In my previous post, I offered the following line of reasoning: (1) The field of librarianship is inherently value-laden and thus subject to examination from a biblical worldview. (2) Few Christian institutions offer a graduate program in library science. (3) Libraries that serve Christian institutions offer the most natural venue for integrating faith and librarianship. (4) A program that effectively prepares graduates to work in a Christian college or university library should emphasize the distinctive context of a Christian institution, survey the Christian information landscape, and foster Christian reflection on issues in librarianship.
In this post, I will explore further the claim that opportunities to obtain a Christian, graduate-level education in library science are scarce. To my knowledge, only six Christian institutions in the United States offer an English-language master’s degree in library science. Before I provide a brief description of each institution’s program(s), I will present a few overarching observations about education for librarianship.
The American Library Association, acting through its Committee on Accreditation (ALA-COA), certifies the quality of master’s-level programs in library and information studies in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Fifty-six institutions located in the United States have achieved some level of recognition by the ALA-COA. The vast majority (80%) of these institutions are publicly supported, and thus unlikely to exhibit concern for Christian ideals. Additionally, programs at public institutions are dominant in regards to reputation, occupying all but three of the top 20 U.S. News & World Report rankings in 2021.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator tool, I identified a total of 15 private institutions that offer an advanced degree in library science, including 11 that are affiliated with the ALA-COA. Cross-checking the list of 15 against the membership directories of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities yielded a roster of seven U.S. Christian institutions from which one might earn a master’s degree in library science. One of those institutions, the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, offers instruction in Spanish. In the following paragraphs, I offer brief observations about the library science programs at the other six institutions. Observations are based on information presented on each institution’s website.
The School of Information Studies at Dominican University (River Forest, IL) offers multiple graduate programs, including the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS), which can be taken online, in person, or in a hybrid option. I was unable to locate evidence of overt Catholic influence on the program; however, it may be implied by the portion of the mission statement that refers to “reason, compassion, and a commitment to service and radical inclusion.” The foremost opportunity to pursue a Christian perspective on librarianship at Dominican is the dual-degree program (MLIS/Master of Divinity) offered in partnership with McCormick Theological Seminary (a Presbyterian institution). One of the courses in this program is LIS 778 (Theological Librarianship). Although I was unable to find it listed in the current course bulletin, according to an archived version, the course addresses theological reference materials, cataloging, and library automation, among other topics.
The School of Education at Fresno Pacific University (Fresno, CA) offers an online Master of Arts in School Library and Information Technology. This program shares a 10-hour core with other education degrees, including ED 779 (Values in School and Society). This course provides an opportunity to analyze schools and schooling based on the Christian/prophetic philosophy and values articulated in the Fresno Pacific Idea. Rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, the institution bills itself as “unquestionably Christian,” but the implications for the school library program are less than obvious.
The Information Management Department at St. Catherine University (St. Paul, MN) offers a single graduate degree, the MLIS, which can be configured to satisfy the requirements for the Minnesota School Library Media Specialist license. Some courses are available online, while others are delivered face to face. The department’s faculty has a clear orientation toward social justice. The program emphasizes social justice and social responsibility through courses such as LIS 7190 (Social Justice and Children’s/Young Adult Literature), LIS 7380 (Transforming Adult Services), and LIS 7690 (Information Technology, People and Society). I was unable to locate more specific evidence of Catholic thought being embedded in the program.
The Division of Library and Information Science at St. John’s University (Queens, NY) offers a single, online degree, the Master of Science in Library and Information Science (MSLIS), with five specializations. This degree can also be paired with other (mostly undergraduate) degrees. The program is described as being “guided by the Vincentian Mission of St. John’s, which emphasizes service and social justice. All academic programs at St. John’s emphasize the integration of the liberal arts and focus on ethical decision-making based in Catholic social teaching.” These points of emphasis are reinforced in the program’s mission statement, goals, and at least one course description (LIS 283 [Social Justice and the Information Profession]).
The Department of Library and Information Science at The Catholic University of America (Washington, DC) offers the MSLIS. Courses are delivered online and in person, and offerings are robust enough to provide for nine distinct specializations. Additionally, students can pursue the MSLIS jointly with one of five other advanced degrees. The department’s materials make repeated reference to students’ ethical preparation and there is brief mention of “work with local Catholic organizations.” At least one course, LSC 845 (Religious Archives Institute), reflects the unique information context of a religious organization. A review of selected faculty CVs shows that some professors have explored connections between faith and librarianship via their scholarship and/or service.
The School of Education at Trevecca Nazarene University (Nashville, TN) offers an online, cohort-based MLIS degree that aims primarily to prepare school librarians. The cohort model entails a limited lineup of courses. The program offers this summary statement: “All classes integrate faith and learning. Trevecca is committed to holistic education, encouraging students to grow intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually.” Details of Christian integration are scant, but ethical instruction is overt in MLI 5000 (Professional and Ethical Issues).
Looking across the six programs just introduced, it is evident that the Catholic institutions are more established than the evangelical ones. Course, specialization, and joint degree options are particularly robust at Dominican and Catholic. Programs at Fresno Pacific and Trevecca Nazarene focus on school librarianship and seem to offer virtually no electives.
All four Catholic institutions have achieved continued accreditation with the ALA-COA, and two have additional recognition (Dominican with iSchools, and Catholic University with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education). In keeping with their curricular emphases, Fresno Pacific and Trevecca Nazarene are recognized by organizations that specialize in teacher credentialing.
Neither of the two evangelical programs is ranked by U.S. News & World Report. All four Catholic institutions are ranked, but all fall in the bottom half of the ranking. Among the four, Catholic University has the highest ranking (31 out of 55).
It is difficult to judge the extent to which the various institutions integrate Christian principles into their library science curricula. All six programs focus on ethics to some extent, but the same could probably be said of programs at thoroughly secular institutions. The evangelical universities state that faith integration pervades their programs but provide little evidence to substantiate the claim. The Catholic institutions’ programs generally emphasize ideals such as social justice, social responsibility, and service, yet these may have closer ties to progressive social thought than to biblical theology.
Generally, none of the programs aim to equip graduates for service in a Christian institution. Nevertheless, students motivated to prepare for such work would likely find value in courses offered at Dominican (theological librarianship) and Catholic (religious archives).
The six institutions provide varying amounts of information about their faculty. At most institutions, though, there is little, if anything to suggest that professors have interest or expertise related to topics such as the seeking of religious information, the historical development of Christian literature and libraries, or the role of the library in a Christian college. A caveat to this generalization is the fact that a few of Catholic University’s professors have made modest efforts to explore connections between Christianity and the world of information.
How effective are the six programs described here in promoting Christian thought and practice in librarianship? I posed this question to subscribers to the Association of Christian Librarians listserv, eliciting responses regarding members’ experiences in two of the six programs. Respondents offered statements such as these:
- “I do not remember any overt connections highlighted between religion and librarianship in my program.”
- “When I asked [my colleague] about any impact of it being a faith-affiliated school she said she had to pause to remember what faith background the school was.”
- “Other than having one class taught by a nun, the education I received there didn’t seem overtly ‘Christian’ to me, and I don’t remember anything about librarianship from a Christian perspective.”
Interestingly, two respondents to my listserv inquiry spoke highly of a Theological Librarianship course offered by a public institution. The School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers IS 582 TL and makes it available to students at other library schools via the WISE program, thereby achieving an outsized impact. According to one respondent, “This was probably my best preparation for working in a Christian librarian setting.”
All in all, having examined six Christian institutions’ programs, I remain convinced that much more can be done to prepare Christian librarians to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness in the context of their work. In my next post, I will continue to explore the prospects for remedying this situation, focusing specifically on the matter of ALA-COA accreditation.