Unanswered Questions? Reflections of an Historical Sort on Library School Closures

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Unanswered Questions? Reflections of an Historical Sort on Library School Closures

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Journal of Opinions, Ideas & Essays (JOIE)




Between 1978 and 1994, sixteen American graduate programs in library/information science closed. The author reviewed library and historical literature for discussion, analysis, or interpretation of these closures. This examination revealed a nearly incessant and cantankerous call and response between and among library educators and historians that took place in the midst of these closings, extending into the early twenty-first century. It also demonstrated that library/information science practitioners and analysts suffered a kind of professional, systemic shock that made them unable to arrive at a definitive, analytical conclusion concerning fundamental conditions that ultimately resulted in closing nearly a third of the American Library Association’s accredited programs. At the same time, these discussions outlined and defined political, economic, educational, and social conditions relevant to the closures. When the dust finally settled, a clearer, if incomplete understanding emerged of external and internal causal factors contributing to these closings. A brief case study from the closing of the Library School at the University of Minnesota in 1985 is included to illustrate one of the overlooked internal factors within universities—the administrative location of a professional school of library education within the institution—that is a pivotal, defining factor in the history of these closures. This case study elucidates what library educators and historians discussed but never resolved: that each closure was a complex event, unique in some respects, but ultimately explicable when considered as part of a larger pattern, system or model. Ultimately, these “unanswered questions” should be considered input variables that may allow us the opportunity to examine contemporary conditions, make meaningful predictions, and steer the profession away from any prospect of foundering on the rocks of repeated mistakes.


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Johnson, Timothy J. (2019). Unanswered Questions? Reflections of an Historical Sort on Library School Closures. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/206436.

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