Rhode Island Library Report
WARWICK, R.I. – (Nov. 11, 2013) – In a celebration that both honored its graduates and grappled with the challenges of the Digital Revolution, the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies of the University of Rhode Island marked its 50th anniversary last Friday.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, who is revered by the national library community for his sponsorship of major legislation supporting libraries, received a standing ovation from the crowd of 120 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel as he began his part in the speaking program.
“This great school,” Reed said, “has helped produce outstanding individuals who are committed to making our libraries the center of not only intellectual life, but community life throughout this country.”
Reed also praised Joan Ress Reeves of Providence, who received a “special lifetime recognition award” from the library school for more than 30 years of citizen advocacy for libraries, nationally and in Rhode Island. One result has been that Rhode Island provides substantially more financial aid to libraries than do many other states.
“She has been a force for libraries,” said Reed, who also took the occasion to poke fun at both himself and the diminutive Mrs. Reeves: “I’m living proof that things come in small packages; Joan is living proof that good things come in small packages.”
But underlying the evening’s celebratory spirit were serious discussions about both the stresses and the opportunities confronting libraries, which have been rocked by a Digital Revolution brought on by powerful computer technology, as well as by budgets strained by stalled or reduced public funding.
Reeves alluded to the challenges in praising Renee Hobbs, who was the evening’s master of ceremonies and who in 2012 became the founding director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media.
Calling Hobbs “visionary and energetic,” Reeves said that “God knows, you are going forward in a very difficult and very challenging time to do some very, very exciting things at this school.”
Since its founding in 1963, the URI school has graduated more than 3,000 students, and thus has had a profound effect, not only in Rhode Island, but throughout New England and beyond, where its alumni have joined the staffs of hundreds of public, private, academic and other libraries.
The URI school is one of only two programs in New England that offer masters degrees in library and information sciences and that are certified by the American Library Association; the other is Simmons College in Boston. Most libraries require their key employees to have masters degrees.
The enormous impact of computer technology and the Internet was the theme also of the evening’s keynote speaker, David Weinberger, co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab at the Harvard Law School Library.
While upbeat about the promises of technology, such as the increasing popularity of electronic books, the vast storage capacity of computers and the Internet’s ability to instantly connect millions of people, Weinberger said that the fast-moving changes are also difficult to comprehend.
Weinberger said the very idea of “information” as a confined, definable set of facts has been made outdated by the Internet’s infinite appetite.
In one example, he cited a randomly selected article in the 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, which devoted 6,000 words to one individual; the next edition reduced the length to 3,000 words; and, in a later one, the length was halved again.
“Which means that the Encyclopedia Britannica is sitting there throwing away knowledge,” he said. “They had it, and they threw it away, not because they don’t like knowledge, not that they wanted to, but that’s the way the medium worked.”
In contrast, Wikipedia, the enormous Internet-based encyclopedia, has 1,400 words about the same man, but also many links to other sources. When someone follows even some of those links, those new sites have links, too, Weinberger said, the result being “links to the links to the links to the links,” a process he said has changed “the shape” of knowledge. These linkages promote online conversations and debates in which understanding of knowledge constantly evolves.
Weinberger also contended that there is merit in the openness of many Internet sites in accepting all sorts of inputs, even those which at first seem trivial.
“It turns out there is value in having You Tube accept the lowest sort of dreck that there is,” Weinberger said, “because you get stuff that may not look valuable, but turns out to be.”
An example of the danger of excluding material, he said, might be a well-meaning decision by operators of a news site to exclude gossip. But those reports might prove valuable to researchers who study the effect of media on female celebrities. “You cannot anticipate what people are going to want to do, what their interests are,” he said.
Libraries – and the URI library graduate school – can be among the winners in this revolution, Weinberger said, because they are uniquely equipped to facilitate the kind of “knowledge network” enabled by the Internet.
“Libraries can increasingly provide access to everyone,” he said, especially as more sources of knowledge are made available on the Internet, and because they can facilitate the conversations and discussions that are the heart of the Web’s approach to knowledge.
He suggested something of a referee role for librarians, who he said can help patrons sort through the Internet’s raucous conversations, pointing out arguments worth paying attention to, since some discussions “too often spin off into the tawdry and to the silly.”
“You are perfectly positioned – perfectly positioned – to lead libraries and to continue to educate the next generations of librarians, to embrace a network that is understood in the depth of its conversational quality, not just in its informational benefits,” Weinberger said. “You’re in a perfect position to move into your next 50 years, and I can’t wait to see as many of those years as I’m allowed to.”
“You are perfectly positioned – perfectly positioned – to lead libraries and to continue to educate the next generations of librarians, to embrace a network that is understood in the depth of its conversational quality, not just in its informational benefits."
The school also has periodically weathered crises in accreditation, twice losing approval of the American Library Association’s committee on accreditation, in part because the university did not seem to provide sufficient resources. But the school has bounced back each time, with the help of letter writing campaigns and other support from its alumni and other library advocates.
The school is now enjoying a seven-year accreditation approved by the ALA in 2010. In fact, among those at the anniversary dinner were two top ALA officials, Barbara Stripling, president, and Maureen Sullivan, immediate past president.
Renee Hobbs, in addition to her role as overseeing the overall Harrington School of Communication and Media, is also serving as the library school’s director. In an interview before the Gala, she said that a curriculum revision is underway, and the school is adding more faculty members.
* Dr. E. Gale Eaton, a 1974 graduate and director of the school from 2006 to 2012. Currently chair of the Rhode Island Coalition of Library Advocates, a group founded by Joan Ress Reeves and other library supporters, Eaton “has been a pioneer in online education for youth services,” the school said. “She offered the first online GSLIS course with innovative technology and pedagogy, in response to student need for more accessible scheduling. She developed URI’s first digital services to youth course. Her early research on spatial cognition and wayfinding explored how library design may support or hinder intellectual inquiry, and her 2006 book, Well Dressed Role Models, probed the way women’s portrayal in juvenile biographies can support or limit what young readers expect from their own lives.”
* Edward Garcia, a 2008 graduate, now director of the Cranston Public Library. The citation said: “Under Ed Garcia’s leadership, the Cranston Public Library became a pilot site for a digital literacy initiative through a partnership with Broadband Rhode Island. The library also recently became the first public library in Rhode Island to have a 3-D printer and to host workshops where the public can use this innovative technology. Garcia also worked on a
* Dr. Nancy Mattoon Kline, a 1973 graduate, who served more than 30 years at the University of Connecticut Library. The citation said: “Dr. Kline’s research and publications include her dissertation: Technological Change and Bibliographic Instruction: a Delphi Study of American Academic Librarians' Views. She also contributed numerous articles to professional journals from 1973 to1997. Her work informed her research and writings while providing innovation for academic librarians to reach out to transform their instruction programs especially with librarians as liaisons to departments.”
* Janice McPeak, a 2000 graduate, is Public Health Advisor at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Office of Communication and Education. The school said that McPeak previously was a systems librarian at the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and that she worked on projects such as Docline, MedlinePlus, NIHSeniorHealth and GoLocal. URI said that previously, she “was a registered nurse and a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps. Her military service included deployment to Fleet Hospital 15, Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, during Operation Desert Storm. She was also assigned to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, where she received the Disabled American Veterans Award for providing outstanding care and service to meet the needs of Veterans.”
* Dr. Fred Stielow, a 1980 graduate, vice president and dean at the American Public University System. The citation said that he is “a major innovator in online education and distance librarianship. His most recent book examines a decade of leading a cutting-edge academic library online, Reinventing Libraries for Online Education.” He has written or edited over 100 scholarly articles and has published more than a dozen books.
In presenting Joan Ress Reeves with a “lifetime” recognition award, the URI school noted her long service as a library advocate, helping to form state and national policy, and establishing several organizations promoting libraries in Rhode Island.
She is a member of the Library Board of Rhode Island, and chaired that state panel from 1993 to 2001. In 1986, she was part of an effort that amended the state Constitution, so that it now requires the General Assembly to “promote” public libraries as well as public schools. As a result, Rhode Island aid to libraries totals about $11 million annually, supplementing local budgets as well as paying much of the construction costs of new or renovated buildings.
Reeves is a founder and chairperson emeritus of the Rhode Island Coalition of Library Advocates; a former trustee of the Providence Public Library; and she was a founder and past president of the Friends of the Rochambeau Library in Providence.
On the national level, she has played an important role in White House conferences on libraries, and has held numerous posts with the American Library Association, including serving as co-chair of its Task Force on Reauthorization of Library Services and Construction Act, 1992 to1996.
In accepting the school’s recognition, Reeves urged a new generation of advocates to step forward to promote public support for libraries and to be a force that “can make things happen.” And she also introduced two grandchildren, Daniel, 12, and Andrew, 10.
“They are voracious readers,” she said proudly.