Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Spade A Spade

OK, Yes! I'm still trying to wrap up my postings here. I'd like to close with the broadest level of questions that remain for me personally. This is a dialogue that's had only narrow, narrow slices aired or explored, and I think the community has lost on that score, while it's reaffirmed for some that they have a stake and confirmed for others that they are not CLIS "stakeholders". [Re-?]Clarifying boundaries can sometimes be very good.

My opinion is that CLIS is not a culture where one can call a spade a spade, and in the knowledge production business that's fatal. This is not the result of one, or even a string of deans. It's a status quo that people in all roles accept and then operate within as an unconcious ideology, as some philosophers of knowledge call "received". Again fatal for a knowledge, I won't say truth, production system. When you reach into that realm, people get scared and defensive, it's part of the way change happens. That has definately has happened here, and not always in ways to celebrate. I think what current students accept as received knowledge is the intellectual space that the Provost should worry about, more than the physical space - and to his credit in 2003 he began the educational outcomes commission. I hope CLIS is participating in that somehow, someway.

OK, enough! of this. I have three points that as an interested observer-participant of CLIS, of the Wasserman Closure Project, of student organizations at CLIS, that I'd like ot close with.

1) CLIS needs to be able to call a spade a spade. [Concrete example: Wasserman is closing not being "reconfigured". Your transcripts mailed to your employers still read Library School, yet the web page says Information Studies. It goes on and on, I think.] That needs to be true not only of administrators who hold cards very very close to the proverbial chest, but it also needs to be true for pesky, or worse, recent graduates. Truth is not in a committee, not in the person hoarding the most information.

2) In CLIS (elsewhere on campus as well), there's a great contradiction in information technology that exists when you compare the scholarly articles and the skill-base that reflects and what appears to be a fear in applying those technologies and knowledge-bases to the operations of the college/University and the give and take of ideas inside and outside the classroom. You can't be scared of something and teach it simultaneously, and the collective soul of CLIS is very insecure about it's technologies, human and otherwise. Again, I wish the college good speed in its collective continuous improvement. The individual talent is blockbuster. [Concrete example: how many times have you noticed the lack of effective automation in the college listservs, in student files, in its own records management process?]

3) And this last one includes me as much as it does anyone else: The ethical implications of remaining in this state has consequences (thank Goodness, I'm not the judge, just one participant-observer like the rest). Good will is difficult to maintain, let alone increase. Credibility/truth becomes compartmentalized and a dehumanizing tool faction uses against faction--BOTH "sides" in this debate have done that. Intentions and actions get more and more easily separated and further the collective drops into a more difficult position than it was in before-and then the blame game starts; "those raskal-ly kids," "that trouble maker". [Concrete example: the college has amazingly successful alumni, why do they appear to be alienated? Because they don't have the big-bucks? Everyone can contribute, if the infrastructure is there.]

On that note of uplift and, I'm closing my participation here, at least for a while. Doubtful, but if a group wants to keep this space as a unifed, continuous, speaking space, I'm more than happy, as I have always been, to share this space.

At risk of sounding disingenuous, good luck one and all. NOW is a curious, curious time to be an information, information technology, knowledge worker, on the line or in the ivory (not so ivory) towers. People are the best "technology", not institutions, or policies, or whathaveyou, and CLIS/UMCP has some great (yes) people.

[Comments permissions have changed only because of spammers....if on the great improbability anyone feels compelled to respond here, I am happy to find a way for you to do so....]

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Post Town Hall No. 1

I'm working on tapering off my Save Wasserman blog activities, but below is a recent CLIS list posting"inspired" by the Town Hall Meetings, for which Rob Jensen deserves much much credit [the meetings not the posting]. My posting on Tuesday about the "Space" Committee [quotations supplied by the committee] might go up later.

It was a very successful community meeting, perhaps, sadly enough, the most substantive communal and public give and take between administration and students about the program itself I have ever seen.

That being said, it was in whole unquestionably "the party line." Students were asked to accept a littany of inconsistent and unsupported assertions about budget, continued partial disclosure of activites --the CLIS list archives is now password protected--and methods of communication that are just about impossible to track.

It did not escape me that the Save Wasserman blog already provides a list of services valued at Wasserman from May graduates, a suggestion that was greeted with an enthusiastic response and that I offer to counter any who charges this site or I am only interested in trouble and not constructive contributions to the debate. The administration holds all the information of past committee reports, user statistics, faculty recommendations, budgets, so it's a difficult stance for anyone to partner with, I'd guess.

This morning's:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Dean's Confusion on Dissemination of I-School Definition
Date: Wed, 14 Sep 2005 08:06:22 -0400
From: Kevin Stone Fries

Dear Colleagues,

Jenny's comments at the Town Hall Meeting about being surprised people
weren't sure what she meant about I-schools because she had a single
minute-long or so conversation with me about it seemed odd, so to
clarify, I infact *posted* publicly some information to my peers and let
her have space as the authority on her own school's listserv to address
her student's honest question. The best I can do in this framed
dialogue, I did weeks ago, and if you're interested, please read the
posting, with links, below.

The range and depth of the issues, and at times passion of
conversations, over this loss of student resources makes keeping
conversation timely and relevent very difficult for all parties. We
have moved into the "solution" phase, and I wish those with a role
success in making the best of an extremely unfortunate position. As one
student observed/questioned at the meeting, "Isn't closing Wasserman
just a band aid?" So there's lots to do, and I'm happy to turn my
attention after three months finally to my studies, where I'm sure all
parties agree they belong.

Kevin Fries
CLIS '05


To Be Posted

It's also good to see that Mara and I are still collecting signatories to our letter. I have never seen myself in this situation as a diplomat, that's absurd really given the aggressive stance I knowingly took from the beginning, but rather as an advocate in a community that discusses but does not always model advocacy.

I think there's plenty here to show what not to do. I hope the hundreds of current and future information professionals of all stripes truly grapple with the questions related to being quiet, slightly vocal, as well as outright radical advocates for the profession because if there's anything I'm taking away from this is that even in the places that you'd think wouldn't need advocacy and "teaching moments", they are in fact most beneficial.

Best to one and all.....

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Seeking Signatories for Wasserman Letter

Some of us recently held pre-Town-Hall meeting, where we brainstormed several points about Wasserman's move that we thought were important. A few of us have put these points into a letter that we will forward to Dean Preece and Provost Destler before the Town Hall meeting, in hopes that these concerns can be addressed there. That letter is attached below. If you would like a Word version of this letter, let us know.

We'd like to have as many people as possible sign (virtually) this letter. If you agree with this, please give us your name or ask to remain anonymous, whichever feels more comfortable. We will type any participants' names after the signature block on the cover page. If you choose to support this, please also indicate whether you are a current student, alumnus/alumna (and year of graduation), or related professional. This will potentially allow us to indicate the demographics of the letter's supporters.

Kevin and Mara

Dear Dean Preece and Provost Destler:

We, the current and former students of CLIS, have followed the plans to close Wasserman Library with great concern over the past two months. We have voiced our thoughts on the CLISlist and the SaveWasserman blog space, and held private meetings to discuss the meaning of this decision. Our concerns center on three things: the secrecy with which the decision was reached and communicated, the redirection of CLIS’ mission without a clear community sense of what the end goal is, and the sense that the Wasserman space will be reconfigured without taking users’ needs into account. This letter is a summary of the student and alumni discussions of these issues to date, both virtually and in person.

We hope that you will listen to these concerns, and that some of these topics can be addressed at the upcoming Town Hall meeting. A school is built upon its students, both current and past, and to lose their support is to lose your greatest asset. The CLIS community exists, and we care.


We have three major concerns about the decision to move/close Wasserman: the secrecy surrounding it, the mission realignment it seems to represent, and the loss of highly useful services.

• First, the secrecy with which the decision was both reached and communicated is extremely unsettling. None of the actual users of the library – namely the faculty, staff, or students – appear to have been consulted. This is indeed ironic, as our school was founded upon the principle of user-needs assessment; yet this very step was ignored here. More importantly, the “fact of” the decision was not communicated until it was too late for the CLIS community to react, and not until weeks after outside sources had already exposed the plans. This has imbued a deep sense of distrust within the CLIS community. We hope that a more open policy will become evident soon; otherwise, the community’s distrust will simply grow.

• Second, we sense that there are plans to move CLIS in a new direction. That may be a good and necessary step, but again, there was a lack of communication on this. After much CLISlist prodding, Dean Preece gave us a brief glimpse into CLIS’ new direction by mentioning an I-School movement and a desire to support more research. However, no definition of what an “I-School” is has been given, despite repeated requests on the CLISlist for an explanation. It is also unclear what kind of research (or overall mission) CLIS is adopting. CLIS is clearly moving away from its library roots, and towards a more computer-centric arena. This may be a good and exciting thing, but it is only fair to announce such changes to the students, faculty, and outside parties before embarking upon a new course. Otherwise, students will enroll for an education that is no longer offered, and employers will hire graduates for skills they no longer possess. This merely fuels confusion and distrust.

• Third, we have collated a list of services that Wasserman provided that current and past students have found to be most useful. These follow.

Users’ Needs
(Note that working and commuting professionals comprise the bulk of CLIS’ student body. Hence, convenience dictates many of their needs, as they have little time to walk to different buildings to get to the resources they need.)
o A nearby, safe place for course packets.
o A nearby, safe place for course reserves.
o A nearby, safe place for making photocopies.
o A nearby, safe place where students and professionals can gather, study together, meet for group projects, and have sufficient space to become engaged with large reference materials, such the LCC and Dewey classification books. This requires:
• Several large tables (such as the four tables by Wasserman’s current front desk) where many students can meet or spread out with large reference materials.
• Wireless Internet access.
• Power cords for the laptops using the wireless Internet access.
• Enough space for receptions, such as student orientations, student group meetings, social events, and professional organizations’ gatherings.
• A study (not social) space that is allowed to be somewhat “noisy,” where people feel free to hold a conversation and an exchange of ideas.
o A nearby, safe room with several computers, to facilitate group computer projects.
o On-hand support for technical problems, such as help with malfunctioning class slide projectors, film projectors, computers, etc.
o A nearby, safe space for students’ evaluations of their past courses / professors. This is a very helpful supplement to the academic advising process.
o A nearby, safe place to house and a way to view tapes of past classes. A few classes taped their sessions, and this was useful for students who might miss a class, or need to review a lecture before an exam.

o As a information-studies (IS) school, it seems imperative to have some sort of learning lab geared specifically towards students (read: our own library, with a computer lab loaded with current and consistent software, and with help/jobs geared specifically towards new IS professionals). Is the closure of CLIS’ library an indication that CLIS no longer intends to support a physical learning space?
o It was very useful to have an expert in the school’s specialty (Karen or Tim) alert the community to current articles of IS interest. This service was valued by students, faculty, and outside professionals alike.
o It would be good to keep the Children’s Literature section together, wherever it is housed. This is a unified grouping, and should not be divided amongst different libraries/floors/shelves.
o A space that indicates where all librarianship and IS reference materials are held on the UMD campus, especially as things are moved to different locations. Tours of those areas should be offered to incoming students each semester.
o Some measuring stick of the success of these changes to CLIS, and an indication of how that measure will be communicated to the broader CLIS community.

o A space where friendships, professional associations, and human contact can occur. (Note: This space is, in large part, what evokes fond memories in alumni and current students. This in turn leads them to encourage new students to come to CLIS, pledge gifts to the school, or offer internships or research projects through their workplace.)
o A bright, friendly atmosphere (with good lighting and windows) that welcomes rather than deters students.
o An area with sufficient space, tables, computers, wireless Internet access, etc., for groups to work together comfortably. This was described under “Users’ Needs” above.
o A small set of permanent information studies (IS) specialists to tend to that space. They should be available and on-hand (i.e. within the CLIS space itself). This lends continuity to the space, a sense of caring about the space, a point of expertise and service for the community, a guaranteed point-of-contact for students with IS questions, a comfort-level amongst the students to ask questions, an anchor for alumni’s memories, and enablers to showcase the school’s mission. Note that at least two people are needed, as one person cannot be available all day, every day, without a break for sickness, vacation, career development, or even lunch.
o Note: The current CLIS Lounge does not have the right amount of space, atmosphere, or support to serve this purpose, even if it is reconfigured.