Throughout this series, I have explored the logic of a Christian university offering a graduate program to prepare librarians for service in a Christian college or university setting. I began by arguing that librarianship is value-laden and thus subject to examination from a Christian perspective. In my second post, I reviewed programs in library and information science currently offered by six Christian institutions. In general, I found limited evidence of their will and/or capacity to prepare librarians for reflective practice based in a Christian worldview. In my third post, I discussed whether a Christian program should seek accreditation by the American Library Association’s Committee on Accreditation (ALA-COA), and if so, what opportunities and challenges it might face in doing so. In this final post, I will discuss four additional issues that merit the attention of institutions interested in ensuring the availability of intentionally Christian education for librarianship.
Institutions that aspire to address the scarcity of Christian programs in library science must clearly wrestle with the issue of financial sustainability. I hinted at this at various points in my third post. An institution launching a program in the field must project realistically how many students it will enroll, and thus how much tuition revenue it will generate. Assuming that the program is to be self-sustaining, these projections will relate closely to the pursuit of programmatic accreditation. By signaling quality and correlating with the demands of the job market, ALA-COA accreditation would appear to drive higher enrollment and revenue. On the other hand, complying with accreditation standards would come at a cost—certainly financially, and perhaps missionally.
Intertwined with financial sustainability is the matter of the program’s curricular scope. A Christian university could aim to prepare librarians for work in a variety of settings:
- in educational institutions, whether Christian and/or non-Christian, and at primary, secondary, and/or postsecondary levels
- in public library systems located in rural, urban, or suburban areas
- in businesses, providing library, knowledge management, and/or competitive intelligence services
- in government and nonprofits, including cultural heritage organizations such as archives and museums
- in the information industry, purveying services to organizations in all sectors of the economy
Professional work in all of the settings just listed falls within the scope of library and information studies. Nevertheless, a narrow, generic curriculum cannot hope to prepare graduates to perform equally well in all contexts. Rather, the leaders of an academic program must decide to focus on certain career paths and specializations. In fact, such decisions are closely connected with the development of the curriculum, the recruitment of professors and students, and the cultivation of relationships with industry practitioners and organizations. In theory, offering more program tracks or electives should make it possible to enroll more students, but all such offerings would come with instructional and other costs. Therefore, scope decisions would need to be coherent and responsible.
A Christian program in library science would likely have limited enrollment potential, especially if it aimed primarily to prepare graduates to serve in Christian higher education. In a tuition-dependent institution, this could be a serious deterrent to starting a program. Given the incentives that exist in many K-12 systems for educators to obtain graduate degrees, a Christian institution might find it attractive to offer a degree with specializations in academic and school librarianship. Nevertheless, this would require recruiting faculty members with appropriate credentials.
A third issue that warrants attention is a library science program’s location within overall institutional structure. Librarianship and other information professions are remarkably connected to other disciplines. Although many institutions (e.g., Syracuse University, University of North Texas) have chosen to situate their library science program within a college or school of information, this is by no means a universal arrangement. The list that follows shows some of the diverse affiliations that such programs have across the United States:
- College of Computing & Informatics (Drexel University)
- College of Education & Human Development (University of Missouri-Columbia)
- College of Education & Professional Studies (Old Dominion University)
- College of Information and Communications (University of South Carolina)
- College of Organizational, Computational, and Information Sciences (Simmons University)
- School of Arts and Sciences (The Catholic University of America)
- School of Business (University of Southern California)
The location of a library science program within a university is very much a local decision, one that is surely based on its relationship to other programs with which it might have some affinity. Nevertheless, such a decision is not inconsequential; rather, it will create—and potentially limit—opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration in curriculum development, instruction, and research.
Finally, Christian institutions that wish to offer a library science program should consider options for institutional collaboration. Launching a program that intentionally integrates Christian faith and professional preparation in library science will not be easy. The human and other resources needed to achieve this outcome are substantial, and partnerships may prove to be advantageous. I can envision two main forms of partnership. In the first kind, two or more Christian institutions would pool their resources, thereby mitigating certain risks and increasing the likelihood of program viability.
In the second kind of partnership, a Christian institution would set up an articulation agreement with an institution that already offered a stable library science program. This arrangement would allow students to transfer a specified number of credits earned at the Christian institution—perhaps nine—toward the degree at the partner institution. The Christian institution would need to develop a small number of online and/or intensive courses—perhaps along the lines of a graduate certificate. The two institutions would collaborate to attract a cadre of students interested in pursuing a program with a Christian component. Since such students would otherwise seek admission to programs at various other institutions, the partner program would presumably see an increase in enrollment. This second approach would not allow for the integration of Christian principles throughout the program, but it would likely mitigate risks and would produce results more quickly.
Over the course of my career in the library field, I have interacted with many other followers of Jesus Christ who were genuinely interested in relating their faith to the practice of librarianship. Most, but certainly not all, were seeking to do so in the context of employment in a Christian organization. As they wrestled with the integration of faith and profession, they relied on a variety of resources: personal practice of spiritual disciplines, academic study undertaken at Christian institutions, involvement in local churches, the reading of books and journal literature, and networking with likeminded colleagues (e.g., through organizations such as the Association of Christian Librarians). Although the process of obtaining a graduate degree in library science may have motivated them to seek Christian perspective on the field, it rarely seemed to enable such a quest. The absence of opportunities to pursue intentionally Christian education for librarianship stands as a collective shortcoming in American Christian higher education—one that I hope will be remedied in time.