2018-19 ALA Presidential Candidate Interview: Scott Walter [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!

Scott Walter is University Librarian at DePaul University, and an adjunct member of the faculty of the San Jose State University School of Information and the Dominican University School of Information Studies. Currently serving as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Chicago Collections, and as an Americas Regional Council representative to the OCLC Global Council, Scott has previously served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Research Resources Alliance, Library Publishing Coalition, and Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI), and as editor-in-chief ofCollege & Research Libraries. Prior to arriving at DePaul, Scott served as Associate University Librarian for Services and Associate Dean of Libraries at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and as Assistant Dean of Libraries for Information and Instructional Services at the University of Kansas. Scott received his MLS from Indiana University, and his PhD in Higher Education Administration from Washington State University. He can be found on Twitter (@slwalter123) and on the web (walter4ala.org).


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

Thank you for the opportunity to share some ideas with my future colleagues among the Hack Library School readership! I have been engaged in LIS education for more than 15 years, and have taught as a contingent faculty member at the University of Illinois, San Jose State University, and Dominican University. I have developed programs supporting continuing professional education, and began my career as a teacher and administrator educator. It is safe to say that I have an enduring interest in professional education programs, like ours, that are pursued throughout the arc of one’s career.

I would hesitate to identify a singular challenge for all LIS students because we each face different challenges, but I would guess that high on everyone’s list are educational affordability and the ability to complete a swift and successful search for the first, professional position. The ability of the ALA president to “solve” these problems is, frankly, limited, but he or she can highlight the significance of these issues across the Association and with allied groups such as the Association for Library & Information Science Education. With that caveat, here are some thoughts:

  • In regard to educational affordability, the ALA president can work with colleagues in the Committee on Education and the Office of Accreditation to engage our colleagues in LIS programs around these concerns and to learn more about the pressures that these programs face on their campuses in regard to revenue generation, student support, etc. The ALA president must also consider the role of ALA as a publisher of LIS education materials whose use may be re-shaped by the growing commitment to open educational resources (OERs) and open textbooks.
  • In regard to employability, it is probably time for the ALA president to bring together another “summit” on LIS education that looks carefully at the changing market for newly-credentialed librarians and the ways in which we can work together with campus colleagues to ensure that new professionals are prepared for success in that market, both in terms of skills and dispositions that we know make for success in the workplace.
  • Related to both affordability and to employability, the ALA president might bring together LIS educators and practitioners to identify ways to work together to fund a greater array of meaningful field experiences for students that carry both academic credit and financial support.

We have looked at some of these ideas before, but the past few years have seen major changes in LIS program enrollments and in financial support available to students, continued integration of LIS programs into more broadly-scoped schools and colleges, and significant challenges to professional staffing models in almost all library types. The environment for recruitment, retention, and placement of LIS students is radically different from the one I faced when I entered library school 20 years ago, and the way in which I am able to hire for staff needs in my own library is very different from a decade ago. The ALA president has a responsibility to lead a clear-eyed discussion of what this means for our students and future colleagues.

2. What’s your take on the shift at many programs away from the word ‘library’ as an identifier?

Funny you should ask, as I wrote an editorial on this very question last year for College & Research Libraries. In “What’s In A Name?,” Carol Tilley and I discuss “the ‘L’ word” and what is lost when it disappears from the name of the schools and colleges in which our professional education programs are housed. I don’t want to give away the whole argument, but our conclusion was that “Names are important, but the reality is that it is concern about meaningful engage­ment with the values and needs of our changing professions that underpins expressions of consternation among practitioners over the presence or absence of ‘the L word’ in [our professional education programs].” It is this concern over the way in which a commitment to our core values and a meaningful understanding of the ways in which work in our field is changing that is the real issue that we must recognize and address in this “shift,” not the simpler (if more emotionally engaging) question of “whether or not you have ‘library’ in your name.”

Full disclosure: I think these schools and colleges should have “library” in their names, and I think they should champion the role they play in preparing professionals committed to one of the fundamental social institutions in the United States, and around the globe. I went to a library school, I earned a Master’s in Library Science, and, when people ask, I tell them I’m a librarian.

2.5 What does the change from ‘library’ to ‘information science’ signify?

I feel like I covered that in my last answer, but, if you want to extend that answer, let me suggest the following possibilities.

One, it signifies an effort by academic programs to more clearly define themselves with a discipline (information science) than with a profession (librarianship), especially as the professional skills traditionally associated with librarianship are seen as meaningful in more and more fields. This is similar to a College of Education having programs in teacher education, curriculum studies, educational technology, and administrator education – the college takes its name from the discipline that provides the foundation for the allied professions whose programs are housed there.

Two, whether through “information science” or through “informatics,” it signifies a mandate for professional education programs in higher education to expand their potential enrollment base, e.g., by developing programs that can appeal to undergraduates as a major or minor. Enrollment pressures (and the revenue pressures they represent) have increased dramatically at almost every college and university over the past decade, and academic administrators have repeatedly embraced re-organization of smaller professional programs into broader-based units as one way of dealing with those pressures. As an administrator, this is an approach that I understand, but I will never accept the simple argument that the word “library” cannot be included in the way in which these new programs are shaped, supported, and named. See the final line of my previous answer.

3. How should ALA support students of color who are entering the field?

As I’ve said in other discussions this election season, ALA is doing good work supporting students and professionals of color, but we can, and must, do more. We are in an excellent position to make progress thanks to the work of the groups associated with the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiative. Even now, we have dozens of suggested actions to pursue that will take us closer to our goal of an inclusive Association that supports students of color, new professionals of color, staff members of color, and senior colleagues of color (and likewise supports those who represent other groups that may have been marginalized in our academic programs or in our field in the past). But, again, a few concrete suggestions:

  • We can openly address the educational affordability issue, noted above, that may have an impact on students of color looking at librarianship as a viable career and at an LIS program as a meaningful and worthwhile investment.
  • We can collaborate more creatively with broader campus initiatives to recruit, retain, and support the success of students of color. Academic librarians have campus colleagues in student affairs and in diversity offices whose primary focus is exactly this issue, and we have other colleagues focusing in the same way on recruitment, retention, and professional development for faculty members of color. ALA can draw on these experiences to promote better experiences for students of color in LIS programs, and to present best practices for recruitment and retention of new professionals of color.
  • We can openly address, and commit to making meaningful changes in our Association and our field that will make both more open to engagement by colleagues of color. The EDI initiative uncovered a number of ways in which long-standing practices in the Association may send the message to colleagues of color that their contributions are not valued as they should be, or may suggest that certain opportunities for service and for leadership are not as open to them as they should be. Naming the problem is an important first step, but there is work to be done to find ways to alleviate the problem, and to move closer to solutions.

In addition to ALA’s recent embrace of EDI as a strategic goal of the Association, we also have the powerful community of colleagues represented by the Joint Council of Librarians of Color. The founding mission of that association is to support professionals of color at all stages of the career, and ALA must continue to deepen its engagement with JCLC and to build joint (or complementary) programs that will ensure that support.

4. What role does the ALA president play in supporting a national agenda for libraries in the current political climate?

If you have visited my web site or read my campaign statement, you know that I have deep concerns about the current political climate and what it means for libraries, librarians, and the communities they serve. I believe that ALA can play an important role in defense of our core values, and the policies and practices that reflect those values, but only if ALA leadership, beginning with the president, is willing to take up that challenge. In recent weeks, we have moved in that direction, as evidenced by ALA’s condemnation of Executive Orders of the President, changes in federal policy positions, and the proposed federal budget. The proposed budget, with its devastating cuts to funding for libraries, museums, the arts, education, and social services, has marked a sea change in ALA activity, moving from traditional advocacy to broader activism. This is the “national agenda” that ALA leadership, beginning with the president, must pursue, but, as importantly, it is a “state and local” agenda, as well, and the ALA president has a critical role to play in mobilizing support for the library community at all levels, and providing ALA members with the tools they need to make a difference at every level.

This question is, perhaps, the fundamental one of this campaign, and it reflects the ways in which this ALA election is different from any I have experienced before. The role the ALA president will play in working with state, national, and grassroots activists to resist an agenda anathema to our profession and to the core values of equity of access, diversity, social justice, and the public good, and in building coalitions of like-minded colleagues who share our commitments, is different from the role that he or she has played as an advocacy leader in the past. Whatever your vote in this election, the next ALA president must be held to a commitment to lead us in doing work that makes a difference in the world we find ourselves in now.

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

The last book I read was The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery (2014), by Sam Kean. This is the most recent of Kean’s collections of stories from the history of science that came into our house through my 13-year-old daughter. The book I’m reading right now is Agatha H. and the Voice of the Castle (2016), the newest novelization of the Girl Genius webcomic by Phil and Kaja Foglio. If you’re not reading Girl Genius, you’re missing out. Next up is either Questioning Library Neutrality or The Chief Diversity Officer: Strategy, Structure, and Change Management.

I have watched Hack Library School grow since its start into a powerful platform for engaging LIS students and those of us concerned with the student experience and the future of our profession. I am happy to see you engaging with ALA, and with ALA leadership issues, right from the start of your careers. This is the pathway to engaged membership and member-leadership, and it is the only path to a meaningful and sustainable future for the Association. I hope you’ll learn more about my candidacy at (walter4ala.org), and I hope that I have your vote. There is important work to be done in our libraries and our communities, and, together, we can do work that makes a difference.

Thank you so much for talking with us, Scott!

Readers, don’t forget to vote! Polls are open from March 13-April 5 and all ALA members are eligible to vote. 

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