March 16, 2018


Looking Forward | Office Hours

msapplestorenyc-170x170More than one neighbor has exclaimed to me on recent dog walks by the lake, “Didn’t the summer go by fast?” I can’t help but wish that summer had a few more weeks, but I am also looking forward to meeting my students. There’s always so much promise and potential at the start of a new school year. This year, 2016, marks my tenth year as an LIS professor. I’ve witnessed some big transitions in our field, with more to come. What will LIS education look like in another 20 or 30 years? How will we be teaching the core values of a 200-plus-year-old profession while also providing insights into information use in the year 2046?

Days of future past

What springs to mind when you recall your LIS classes? For me, two vivid flashes of memory appear from the mid-1990s: sitting on the floor in the reference stacks of the Schurz Library at Indiana University South Bend, ill with a sinus infection, desperately trying to finish the week’s list of questions. The other is an image of the pages of my Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules manual filled with sticky tabs so I could easily find, for example, how to catalog “spirit communications.” Your memories may predate AACR2, or they may come after the turn of the 21st century, as the Internet and web were well on their way to replacing ready reference.

The new normal in 2016 for many libraries might include one or more of the following: increasing access via web and mobile technology for more users than ever before, rearranging or building new space to provide room for people to converse and create, circulating Library of Things items such as garden tools, Roku players, or Wi-Fi hot spots just as much as books and other materials, or transforming what was once a fully staffed reference desk in a bustling main library into a single service point with LIS professionals managing projects in the building and out in the community.

We have a good handle on teaching these innovations, evidenced by a scan of curricula at various library and information schools across the globe. Current students are taking classes devoted to enhancing the user experience, building welcoming spaces for folks to come together to collaborate and exchange ideas, deciphering what big data can tell us about information use and exchange, creating thriving digital communities, and providing participatory services to promote use and learning. But what about the next waves of sociotechnological change? Predicting the future is probably a fool’s errand, but looking forward, I’d put my money on these scenarios.

You are there

LIS programs have moved online quickly since my own program went 100 percent online in 2009 with varying degrees of success, some relying on “read and respond” pedagogy while others embrace new technologies. (See The Transparent Library School and Our Common Purpose.) A couple of decades from now, online graduate education may mean something different than a web-based learning management system. Logging in might involve a version of virtual reality that replicates the “face-to-face” classroom so closely the technology involved falls away. Class experience, either synchronous or asynchronous, might take place all over the world, with link-ups to great libraries or “field trips” to visit all types of information centers from the Outback in Australia to supercities in Europe.

Macro and microlearning

The MLIS will look very different, too. Hybrid degrees may pull together the foundations of our field with areas related to education, social work, and more as needed for specific types of information jobs. The schools granting the degree would be firmly embedded within a broader subject area. Research skills, including emphasis on understanding user population needs, would be a foundation of this futuristic degree, maybe the MCIS, the Master of Community Information Services.

Students would also have the opportunity to add various skills to their studies depending on interests and goals. Imagine the nano degree of today as an information services buffet. Perhaps a specialization for folks interested in the public library sector would include selected microcourses on civic planning and community engagement.

It’s about people

Consider one of the most foundational of our core values: access to information, unfettered and equal to everyone. Riffing on 2046 and beyond, will our mobile devices/activity trackers/whatever comes next that’s not as weird as Google Glass be so ingrained in our lives that information streams flow like water in and out of our brains? Does that render the concept of libraries moot? Not at all. It means educating professionals for all of the possibilities technology brings, focusing more on people and their needs than technology and resources.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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  1. One of the best classes I took that influenced my career in librarianship was UX for Web Design. It counted toward my degree but was offered by the School of Information Architecture and Knowledge Management. I would love to see more hybrid degrees and cross-departmental cooperation, without students needing to take on a double major. Courses like instructional design, communication, community engagement, emotional intelligence… all good to have under your belt for the library of today!