Last month, the University of Maryland’s iSchool and the University’s Information Policy & Access Center released a report on the future of the master’s degree in library science, at least in the degree’s current form. The report is the result of a year-long collaborative effort, including discussions with the broader community, to determine how an MLS degree can best meet today’s changing economic, demographic, and information trends. In particular, the committee sought to address the issues of what value an MLS degree has, what a program of study to attain an MLS degree should include, and how that program should reflect the skills that library and information science professionals will need in the coming years. Although the report focuses specifically on how to transform the University of Maryland’s degree program, the findings reflect broader trends that likely apply to library and information science programs across the country.
The report identifies the following key trends that will shape the MLS degree.
* As physical collections decrease in importance, the emphasis will need to shift to engagement with library users and the broader community.
* Despite these changes, the core values of librarianship-including access, intellectual freedom, and preservation-remain consistent.
* Future professionals in the information-science field will need to possess skills beyond just familiarity with a collection’s content, including collaborating with co-workers and patrons, familiarizing one’s self with changing technologies and training others in their use, and applying problem-solving skills to a fluid work environment.
* With the definition of librarianship expanding, an MLS may no longer be necessary if one has training in related areas, such as instructional design or information technology.
* With socio-economic disparities still prevalent (and, in some cases, increasing), libraries will need to consider how their services can best meet the needs of as broad a range of users as possible, including by forming partnerships with community organizations to address such social issues as education and health care.
* As information specialists, librarians will need to collect and analyze data, particularly related to the needs of various groups in the community, in order to evaluate how library services can best serve that community.
* With youth being one of the key groups that libraries can benefit, librarians will need to collaborate with local educational institutions, particularly in promoting pre-kindergarten programs and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) activities.
* As data continue to play an increasing role in everyday life, library organizations will need to take the lead in collecting, sifting through, and analyzing those data.
The report also identifies several ways in which these trends will impact the form that an MLS degree takes.
* The degree will need to prepare librarians not just to work in a back room, but to engage actively with the public and solve problems collaboratively.
* The MLS curriculum will need to balance the teaching of skills (database-searching, for instance) with impressing upon students the correct approaches (such as teamwork and community engagement) for addressing the challenges of the profession.
* To ensure that the right mix of individuals will be entering the field, MLS programs will need to recruit students who not only have a love of reading and knowledge, but also are community-service oriented and can embrace change easily.
* The degree program must give students the ability and confidence for “thinking outside the box” and taking risks, as these attributes will be critical for thriving in an ever-changing information environment.
To read the full report, go to http://mls.umd.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ReEnvisioningFinalReport.pdf.