Dr. Luanne Freund is an Associate Professor and the Acting Director of the iSchool@UBC: School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies.
BCLA Perspectives (BP): What are the soft skills and attributes your program inculcates in its graduates that make them competitive in the province and nation’s library sector?
Dr. Luanne Freund (LF): We have a statement on graduate competencies that outlines the foundational skills and attributes that we emphasize in our programs. These include strong communication and instructional skills, leadership, collaboration, professionalism, advocacy, and the ability to reflect critically on our roles as information professionals in society. In addition, we are increasingly focused on creating opportunities for students to be creative, take risks and try new things, especially in the technology sphere. The full list of iSchool competencies is available here.
BP: Are there aspects of your program that you feel present a particular advantage to graduates when working in 21st century libraries?
LF: Yes, we track the emerging opportunities for our graduates and build these into our programs and courses. In the last couple of years, we designed three pathways through the MLIS program that highlight these new opportunities: Data Services, which includes courses on research data management and data visualization, Information Interaction and Design, which includes courses on web design, taxonomy development, project management and digital collection, and Community and Culture, which includes courses on working with diverse populations, oral history, and community-led libraries. Our students are exposed to the latest developments in the field, and through community-based and experiential learning opportunities and specializations such as the First Nations Curriculum Concentration, they have the chance to bring theory into practice, both in and out of the classroom.
BP: Are there emerging areas of the sector that you would like to see library education address in the future?
LF: The world spins very quickly, and there are always new things on the horizon. We need to stay engaged in technological developments that will affect the library sector: linked data, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robots, etc. I think that library education could do more to ensure that information professionals both understand these new developments from a technical perspective and are able to critique them from a social and ethical perspective.
More fundamentally, it is essential that our field continue to diversify to attract a wider range of people and perspectives, including indigenous perspectives. However, diversification is not enough – we also need to be able to work together and help bridge knowledge and communication gaps. Sophisticated skills in collaboration, communication, and relationship-building are needed. Given some of the troubling societal trends we see unfolding in the news every day; these are going to be invaluable skills in the future.
BP: Are there areas of library education that you see becoming less relevant to the sector in the years ahead?
LF: In the graduate education sector, we continue to gradually shift away from an emphasis on reference and technical services skills towards an emphasis on management, technology and soft skills. However, the bigger challenge we face is that more traditional knowledge and skills, for example, cataloguing and managing print collections and records, are still expected and needed, while new skill requirements continue to be added on.
BP: Education background often plays a role in a student’s decision to pursue library education, are there employment backgrounds and experiences that you feel would well prepare a student for library education and the library world in British Columbia?
LF: One of the most exciting aspects of our graduate programs is that we are able to accept students with undergraduate degrees in any discipline. Different backgrounds tend to lead to different strengths of graduates, which makes them suited for diverse positions, so the mix is very valuable. Students coming into our programs with strong technology, supervision, customer service and marketing skills and experience, can definitely put that to use and employers are likely to find these valuable. We would love to see more students apply who have degrees in science and social science fields, such as psychology, linguistics, social work, biology, chemistry, business, and computer science, as there are underrepresented in our programs, and would bring valuable skills and perspectives to the profession.
BP: Do you have any advice for persons interested in applying to your program or interested in library education in general?
LF: This is a very broad and rapidly developing field, so the full range of opportunities is not necessarily apparent from the outside. I encourage you to think about this bigger picture: to read, speak to librarians and other information professionals, and to visit difference schools and programs. There is enormous potential for a career in this field that is intellectually and personally fulfilling. Keep an open mind.
BP: What book are you currently reading?
LF: I am an avid audio book “reader” deep in tartan noir: Stuart MacBride’s Blind Eye.