The Pelican State just can’t catch a break. First Katrina. Then the BP oil leak. And now the threatened closure of the LSU School of Library and Information Science!
I guess when put like that, the closure of the LSU SLIS doesn’t seem so bad, but the folks down in Louisiana sure think so. A couple of weeks ago the Louisiana Library Association Executive Board passed a resolution urging the powers that be not to close the SLIS.
As resolutions go, it’s not bad, and significantly better than some that pass through the ALA Council. It doesn’t just say, “hey, we need a library school!” Instead, it points out money the school brings in from fundraising and grants, notes the necessity for the degree for professional library jobs, and claims that most of the libraries in the state hire LSU SLIS grads, leaving out the fact they probably have no choice.
It also points out LSU is the 22nd ranked library school, but given that there are only about 60 ALA-accredited library schools, that might have been left out.
It seems a better defense than one offered by the Dean of the school, as reported in this LJ article:
“Our graduates are in demand across the state and the nation,” continued Paskoff, who noted that 57 percent of the state residents don’t have Internet access in their homes, but “every parish has a library where citizens have free access to computers to complete social service forms or find essential health information or where their children can do homework.”
That every parish has a library with a public Internet connection doesn’t really prove that the graduates are in demand. This just proves that lots of people don’t have home Internet connections.
The accompanying letter claims that the closure will force graduates to leave the state to get the degree just when Louisiana is “trying to retrain and attract educated citizens to the state.”
That’s an arguable claim in some ways. Is Louisiana really trying to retain and attract educated citizens? It seems doubtful. My experience of the Pelican State is confined to New Orleans, but it doesn’t seem to be a state that particularly values education. It seems hard to believe that’s a priority of Governor Bobby “I Hate Big Government Until I Need It” Jindal, but who knows.
Also, citizens won’t necessarily be forced to leave the state, since several library schools have online diploma mills library schools where students can do all the work for the MLS from the comfort of their own sofas, curled up with their cats and American Idol.
There’s only one problem with that, though: Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the USA. Looking at various poverty statistics, it seems to hover somewhere between 47and 49, with only Mississippi as the buffer keeping it from ever scoring last. Louisiana citizens probably can’t afford the out-of state tuition that the online schools charge.
That Internet statistic is telling. When the Internet has around a 75% penetration in the United States, having 57% of the Louisiana citizens with no Internet connection tells us something. The digital divide is enormous. That’s a sign both of poverty and a lack of interest in having educated citizens.
Another sign is that, according to the resolution, approximately 75% of Louisiana libraries hire LSU SLIS graduates. Unless 25% of them hire graduates exclusively from other schools, the likely assumption is that 25% of the libraries don’t have professional librarians at all. Another sign of poverty. Poor people can’t afford to fund good libraries. I hope those libraries at least have Internet connections and some children’s books.
It thus seems likely that if the LSU SLIS is closed, relatively few Louisianians (is that right? it looks weird) will be ponying up for out-of-state tuition for an online program.
They could of course go out of state to study, but that’s even more expensive. Based on this nifty map of library schools, the closest ones seem to be the University of North Texas-Houston program (which I’m pretty sure is in South Texas, but never mind) and the University of Southern Mississippi.
I’m assuming Houston, TX is more expensive than Hattiesburg, MS, so the most likely choice would be USM, which in most categories would be considered a step down from LSU, unless the category was How Much We Did to Keep an African American Out of our School.
The wiser ones might head a bit further east or north, where there are more schools. And, given that only 75% of Louisiana libraries hire librarians, there are also probably more jobs elsewhere, which would be an incentive not to return to the state, along with Katrina, oil spills, poverty, and low educational standards. This would be a tiny Louisiana brain drain.
Why tiny? Because the school doesn’t graduate that many students. About 60 per year. The number of MLS holders coming into the state would be reduced if the program is closed, but who knows if they’d have jobs anyway.
The smallish program might work against SLIS in the budget wars now, but I have the solution to their ills. Instead of resolving to beg that the school shouldn’t be closed, they should resolve to turn that baby into a cash cow the way some other schools have done. Go online only! And use the poverty to your benefit! LSU graduated 60 MLS students last year. SJSU graduated 471, most of them probably full payers. Big difference.
Here’s the list of schools offering an online-only MLS. What do we notice about that list? That all but one of those programs are in states richer than Louisiana, and the only one from a poorer state is USM again, and that’s one of the universities on the list ranked significantly lower than LSU. Those schools in richer states probably have higher out-of-state tuition.
So, the solution is clear. The LSU SLIS should start up an online-only MLS program, and set their out-of-state tuition lower than the rest of the programs. “We’re cheaper than SJSU and better than USM!” they could say, or something like that.
Sure, it would just generate more unemployed librarians, but it might be the only way to ensure there are any librarians left in the state.