Managing Change: SLIS Gets An 'A'

Rob Kling
MIS Knowledge Base

By David Hackett
MIS Knowledge Base
SLIS Network, Alumni Magazine
Spring 2003

Editor's Note:Friends and colleagues at SLIS mourn the loss of Rob Kling, Ph.D., Professor of Information Systems and Information Science and Adjunct Professor of Computer Science. Kling, 58, passed away unexpectedly in the pre-dawn hours of May 15. Kling was a brillant and dedicated scholar whose work and spirit touched many lives. In his last interview, just days before his death, Kling spoke to journalist David Hackett about how SLIS has successfully adapted to change and about the challenges SLIS faces in coming years.

For more than 30 years, Professor Rob Kling has been studying how businesses and institutions manage change wrought by computers and other information technology.

Since 1996, Kling has also been a keen observer of how changes have been managed at his own work place—the Indiana University School of Library and Information Science.

Kling believes changes led by Dean Blaise Cronin over the past decade are the most significant for SLIS since it was created as a separate school at IU in 1967.

And most of the changes have been for the better.

"If I were giving SLIS a grade for managing change, the grade would be an 'A'," Kling said. "The school is much more intellectually diverse and engaged with other departments and schools on campus. Enrollments are at historic highs.

"A lot of credit does go to Dean Cronin. He has led strategic moves that helped SLIS become a much more lively intellectual space and much more relevant to the challenges facing today's students."

IU's library science training dates to the 1930s. For many years, there was a built-in market awaiting graduates, for state law demanded that every high school in Indiana have a trained librarian.

Out from under the wing of the School of Education, a separate Graduate Library School was formed in 1967. With the focus still on librarianship, GLS became one of the top five programs in the nation. In 1980, the Graduate Library School became the School of Library and Information Science.

Librarianship, of course, remains fundamental to SLIS's mission. But the ways that information is accessed, defined, and processed have changed so radically that Dean Cronin and others recognized the importance of making information science a vital part of the program. While libraries remain important, they could no longer serve as the single defining institution for SLIS's scholarship and teaching. Kling noted that many Web sites that provide materials for students, scholars, and the broader public have become important information sources, but are not linked to traditional libraries. Dean Cronin consolidated SLIS activities from branches around the state into main centers in Bloomington and Indianapolis.

Kling said that while some leading universities, such as Michigan and Illinois, have expanded their scope in ways that are similar to SLIS, others have remained relatively traditional. The University of Maryland, for example, continues to focus its library science program on training librarians and archivists. Kling said that model is more likely to be successful in large urban areas than at destination campuses such as IU, where a diverse, contemporary curriculum is necessary to attract students from around the state as well as the nation.

One of the keys to SLIS's success has been finding the natural connections between library science and information technology. While some of these areas push the boundaries of traditional librarianship, there are plenty of programs that fit nicely under one umbrella.

Library science remains SLIS's core, with two-thirds of its graduates coming from that program. But one-third of graduates now earn degrees in information science, including areas that have little or no relationship to libraries. Most important, many MLS students take "MIS courses" and vice versa.

Doctoral research is also stretching the boundaries.

Kling said the broadening of the school makes sense. Library science, information science, computer science, journalism, and telecommunications have many connections.

With Dean Cronin's departure from the helm, SLIS will welcome a new era of leadership. Kling does not expect that era to be marked by many structural changes such as those that occurred under Dean Cronin. Rather, Kling said, the challenges will be structuring boundaries between SLIS and other IU schools and finding "genuine synergy" between academic units such as the School of Informatics and the Department of Computer Science.

"This will be a period of refinement," he said.

Kling is critical of how the School of Informatics was founded in 2000 and has since been marketed. Obvious overlaps with SLIS were ignored.

"The quest by former IU President Myles Brand to create the new School of Informatics and to use it to attain more funding from the Legislature caused significant collateral damage to SLIS. It caused confusion for students. Although there are strong possibilities that the two schools can work together in positive ways, and some of that is already being done, that remains a big challenge."

For example, the School of Informatics offers a master's degree in HCI (Human Computer Interaction). This field encompasses a broad range of study, from how individuals operate personal computers to how groups work together over the Internet.

Kling said that while Informatics is offering the degree, SLIS has one of the nation's leading "brain trusts" in the HCI field.

Kling is confident such issues can be resolved to the benefit of all departments. The way to get there, he believes, is to have a faculty study determine what programs cross into other schools and to better manage boundaries both to alleviate confusion and to highlight synergies.

He suggested, for example, the university could produce a brochure and Web site focusing on its HCI offerings. Just as a student who is interested in economics might be attracted to programs in the department of economics, public finance, telecommunications, marketing, or even educational finance, a prospective student in HCI should be exposed to all the possibilities IU offers in SLIS, informatics, education, telecommunications, and computer science.

"Such a brochure would literally put these programs on the same page," Kling said. "That illustrates the kind of synergy that we need."

Establishing those boundaries will be a challenge. But Kling said when one looks at specific areas, boundaries become more obvious. For example, folklorists profit immensely from the skills gained in information science courses in SLIS. Neither computer science nor informatics would serve them as well.

While Kling gives high marks to Dean Cronin for his vision and leadership, Cronin's return to the faculty is no reason for panic. Indeed, it will bring opportunity, he said, even if the post takes two or three years to fill.

"When Myles Brand left as president to take a job at the NCAA, people weren't running around saying the sky is falling at IU," Kling said. "It's the same with Dean Cronin. SLIS is at a historic highpoint. We're well positioned to move forward in very positive ways. The first step, I believe, is determining where we want to go and how we want to get there. That is why a faculty self-study is an important part of what needs to come next."

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Posted June 26, 2003