National Dialogue on the Curriculum of Readiness for the 21st Century Librarian

ALA Annual Conference - Chicago, Illinois - Tuesday June 28, 2005


Plenary Session I: Preparing Leaders for 21st Century Library and Information Service - Carla Funk

Carla Funk:  Thank you, Rhea. I figured since I was last on the program, I should have some pictures for you to look at.


My title is Collaboration for Lifelong Learning. And I'm going to speak from the special libraries and, specifically, the medical library standpoint to some extent, but also from the Association's standpoint because that's what I do now.

OK. I'm going to set the stage with a little background about the special library community and, I skipped over the first slide but, on average, about 10% of LIS graduates annually go to work in special libraries. This is a small, a small percentage. And the figures that you would have seen are from the October 15, 2003   2004 LJ articles on placements.

And this is a small percentage, however, when you look at the combined memberships of the various associations, if you take ALA and then add together the memberships of the American Association of Law Libraries, the Medical Library Association and the Special Libraries Association, you'll see that they equal about one half of ALA's membership. So something's going on here as you go through.

And one reason for this is that the people come to special librarianship as a second or even a third career or professional change. So they're coming from public libraries, as I did. They come from all sorts of backgrounds.

They also come from a variety of other professions. And, in the case of health sciences librarians, we have nurses, we have MDs, we have medical technologist. We have people that come to us from different areas. And they do go back and they get their MLSs. So we have the MD MLS and we have the RN MLS combinations. Law librarians, of course, have the JDs, MLSs and a variety of other kinds of things.

Minorities make up between 13 and 14% of the memberships of our three associations right now. And this is an overall increase of about 6% since the mid to late 90s. So that's not too bad. I know MLA and I'm sure our sister library associations have been working very hard not only on recruiting into our associations, which is important, but recruiting into the profession. And this is a big issue with us getting a whole diverse group of people into the profession.

Now, all of our associations have developed competency documents and statements over the years. MLA's is the oldest, we published in the early 1990s and SLA's is the newest which they revised in 2003. Now, MLA is currently in the process of revising what we call platform for change and we'll have that completed in 2007. And, although each statement is phrased somewhat differently, I want to show you in a minute the basic competencies that we feel that are important for our constituents.

These are fairly broad statements and we've heard a lot this morning about new things and whatever but, if you think hard enough, you can really wrap in a lot of the new ideas into these basic things. Management of information services, which is budgeting, facilities planning, administration, to name a few things. Understanding information needs and information resources, which are the principles and practices related to providing information.

Resource management and I'll include in that right now, negotiation because a lot of us are involved in contract negotiation, which is something you're not trained to do very well or you weren't in the past. And that's, of course, collection development and management, organization of information.

Information systems and technology, we've heard a lot about that. Special libraries have this in spades. This is the way we live. So we need to know not only the principles of automated systems, but the design of them, the use of them, the evaluation of them, including web development, blogging, virtual support of our professional communities who we serve. It's very interesting.

Another thing that we do, instructional support systems. A lot of our members teach and they teach people, they teach medical students for example. In our area, they teach physicians. The law librarians do teaching in the professions too. We have to teach users ways to access, organize and use information.

We also have a need for research analysis and interpretation, particularly important in our environment where you are called upon to access and filter or create a competitive, intelligent strategy. A little different; a little high level.

Also, the profession, we have to be able to conduct and interpret research about ourselves, which is extremely important and we continue to try to do more and more of that.

The practice environment and information policies, in other words, who are you working for? What's going on? The publishing environment   what's going on in publishing? Copyright   somebody mentioned scholarly publishing already   open access. All of that stuff we need to know.

Communication and marketing skills, we've heard the importance of that already this morning   incredibly important to sell yourself to keep your library alive in your institution, your corporation, your organization because we are getting closed.

Cutting across all of these areas are other professional qualities. Again, we've heard about them, such as respect for others; the ethics of information; being a team player; being able to plan and prioritize; being creative; flexible; being a mentor; seeking out new roles. So you've got to, this pervades all of those other things.

Now, as we all recognize, our environment is constantly changing, as are the people in it. Our librarians may be increasingly working outside of the physical library; there are virtual libraries now as we know. Librarians must learn how to cope with that environment and also recognize that not everything, at least in the medical literature is available electronically.

We're still in that kind of transitional phase. There is a tremendous increase in information but the challenge is to be able to identify quality information from authoritative sources. Good enough information, instead of the best information can lead to deadly consequences in the medical arena.

And also, we've learned right now that instant messaging, even if you get a request via PDA does not equal instant answering. Many of our questions are very complicated. And one of our libraries actually tried this and gave up on it because you can't in a medical environment generally get back like that. It's more complicated and things ride on them, important things ride on your answers.

There is also a tremendous increase in searching options. So, it is imperative to understand how the search engines work. For example, I learned recently and you probably all know this, depending on when you search Google for medical information you may get different citations, because there is a searching time limit and if it's real busy, you're going to get different things at busy times of the day, fewer things and another type. So, that's kind of was shocking to some e people. PubMed, in our example, is still a better search option, but students must understand how these things are built and understand to look at how they work.

Special librarians like everyone else are serving g increasingly complex and diverse communities. That's one reason it is important to recruit and retain librarian from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Two examples, again one from the medical library field we have    our real hot topic now is health literacy and health information literacy, the ability to understand and use health information successfully.

And there are all sorts of literacies involved here. There is language, there is age, there is cultural and reading ability issue, ethnic issues, whole range of things that as the previous speaker said, cultural sensitivity is really important. Also, your corporate headquarters and main library may be in a different country. And language skills and cultural sensitivity is needed here, so you can give your clients wherever they reside in the world, a most effective service.

Librarians must be taught and adopt multidisciplinary and cross functional approaches to service. To day it is necessary to partner with other types of libraries, community organizations, other institutions, other subject specialties to get the job done. There will be continually evolving information roles and librarians must be able to recognize and adapt to them.

For example, MLA is sponsoring a study of the role of what we are calling the Informationist to work as part of the healthcare team with a higher level of subject knowledge and technical skills to help physicians and researchers work their way through relevant data sets, knowledge based information and all that goes with it to reach the best conclusion that they can.

All of these factors and probably more emphasize the need for lifelong learning. Learning cannot stop with the MLS, and I think that's one of my messages today. We've all got to work together. This is going to take cooperation among the graduate schools, the professional associations, other information related groups and anybody else that we can think of that can help us to get the job done.

The OIS curriculum should prepare students to design their learning program throughout the length of their careers. It doesn't stop when you graduate. You keep going and going, especially in our environment today. The graduate schools should work with professional associations and other information related groups to developed or present courses on new topics.

And I'll give you an example of that we did. Members, we have a continuing education committee, members of our committee for us developed a web based courses on evidence based medicine, which was a really hot topic and still is. And we offered it, MLA offered it to our group for a couple of years, and then the course migrated to the University of North Carolina School of Library and Information Science, and they are offering it now.

So, that was a very successful way that an association started something and then it went into the mainstream. It was a way that the school could ramp up very quickly to a hot topic that was going to continue with some collaboration between the two groups. Finally, we must all continue to present courses using new technologies focusing on distance education opportunities to attract those students including minorities who may not live near a graduate school program, .

And I just want to close with a little ad, I guess. This is our CE web page. And we have an educational clearing house that has about 300 courses, 10 of which are web based. We are also linking to all LIS programs on this page that offer courses in medical librarianship, LIS web based courses and relevant web based courses that are offered by ARL, NLM National Library for Medicine and ALA.

For example, also within the next year, we will be holding an institute to enable our instructors to convert their courses into electronic form and some of these may become part of the LIS curricula or a part of a practitioner's continuing education programs. So, this is what we're trying to do to help. And our goal is to have the best educated group of medical librarians available, and this is one of the ways we do it.

So, thank you very much for inviting me to speak.