Saye, 2004). This represents the pool from which 10 shall be chosen.
3. Partners in Research: Just as the Institute seeks to be highly collegial in its educational offerings, so too does it seek to collaborate widely in terms of research. It is important that the Institute’s core faculty (and students) remain active and visible members of the LIS research community and not become a boutique operation.

The Institute shall actively work to make these programs official partners. Partnership can be at a variety of levels. At the most basic, LIS schools and the Institute shall make arrangements for the transference and assignment of credits earned by cohort students (this shall be discussed in greater detail below). Each school with an accepted student shall also receive regular feedback on that student’s performance, as well as a comparative analysis of the student’s competencies versus students from other programs (without identifying these other programs). The report can be used as part of an LIS program’s performance for accreditation. Beyond the sharing of students, the Institute shall seek to constantly engage partnering schools in matters of trends in librarianship and research.

Target the Top

As previously stated, there are a wide variety of LIS programs. It will take time to reach out to all of these programs. Therefore, the Institute shall target the top-ranked LIS programs according to U.S. News and World Report in the prelaunch phases. With these schools on board, the Institute is guaranteed top-quality students and an excellent reputation. With the reputation of a high-quality university partner and the vision of the Institute, it should be possible to quickly get these schools on board. However, if the Institute is seen as regressive or a retrenchment of traditional librarianship, these programs will not be interested in participating. One mechanism to get these programs on board and seed the Institute’s academic program would be to grant these programs a slot for the first class.

The Power of Visiting Faculty

A challenge for this program will be ensuring credits and information flow smoothly from the Institute to the home college of a student. Simply transferring in half of a student’s master’s degree, even from a prestigious university, is problematic at best. While each partnering school may have its own method to do this, some initial models might involve naming core Institute faculty as visiting or adjunct faculty within the home school. Another model might be to have a faculty member within the home school act as a sort of supervisor for the student and issue credit within the home school as independent studies or internships (or a combination of these). In any case, it would be an exception if more than a student per year were selected for the Institute’s programs, so the administrative burden on partnering schools should be minimal.

Not a School

There are some substantial reasons why the Institute shall not offer a fully accredited library degree program and, further, why the Institute should not be placed within an existing school (or university with a school). By focusing on the second year of existing degree programs, the Institute avoids ALA accreditation. Such accreditation would mean the offering of basic LIS courses, a job well handled by existing programs. It would also put the Institute into competition with existing LIS programs for students and ranking. Once in a competitive stance, the Institute’s ability to draw the best students from other programs is severely limited. The same logic applies to locating the Institute within an existing LIS school. Although it may be possible to set up a firewall between an existing program and the Institute, it would be difficult to demonstrate independence to other schools and universities.


If schools represent the supply of students, libraries represent the bulk of the demand. Libraries of all sorts must see the value in the Institute; in particular, they must seek out the graduates of the program. This enthusiasm must be maintained in continuous engagement and through the net effect of Institute alums and research.

Libraries must have a place on the initial advisory board and in subsequent Boards of Visitors. Institute faculty and students shall also be highly visible within library associations and meetings. Furthermore, a variety of library types (public, academic, school, special, etc.) must be represented.

It should also be noted that not all graduates shall be destined for libraries. Innovation, change, and technology skills are highly prized throughout the information industry. Non-library participation in hiring, clinical faculties, and projects should be seen as a sign of success, and the Institute shall constantly seek to bridge a strong core of librarianship to other fields. However, librarianship does remain the core focus.

Several large libraries and library organizations have been informally consulted on the Institute concept. Those consulted voiced universal enthusiasm for the project, and it is reasonable to work toward endorsements from these organizations.

Academic Home

The ideal home for the Institute for Advanced Librarianship shall be a university with a stellar reputation and a strong mission in terms of intellectual rigor and a practical outlook. The academic home must aid the Institute in fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, and excellence in both students and faculty.

The benefits to the university partner are both tangible and large scale. A portion of the Institute’s operating income shall be fed back to the university in the form of a standing overhead agreement. Furthermore, indirect income from sponsored research plus tuition revenue that may be generated in later expansion projects would go to the university from the Institute. The Institute shall also bring attention to the university from the library and information communities beyond the institution’s own existing library operations.

There are also intangible benefits to the university housing the Institute. The first is that the Institute will be tackling issues of great interest to higher education in terms of participatory learning and technology (implementation as well as policy). The Institute shall act as a pool of information scholars—ready consultants working collaboratively with existing university programs.

The Institute shall also be an asset to the partnering university in exploring interdisciplinary opportunities between academic programs. Few areas are as well positioned to advanced interdisciplinary initiatives as library and information science. In many ways, a university’s libraries serve as a vital connective tissue between scholars. Librarians work across disciplines and have the opportunity to seek common goals and complementary projects. The Institute can be an invaluable think tank, influencing how the university forward interdisciplinary research working with the university’s libraries. Library and information science as a scholarly discipline has been described as inherently interdisciplinary. In addition to core concepts in information organization and services, the field draws from computing, communications, education, sociology, economics, and public policy. Look today at an information school, and you will find scholars with a wide variety of backgrounds, forging new understandings by coming together through action and application.

Library and information science belongs at a prestigious university as a discipline. As the elite schools redefine science and the humanities in the modern age, LIS skills and insight can assure wide adoption and integration of the underlying information infrastructure. Today’s LIS scholars, professionals, and facilitators can identify user needs, appropriate technologies, and maximize both the efficiency and effectiveness of information. The Institute, drawing from the best of these scholarly and interdisciplinary traditions, can become an asset to the partnering university as it continues to evolve in today’s market place of ideas, increasingly competitive research environment, and increasing social mission.


Vital partners of the Institute shall be its source of income. A mix of private and public funders shall fund the Institute in the form of an endowment and also continuously through research and special projects.


Institute governance will maximize the benefits of partnership while mitigating any potential conflicts between partners. The ideal governance structure is one that allows for all partners to have a voice but also allows the Institute to act decisively and formulate its own vision. Internal governance mechanism and policies will need to be developed by the Institute faculty once they are on board. To help shape the program to that point, a board of advisors shall be established.

Role of Advisor Board

The board of advisors represents the major partners of the Institute and provides input to the director, the Free Library, and the university partner as the Institute is formed. They shall advise of curricular issues, structural aspects of partnerships (how academic credits can be moved across institutions, for example), and help promote the Institute and its mission. Upon the formal launch of the Institute, the board of advisors shall become the Board of Visitors that provide ongoing guidance to the Institute. The initial structure of the board will be co-chaired by a representative of the university home and a representative from the housing library. Other board positions shall be taken up by LIS school representation, representation from the practicing library sector, and members, where appropriate, of funding agencies.


Varlejs, J. (2007). The New Jersey Academy of Library Leadership: What impact has it had? In A. R. Saur (Ed.), Continuing professional development: Pathways to library leadership in the library and information world (Vol. 126, pp. 183-198). IFLA Publications.

Wisser, K. M., & Saye, J. D. (2004). ALISE library and information science education statistical report 2004. (ALISE, Producer) Retrieved February 4, 2008, from

1. (Note: This page no longer exists.)
2. The latest data available online from ALISE.