L-Schools and I-Schools Embracing D-Schools?

We can only hope! But, if you’re like most librarians, you have no clue what this means. It means that Library schools and Information schools should consider embracing some of the curriculum of Design schools. Interesting.

Designing Better Libraries Blog is all about “exploring the application of design, innovation and new media to create better libraries and user experiences.”

Design, as we conceive it, is a way of examining library services and reengineering them to make them more accessible to patrons. … we are entering a time when our traditional techniques for developing new services may be inadequate for serving a new generation of library users with their own unique search behaviors and service expectations. To address these changes, we advocate a kind of design thinking informed by processes developed by major design firms and design schools that emphasizes a novel approach to devising and implementing new ideas in libraries.

A recent Post titled L-Schools and I-Schools Should Take A Closer Look At D-Schools caught my attention as much for the Huh? factor as for the innovative approach to improving library services and user experiences – something that libraries desperately need to remain relevant.

According to the Wall Street Journal (watch the video) D-Schools [Design Schools] are hot and B-Schools [Business Schools] are not. The WSJ is acknowledging an important trend within B-Schools that has been growing in popularity for a few years. While it’s true that a few forward thinking business schools, most notably the Rotman School of Business (U of Toronto) and the Weatherhead School (Case Western) have integrated design thinking into their curriculum, the vast majority of business schools are still offering the same traditional courses and career paths for their MBA students. Moving to a design thinking influenced curriculum makes good sense because more businesses are making use of design thinking and looking to hire those who can bring more of these skills to their companies. At my own institution, the Fox School of Business includes the Center for Design and Innovation, where the faculty are exploring the intersection of design and business, and exposing the newest MBA students to the design inquiry process, a variant on design thinking.

This whole trend speaks to the assertions I’ve been making that librarians must develop business acumen, and libraries must be run more business like. Despite the fact that many librarians resist the idea that ROI is appropriate for libraries, the fact remains that funding agencies require it. It’s a done deal, so libraries had better get with the program or face outsourcing, or an even worse fate – closure.

The author goes on to elaborate on the situation by stating;

Perhaps now is the right time for L-Schools (Library) and I-Schools (Information) to take a closer look into this trend, and consider how to integrate design thinking into the curriculum that prepares future library professionals. I made this suggestion in a post a few years ago, and there was a mixed reaction – everything from “Who is he to tell us how to design our curriculum” to “Sounds like an interesting idea” to “I’m already doing this”. The lack of enthusiasm for my suggestion was likely owing to a lack of familiarity with design thinking. Courses on library instruction, human-computer interaction or usability studies may include some elements of design, but it would be completely different to integrate design thinking philosophy into the curriculum – so that every graduate has internalized the design inquiry process as a problem-solving methodology.

And, he ends the Post with this plea.

We need LIS graduates with those traditional skills that prepare them for library work. We have a greater need for students who are savvy problem solvers. With the wicked problems confronting the library profession, we need colleagues who can design elegant solutions. Design thinking skills could help our future librarians be the kind of problem solvers and decision makers that can tackle any challenging no matter what area of librarianship is involved. That’s what design thinkers do – they figure out what the real problem is and design a solution. Perhaps some L-Schools and I-Schools will seriously look into the D-School trend, with an intent to use it as a model for future curriculum development. If the goal is to create better libraries, shouldn’t it start with how we prepare future librarians? In the meantime, is it possible that more libraries will just start hiring D-School graduates? I think some already are or will do so soon. [Emphasis added.]

While I’m less generous with my assessment of today’s SLIS curriculum than this author, ANY incorporation of ANY 21st Century topics to better prepare librarians for the future they will face would be an improvement. If business is trending toward design skills, SLIS had better take a close look at providing something cutting edge before Librarians are considered antiquated academics.

Don’t believe me, but consider the Forbes article published June 8, The Best And Worst Master’s Degrees For Jobs that ranked librarianship as “the worst master’s degree for jobs right now.”

Library and information science degree-holders bring in $57,600 mid-career, on average. Common jobs for them are school librarian, library director and reference librarian, and there are expected to be just 8.5% more of them by 2020. The low pay rank and estimated growth rank make library and information science the worst master’s degree for jobs right now.

Even Will Manley thinks the MLS will not recover when the economy does. In his June 5 Post for american libraries, he states “Ah, but when the economy recovers (and there are hopeful signs on the horizon that a recovery has started) won’t the librarian job market recover along with it? … Not necessarily.”

The massive budget cuts of the last five years have forced school, academic, and public libraries to learn to function with fewer and fewer MLS holders, and library users don’t seem to notice the difference. Can they tell that there are fewer new books to choose from? Absolutely. Do they realize that there are longer and longer waits for popular ebooks? Absolutely. Do they notice when main library hours are slashed and branches are closed? Absolutely. Do they know when a professional librarian has been replaced with a paraprofessional or even a clerical person? Rarely, if ever. To the average American, a librarian is a person who works in a library.

Don’t be shocked that school boards, university administrators, city councils, city managers, library boards, and even library directors are taking close notice of this lack of perception. Yes, people still want libraries. That’s not the issue at all. No, I take that back. That is precisely the issue. People want libraries so desperately that they are quite willing to sacrifice the cost of professional staff to get full hours and robust book budgets restored.

While I disagree with Will that people want libraries so badly they’re willing to have them with less qualified and capable staff, my perception is that the MLS has not kept pace with the changing times, and as noted above the current MLS borders on useless. One of Will’s commenters agrees. Furio wrote; “I finished my master’s degree and I didn’t learn anything beyond what I’ve already learned by working from the bottom up. I just came out of the program with a debt that I’m still paying. Many MLS graduates don’t have the experience required to work in libraries. Those who said that the MLS degree helped them to get new skills are those who have never work in a library setting. That’s the reality.”

Hey, SLIS – This is a Wake-UP Call! Your vanilla MLS is useless in the 21st Century!


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7 responses to “L-Schools and I-Schools Embracing D-Schools?

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about my post at DBL. On some points we agree, although I am certainly less of an alarmist about the state of LIS education than you. LIS education does need to evolve and incorporate some new ideas, and I believe there are forward thinking faculty that are open to the possibilities. However you wrote:

    This whole trend speaks to the assertions I’ve been making that librarians must develop business acumen, and libraries must be run more business like.

    I’d like to clarify that design thinking or design philosophy should not be thought of as skill sets for running libraries like businesses or making librarians more business like. While it’s true that more corporations are adopting design thinking, the reason they do so is that their executives and employees will think and act less like traditional business people and more like designers. They wouldn’t want them to make decisions based on ROI thinking which is traditional rational-analytical spreadsheet thinking. They want them to be more intuitive and base decisions on their understanding of people (customers) and their needs and expectations.

    I always maintain that libraries should not be run like businesses. Rather, librarians should monitor or otherwise pay attention to some of the trends from the world of business and design to identify methods or ideas that could be used to create better libraries. Some will make sense for us, and others will not. That’s the danger in advocating running libraries like businesses. Not everything that businesses do will work for libraries. That’s the advantage of applying design approaches to the practice of librarianship. It can enable us to know the difference and make better decisions about what methods we adopt.

    • Steven,
      Sincere thanks for the clarification. Obviously, ‘design thinking’ is more complicated than simply another ‘business’ approach to operations.

      While you make a distinction between ‘business thinking’ and ‘design thinking’, and you also mention that design thinking is “more intuitive” and decisions are based “on their understanding of people (customers) and their needs and expectations.” I’m very curious how design thinking helps a library remain relevant to their community. I can easily understand how leaders can do that using business thinking, but obviously I’m unfamiliar with how design thinking achieves such goals.

      I’m also very curious what businesses do that won’t work for libraries.
      Thanks again.

      • StevenB

        Good question. Design thinking is not a tool that one would apply to become more relevant. Rather it is a process that librarians could use to tackle a particular problem that could be negatively impacting on the relationship with the community. So let’s say the use of the library has gone way down on the weekends. There may be multiple options for trying to improve the door count – but what do you do? By using a design thinking process the staff would start by finding out from community members about their use of the library so that patterns might emerge to provide better information that would be used to inform a decision – but that’s just the first part of the process. If you want to have a better understanding of design thinking I recommend you watch a video call “The Deep Dive” (available in 3 parts on youtube). It gives you insight into how the design firm IDEO uses the design thinking process (they don’t call it that) to solve problems.

        Would business thinking help make the library more relevant to its user community? I’m not so sure, but perhaps I can be convinced that it is possible. What techniques would be used? What if ROI shows that keeping DVDs is a bad investments? What if the cost of every reference transaction is $83? Do you stop putting people at a reference desk? Or do you replace librarians with a student aid who just uses google to answer questions? That strikes me as a business-minded solution – just lower the cost per transaction – but does that make the library more relevant? I see some challenges with purely business approaches.. To my way of thinking, the way to make the library more relevant is to follow the practice of businesses that excel at designing great experiences -which I write about at Designing Better Libraries. It’s not running the library like a business – but it is adopting a practice of successful businesses and adapting it to the library environment.

  2. I do agree that an appropriate combination of running libraries like a business and incorporating design approaches is a great way to educate and develop successful librarians and libraries. Charlie Robinson preached and executed the “business approach” and the “let’s know our customers and what they want approach” years ago. It is from him and growing professionally in that environment that I learned to apply business practices, data mining and analysis and risk-taking. Working with designers – library architects, interior designers and technology designers is where I learned about ideintifying the issues, aka “problems,” to be solved, and engaged in coming up with different approaches and ideas as possible resolutions. While I was in library school 100 year ago, this wasn’t being taught and from what I know of LIS curricula today, it’s still not being taught.

    • Thanks Laura,
      Unfortunately, SLIS are not teaching much of anything related to this 21st Century environment.

      • Thanks Steve, I am well aware of that, and therein lies a good part of the problem. I used to teach, as adjunct faculty, an online course in public library management for one of the accreditted LIS programs. A new dean determined that those courses should only be taught by full LIS faculty and not adjuncts. I felt I brought to those students a much more “real” interactive experience about managing public libraries in the real world including the “politics” of a public institution dependent upon and competing for shrinking general fund dollars. Perish the thought that a practioner can educate students in a formal LIS program.

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