ALA Presidential Candidate Interview: Lisa Hinchliffe [Series]

Editor’s Note: In order to learn more about the candidates for President of the American Library Association, HLS asked the candidates a few questions about topics relevant to students and early career librarians. Read on to hear what they have to say!

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe is Professor/Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction in the University Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also an affiliate faculty member in the University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. At Illinois, she has also served as Acting Head of the University High School Library, Head of the Undergraduate Library, Acting Coordinator for Staff Development and Training, and Coordinator for Strategic Planning in the University Library. Previously, she was the Library Instruction Coordinator at Illinois State University and Reference Librarian at Parkland Community College. Lisa served as the 2010-2011 President of the Association of College and Research Libraries, which launched the Value of Academic Libraries Initiative during her presidency. In addition to her work in ACRL, Lisa has served on numerous ALA and division committees, including the International Relations Committee, School Library Implementation Task Force, and the Digital Literacy Task Force of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy. She was a member of the National Expert Panel for the ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services’ Libraries, Literacy, and Gaming Initiative and serves on external review panels for the ALA Office of Accreditation and as a portfolio evaluator for the ALA-APA Library support Staff Certification. A more extensive biography is available online.

1. In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge that LIS students face? How would you encourage/implement solutions to this problem as president of ALA? 

I want to thank Hack Library School (HLS) for these questions and the opportunity to share my thoughts. As affiliated faculty in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I regularly recommend HLS to students as a source of advice and insight. I especially enjoyed the recent HLS/ACRLog series and particularly so as co-organizer Sarah Crissinger was a graduate assistant in my unit in the University Library! I wholeheartedly support the HLS “principle of students taking the future of librarianship into their own hands” as I believe in proactively engaging one’s profession and one’s future destiny.

Which is, I think, the perfect lead in to discussing what I believe is the greatest challenge that LIS students face – the job market. Or, to be more detailed – entering the unpredictable and fickle job market that may lead to a well-paying position with good benefits in a healthy organization with room for growth and support for professional development. Or, it may not. For too many LIS graduates, while libraries are their workplaces of choice, jobs are scarce because library staffing levels are contracting, or libraries are not a realistic option because wages and benefits are not adequate in light of the levels of student debt they carry from undergraduate and/or graduate education.

I see individual students taking classes and pursuing other opportunities to build their skills with a strategic eye on what employers are looking for in new hires. I’m pleased to see that LIS programs have been increasing their staffing for career preparation and job placement over the past few years. However, neither individual students nor individual programs can fully address the systemic problems facing new graduates in the job market. More systematic action is needed.

The ALA President is also President of ALA-APA (ALA Allied Professional Association), which exists “to promote the mutual professional interests of librarians and other library workers.” ALA-APA has a committee working actively “in support of better salaries, comparable worth, pay equity, and similar programs related to the status of librarians and other library workers.

As a passionate and energetic advocate for all library workers, I look forward to providing leadership as ALA-APA President. As I stated in my Candidate Statement:

“I will re-engage the vision of previous ALA President Mitch Freedman for the ALA Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA). Library workers need a strong organization to advocate for improved wages, benefits, etc. As ALA-APA President, I will be a strong voice for library workers and seek to grow the influence of ALA-APA.”

I would very much welcome more LIS student involvement in ALA-APA and would especially like to have students volunteer to serve on ALA-APA committees. If HLS readers have additional ideas, I’d love to hear them – the current job market is a challenging situation and one that will benefit from having everyone’s perspectives on how to address it.

2. According to the ALA Searchable Database of Accredited Library and Information Science programs, there are 59 ALA accredited programs in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. What, in your opinion, is the value of ALA accreditation? What changes, if any, do you think should be made to the accreditation process? How will you work with ALISE (The Association for Library and Information Science Education) to revise the accreditation process?

ALA accreditation is a valuable signifier to students and employers that a master’s program in library and information science provides “demonstrated results in supporting the educational development of students” (2015 Standards for Accreditation). (As a side note, it is worth noting that the ALA accreditation is for the master’s degree program itself, not for the academic unit that offers the degree.) Through the focus on student success, the accreditation process also encourages program improvement over time and can be leveraged to garner institutional investment in the program so that it continues to have adequate resources to meet student needs.

I have been involved with ALA accreditation in a number of different roles. I have been on six External Review Panels as a member and served as Chair of one (a role that involves extensive consultation with the program under review for more than a year in advance of the review as well as follow-up testimony at a meeting of the ALA Committee on Accreditation). I am one of two people who have chaired an Appeal Review Committee, which occurs when a program is denied continued accreditation and appeals the decision. I provided input on both the 2008 and 2015 Standards for Accreditation and lead a discussion on an early draft of the 2015 Standards at the ACRL LIS Education Interest Group meeting in 2014.

The current Standards for Accreditation were adopted in February 2015 and became the basis of reporting in December 2015. The first Program Presentations that are required to use the 2015 Standards are due in Spring 2017. This sort of timeline is typical of accreditation standards revision implementation; however, I’m pleased that ALA is not just waiting but has also charged two task forces to continue improving the accreditation process: Task Force on Accreditation Process and Communication and Task Force on the Context of Future Accreditation. These task forces are joint groups with ALISE and I look forward to seeing the outcomes and acting upon the recommendations.

3. What’s your take on the shift at some programs away from the word ‘library’ as an identifier? What does the change from ‘library’ to ‘information science’ signify?

Given that my own Graduate School of Library and Information Science is currently in process of a name change to the School of Information Sciences, this is a very timely question and certainly one I have been thinking about a great deal. I appreciate the thoughtful debate and commentary that I have seen.

Names matter. But, they matter in a lot of different ways. That is what makes this such a challenging situation for administrators and faculty who have to make difficult decisions about these names.

Let me start by saying that my primary concern is that the academic unit that offers the master’s degree in library and information science remains as autonomous, self-directed, and financially independent as possible. The worst thing that can happen for a master’s degree in LIS is for the academic unit that offers it to lose autonomy, self-direction, and financial independence. When that happens, the LIS degree is likely to become under-resourced, marginalized, and eventually eliminated. Maintaining autonomy, self-direction, and financial independence is very much a matter of institutional politics, most of which are intentionally kept as hidden as possible. Administrators and faculty responsible for LIS programs are navigating difficult financial times in which threats of merger and closure are very real and competition with related disciplinary areas on campus (e.g., computer science, media/journalism, and education) is only increasing.

Read against this backdrop, I believe that these name changes signify not a weakening of LIS programs but rather a strengthening of the academic units that offer these programs. Broadening the scope of what is offered by the academic unit brings financial flexibility and diversification as well as, in the long-term, increasing the size of the student and alumni populations. That an academic unit that offers the master’s degree in LIS is able to expand and diversify is a signal that it is well positioned in its institution and that the master’s degree in LIS has a strong future ahead.

4. Other than joining ALA and getting involved, what advice do you have for new professionals entering the field of library and information science?

My advice to new professionals is to identify people who have the job that you want and connect with them. Doing so will enable you to gain a fuller understanding of the nature of the job while also developing your professional network.

That’s easy to say though and possibly a bit more difficult to do; so, let me expand my advice a bit. Chances are good that, if you have an idea of the job that you want, you know at least one person who has that job. Ask them about their work, what they read, which conferences they go to, who are the leaders in the field, and what trends they see coming in the future. If you already have a personal relationship with them or work with them, these conversations can happen informally over time. If not, ask to schedule an informational interview. By the way, this HLS post has great advice for informational interviews as does this one on the power of asking!

Then, whether you have the job yet or not, start reading and engaging as if you do. Participate in Twitter chats, listservs, and online reading groups. If your finances allow, attend a conference (if you choose ALA, be sure to find out what groups to focus on as ALA conferences are very large and can be overwhelming). This HLS post has great advice on planning for and thriving at a conference.

Finally, remember the power of peer mentoring. Talk with other LIS students and new professionals who have similar interests and share advice and information with each other. While experienced professionals will have useful perspectives to share with you, discussions with peers may be equally valuable for helping make sense of what you are observing and experiencing. I think peer mentoring is an unrecognized asset in professional associations and, as ALA President, I hope to bring attention to its importance and consider how the association can support and facilitate it.

5. Just for fun: what is the last book you read?

The last book I read was a re-read of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. When I was a candidate for President of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), Mary Ellen Davis (ACRL Executive Director) advised the candidates that the presidency is very time-consuming and that the work starts immediately upon being elected. She was right and I was very happy that I had prepared myself. So, as part of standing for election to the ALA President role, I’m making certain that my life is as decluttered and organized as possible!

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to these questions and engage with the readers of Hack Library School. For more information about my candidacy for ALA President, please visit my website (http://lisa4ala.org) and also be in touch via email (lisalibrarian@gmail.com), Facebook (http://facebook.com/lisa4ala/) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/lisa4alaprez or https://twitter.com/lisalibrarian). I also have a blog post specifically about my work with LIS students that may interest HLS readers: The Joy of Working with LIS Students.

Finally, for more information about all of the candidates: ALA hosted a Presidential and Treasurer Candidates’ Forum during the ALA Midwinter meeting (a recording is available online) and Circulating Ideas also interviewed the presidential candidates in a podcast.

 

Thank you so much for talking with us Lisa!

Readers, don’t forget to vote! Polls are open from March 15-April 22 and all ALA members are eligible to vote. 

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