On the Education of Librarians: Introducing Anna Altmann, Interim Director

by Christina Wilson, Head Editor, INALJ Alberta

On the Education of Librarians:  Introducing Anna Altmann, Interim Director, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta

Anna_Altmann_Earlier this month, the University of Alberta, School of Library and Information Studies (UofA/SLIS) welcomed not one, but two cohorts of students into the first year of its two year Masters of Library and Information Services program.  While 46 students will begin the two year MLIS program on campus, 49 students from across Canada have enrolled in the brand new, fully online Canadian MLIS program.  The new program comes on the heels of UofA/SLIS’s successful re-accreditation by ALA and a change in program leadership.  Anna Altmann was recently appointed Interim Director of the school, succeeding Ernie Ingles, upon his retirement In June, 2013. It’s a substantial position, but Ms. Altmann generously took the time to reply to a few questions about the new program, the direction the School is following and the education of librarians in the 21st Century.

Christina:  What direction do you plan to take U of A’s Library School?ChristinaWilson

Anna: I’m Interim Director for a year only. So my job is to keep the School running smoothly along the track it’s currently on. My predecessor, Ernie Ingles, who is a man of great vision, gave the School its greatest innovation in many years–the new cost-recovery online MLIS program. He also saw the School through its accreditation review by the American Library Association’s Committee on Accreditation, which is an enormous amount of work and happens every seven years if the School is doing well. Our 2013 review brought us re-accreditation for the full seven-year period. At the end of that time, our online program will also be under review. During my year as director I’ll do everything I can to support the successful growth of that program. But it will have its own funding and will not in any way diminish our face-to-face program, either in terms of resources or in terms of enrollment.

Christina: Can you outline the goals of SLIS’ new initiatives, for e.g. the online degree program and the combined MLIS/MBA degree (to be launched in 2014).

Anna: The goal of the online degree program is increased access to an MLIS degree. It’s intended for people who for various reasons can’t move to Edmonton, or to one of the other cities with library schools, to study.  An important recruitment focus for us is rural libraries conferences, where we can publicize the program to people who work in or volunteer in small rural libraries. The program has a particular focus on Community-Based Public Librarianship.

The combined MLIS/MBA degree offers our students a new specialization in management systems. We will be admitting students to that program for the fall of 2014. Because it will take longer and cost more to complete than the straight MLIS degree, I don’t think many students will choose that route.  They will have to be admitted to the MBA program in the School of Business, which requires them to write the GMAT exam, as well as to the MLIS program, and they will have to take the full first year of MBA courses.  But the existence of the program doesn’t depend on numbers. It will be available even if only three or four students choose to take that route each year. That has been the pattern with our combined MLIS/MA (Humanities Computing).

The one-credit courses that SLIS has been offering for the past few years continue to be popular with our students and give opportunities for professional development for working librarians. What’s new is that they are also becoming a testing ground for topics that may develop or merge into full 3-credit elective courses. So they can play a useful part in the on-going planning to keep the MLIS curriculum up-to-date.

Christina: What are the key areas that you feel are important in educating the next generation of 21st Century library leaders?

Anna: The key areas in library and information services remain very much the same over the decades, and even over the centuries. But the technologies change steadily (and the terminology along with them), and with the technological changes come new opportunities to expand our reach and scope. 21st Century library leaders need to be sufficiently comfortable with information and communications technologies to envision the innovations in access that are possible.  (That term, “access”, really is the purpose of everything we do–collections, preservation, cataloguing, and reference services, to use all the old-fashioned terms.) The next generation of library leaders also needs to know the history of librarianship so that they do not lose sight of its core values. These values are easily overlooked in a culture that values growth-for-the-sake-of-growth and change-for-the-sake-of-change, a culture that tries to run public services like libraries, health care, and education on a business model. History also teaches us to check where a particular bandwagon is actually going before we jump aboard.

Christina: Who are your personal heroes in the library field?

Anna: My personal heroes are the “pack-horse librarians” of the 1930s, women who rode horseback through the Appalachian Mountains leading a horse or mule carrying boxes of books for the isolated people in a very poor part of America. (The program was funded by the WPA under F. D. Roosevelt.) But while I was thinking about the answer to this question, I asked some of my colleagues who their heroes in the library field were. My favourite answer came from Michael McNally, who said: “the local librarians!”  He’s right. No other library school in the country gets such support from their surrounding library community. University librarians, public librarians, and special librarians teach with us, give our students opportunities, and are extraordinarily helpful resources for our faculty. I’ve grown used to this privilege, but to Michael it’s still a wonder because he is only in his second year as a faculty member at SLIS and a resident of Edmonton. And among the local librarians, I’d have to name Ernie Ingles as my personal hero.

Christina: Are there any other library programs out there that you particularly admire?

Anna: There are, of course, schools that have strong specializations we don’t have (for e.g.  School librarianship programs at Rutgers and Florida State). San Jose has a large and first-class online program that’s very effectively managed.  But the particular strength of SLIS at the University of Alberta is its focus on the MLIS program and its students. We are small and we don’t have a PhD program, so our resources go to the Masters students.  And given the high research profiles and teaching expertise of our award-winning faculty, those resources are very good indeed.

Christina: Are there any other areas of potential partnership with LIS programs, given what you know of the future market place and employer needs?

Anna: A link with computer science could be very fruitful, as could one with health sciences. I’m open to suggestions!

For more information about the University of Alberta’s School of Library and Information Studies and any of its programs, visit their website.  If interested in the online MLIS, contact Jennifer Branch-Mueller, Coordinator of the Online MLIS, at jbranch@ualberta.ca.