Simmons GSLIS's New Dean Eileen Abels by Jennifer Moyer

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Dr._Abels_6232_rdax_160x215.jpgAfter an exhaustive, year-long search, the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) welcomes Eileen Abels as the new dean. As the current president of the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE), Abels has more than 30 years of expertise in the library and information science field. During her tenure as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor at Drexel University's iSchool, she oversaw ipl2, a digital library that resulted from the merger of the Internet Public Library and the Librarian's Internet Index. Dean Abels brings new strategies to lead emerging 21st-century librarians at GSLIS. 


Why did you want to become dean of Simmons GSLIS?

Simmons GSLIS has an outstanding reputation as an internationally recognized program in library and information science (LIS). I welcome the opportunity to transform LIS education with an institution that is well positioned to lead the field into the future. I consider it an honor to be the dean of GSLIS.

What is your vision for Simmons GSLIS? How do you plan to implement that vision?

With the changes in the field, it is time to re-envision library and information science education. My vision for Simmons GSLIS is that it will be recognized as the best LIS program in the world by emphasizing innovation, multidisciplinary collaboration, and leadership. Our aim is to prepare librarians, archivists, and information professionals to be future leaders in their fields. 

To do this, we need to understand the competencies that will be needed in the future, as well as trends in information behaviors, communication, and information technologies so that we can anticipate and meet the needs of information users.  GSLIS will gather data through dialogue with various constituencies, such as current and potential employers of our graduates and students. To achieve this, we may hold a Future Search, a meeting with representatives from the various constituencies that prepares our students for action. Environmental scanning and literature reviews will be conducted to supplement our conversations. Then we will be able to review the curriculum and identify gaps and reshape current offerings.

What will be the first enhancements you will make at Simmons GSLIS and why?

As many in the Simmons GSLIS community know, adjustments were made to the curriculum this past year and will be implemented in Fall 2013. Before making additional changes, we will evaluate the program in terms of how it prepares students for the current and future marketplace. Technological innovation is one of the major changes to be implemented and is an essential component to maintaining Simmons GSLIS's leadership position in the LIS field. As a team, we will be assessing curricular changes throughout the upcoming academic year.  Curricular change is an iterative and systematic process.

How do you plan to integrate the undergraduate and graduate curriculums under one roof at GSLIS? For example, what types of degrees will be offered? Do you foresee Simmons GSLIS merging with the Communications Department as at other iSchools?

We are welcoming several new programs, undergraduate and graduate, as part of Simmons GSLIS. The integration of the children's literature and computer science departments into the GSLIS organization makes for excellent partnerships, since significant collaboration has already occurred between faculty in the units and GSLIS professors. Students can expect to get the courses that are a part of their programs as they always have. To welcome the new programs, we will need to rename GSLIS since our scope and degree offerings will be broader in nature.

In addition, GSLIS is introducing innovations in the curriculum, for example, a 3+1 bachelor's of science degree and master's degree in library and information science, a bachelor's of science degree and master's of science dual degree for scientific, technical, and engineering librarians.

Currently, I do not foresee Simmons GSLIS merging with any other Simmons schools.

Since Simmons GSLIS is known for its digital libraries program, do you plan to integrate ipl2 into the GSLIS curriculum?  

While I will no longer be overseeing ipl2, it is possible that we may integrate it into the GSLIS curriculum or participate on a collaborative grant related to the ipl2.  Currently, GSLIS has a great opportunity in the Boston area with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). Several GSLIS faculty, such as Professor Candy Schwartz, are already engaged with DPLA and we will look forward to other engagement opportunities. Social media question answering services can also be integrated into the curriculum and are worthy of exploration.

Do you think GSLIS should remain a library school or consider joining the iSchool bandwagon? Why?

At this point in time, we will not join the iSchool caucus. Simmons GSLIS needs to continue to focus on library and information science with an emphasis on teaching excellence as it has been doing.  However, several of our faculty members collaborate with iSchool faculty and attend the annual iConference. 

What do you think library and information science schools need to do to keep up with the changes in the field?

We need to scan the environment for changes and take a systematic approach to integrating changes into the curriculum.  For example, there is a lot of activity around "big data" in academia and industry. I would like GSLIS to identify additional ways that librarians can contribute to the big data movement.  We have many skills that are unique to LIS, such as information organization, retrieval, and evaluation. Another way to keep the curriculum current is for faculty to continue to integrate their research into the classroom and to involve students in research projects whenever possible. 

While Simmons has a strong archives and school library teaching program, what other programs would you like to see in the top 10 in the rankings? How do you plan to help such programs reach those high marks?

While the U.S. News and World Report rankings are subjective and based on opinion, they are important to how the school is perceived by the community. Simmons is highly ranked overall and in several categories. Yet the categories covered by U.S. News and World Report are not exhaustive. GSLIS has areas of expertise that are not included in the rankings, such as organization of knowledge and leadership. With the addition of the children's literature department, we may achieve a higher ranking in Services for Children and Youth. Our work in digital libraries, particularly with the Digital Public Library of America, may help us rise in the rankings in Digital Libraries. The overall ranking continues to be the most important factor for our constituents. GSLIS is now ranked ninth.

What type of education and preparation do you believe library and information science schools need to provide to make their students competitive in the marketplace? How do you plan to ensure that the curriculum is consistent with employer needs and expectations?

We continue to investigate what will be the competencies of librarians and information professionals of the future.  When I speak about re-envisioning LIS education, I am referring to the alignment of LIS education to new competencies. Monumental changes are around us that impact every aspect of our lives. While libraries, information organizations, and archives have adapted to meet some of the new demands from information users, more work is needed. More information users are searching for resources by themselves. New competitors are providing information services and resources. In many ways, LIS professionals and archivists are misunderstood or overlooked and they need to clearly define and communicate their role to society. We will aim to educate our students about how to effectively advocate for themselves and their institutions.

What do you perceive to be the three greatest opportunities and challenges for library and information science and archives schools today?

Opportunities can also be challenges, depending upon the strengths and weaknesses of an organization or field.  One major opportunity for LIS and archives educators is the unique perspective that we bring to information. In our field, we focus on the information user; knowing our users is key to creating and providing information resources and services that meet information needs. We are experts in organizing and retrieving information. These are essential skills in a world that is dependent on information. We are also knowledgeable in evaluating information, which is critical in a world that contains a great deal of misinformation. Related areas that fall within our domain include information policy and information ethics. Our opportunity is to emphasize these important areas in our programs. Our challenge is to do so in an exciting and engaging way. Higher education is facing challenging times, particularly with the introduction of MOOCs and the growth of online education. We need to be entrepreneurial and build our strengths so that we convert challenges into opportunities.


Feature story | Infolink Newsletter | September 2013