Brian Kenney on Core Competencies 2

Did you know ALA was publishing the “Core Competencies of Librarianship?” Brian Kenney writes:

Although the guidelines were presented at a public meeting, I don’t think this document is widely available, but you could try searching The document is predictably conservative—in the sense of preserving what exists—and covers what you’d imagine: the foundation of our profession, information resources, organization, technical knowledge, reference and user services, research, continuing education, and administration.

Likely the intent was to give ALA’s Committee on Accreditation, which accredits master’s programs in library and information science, a little more teeth—perhaps necessary in dealing with those “i-schools” where “i” (information) is thought to trump “l” (libraries) in the curriculum. If your university wants to offer an ALA-accredited degree, the document is saying, then students need to acquire the knowledge and skills of a beginning generalist librarian, whether they want them or not.

What’s interesting is what’s missing from this definition of a generalist librarian: any mention of school librarianship or youth services. The committee will argue that these are specializations, and, of course, they’re right. But let’s face it, if you don’t actually mention children’s services, then the default in library education will always be adult services. And the “Core Competences” even favors adult services by elevating “the role of the library in lifelong learning… and the use of lifelong learning in the promotion of library services.”

I am interested to read the document. It concerns me as well that the focus is on adult services. In recent discussions in class and at conferences about the Mishawaka Library ban on Facebook and MySpace, my though keep coming back to the fact that Teen or YA Librarian could be one of the most important jobs we prepare new grads to take on.

2 thoughts on “Brian Kenney on Core Competencies

  • Sharon McQueen


    I agree with you that Teen and YA librarianship is one of the most important library positions we could prepare new grads to take on. In fact, I have dedicated my life to doing just that.

    I do not agree that the focus of the Core Competences is on adult services and I am sorry that Brian Kenney’s SLJ editorial gave you that impression. You can see for yourself here:

    Here is my response to the SLJ editorial:

    I like and admire Brian Kenney, but I’ve got a bone to pick with this editorial. Enough bones to construct a complete skeleton, in fact.

    ALA’s Presidential Task Force on Library Education is not chaired by Michael Gorman and Marianne Williamson, as this article states. It is chaired by ALA Past President Carla Hayden. Michael Gorman is an appointed member of the Task Force, as am I. We were appointed by ALA Past President Leslie Burger, who formed it. Marianne Williamson does not serve on this committee. She never has.

    I do wonder why, with all the labels that could be given a man who has had such an incredible, illustrious career, “blogger basher” was chosen for Mr. Gorman. Marianne Williamson is described as “librarianship’s very own (see Our Singular Strengths: Meditations for Librarians [ALA, 1997]).” Librarianship’s own Michael Gorman has many publications to his credit as well (see Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century [ALA, 2000], the winner of ALA’s 2001 Highsmith award for the best book on librarianship). But whatever the motives for this slight, I will move on to the point of this editorial: that the Core Competences “completely ignores youth.”

    When something has been deliberately left out of a document, it does not always logically follow that what has been left out has been ignored. And in this case, this is an insulting insinuation. The Chair of this Task Force, Carla Hayden, is deeply committed to children and library service to that population group. She began her career in youth services. Dr. Holly Willett, another member of the committee, teaches and conducts research in the areas of public and school librarianship and children’s literature. I am a former children’s librarian who has taught children’s literature and youth services in four universities. All of us are active in the youth divisions of ALA, as well as serving youth in other associations.

    All three of us agree with the consensus of the Task Force. The first line of ALA’s Core Competences of Librarianship states:

    “These core competences define the knowledge base to be possessed by a person graduating from an ALA-accredited master’s program in library and information studies and, thus, the knowledge required of a beginning generalist librarian. Specialist librarians will need to possess knowledge beyond that specified here.”

    What is it about the term “beginning generalist librarian” that some people fail to understand? Youth services is CLEARLY an area of specialization. The author of this editorial understands this, as he writes: “The committee will argue that these are specializations, and, of course, they’re right.” Yet he goes on to make the case that his chosen area of specialization should be included in the core knowledge base of all librarians. Others may also advocate for their chosen areas of specialization. Each could make the case that their area is important, even essential, and should be considered “core.” At that rate the “core” competences will include all areas of specialization—in other words, the entire field.

    What everyone needs to keep in mind is that this document will form the basis of required core courses in graduate schools of librarianship. Required. Just how much should ALA dictate our schools require? How many courses? How many credits? I think Michael Gorman (the first editor of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, second edition (1978) and of the revision of that work (1988) and the author of The Concise AACR2, now in its 4th edition) said it best when he wrote:

    “I think the essential point is that the Core Competences are intended to be the knowledge that every graduate from an ALA-accredited LIS program will possess–irrespective of where she or he intends to work. In addition to that universal knowledge base, such a graduate will (a) have had courses on the application of those competences in particular areas, such as children’s librarianship, and (b) specialist courses in areas that only apply to a specialization (such as story telling in that instance). I’m sure you will agree that every librarian should know about reference work, cataloguing, collections, ethics, values, etc., and learn to apply them in the specialized area of her or his choice.”

    And in response to a children’s librarian, Michael Gorman (Dean of Library Services at the Henry Madden Library, California State University, Fresno for 20 years) wrote:

    “The Core Competences (CCs) are intended to be the knowledge base of all graduates of ALA-accredited LIS programs, irrespective of the area of librarianship in which they intend to work. The idea is that the divisions and other units will take that basic knowledge base and, if they wish, add the competences that they deem essential for, in your case, children’s services librarians. Those specialized competences will not be added to the CCs but will, with the CCs, form your statement of what every children’s librarian should know.”

    I disagree with the author of this editorial when he states that “if you don’t actually mention children’s services, then the default in library education will always be adult services.” As someone who has provided youth services and who has taught youth services, I can tell you that children’s librarians include reference, collection management, ethics, and all other core competences in their work, as do other areas of specialization. Please don’t ghettoize us. And when the author states that the Core Competences even favors adult services by elevating “the role of the library in lifelong learning… and the use of lifelong learning in the promotion of library services” he causes me to wonder why he does not consider children to be a part of the life-long learning process. He seems to be completely ignoring youth. 😉

    The field (both library practitioners and library educators) has been clamoring for a set of core competences for at least two decades. These core competences have been in the works for over ten years. Let’s stop advocating for the inclusion of our own cherished areas of the field and get them passed! They desperately needed and they are long overdue.

    Sharon McQueen

    P.S. In addition to being an infamous blogger basher, have I mentioned that Michael Gorman is also the author of hundreds of articles in professional and scholarly journals?

    Please Note: The opinions expressed here are my own and not those of the Presidential Task Force on Library Education.

  • Sharon McQueen

    My Mistake; My Apologies; My Outrage!

    Due to the error in Brian Kenney’s reporting of Michael Gorman as the Task Force chair, I read the entire sentence as a series if 3 errors: that Marianne Williamson was co-chair and that one of Michael’s books had been attributed to her. My apologies to Brian Kenny. I should have known he wouldn’t get it THAT wrong. Of course, now that I know who Marianne Williamson is, and I understand that Kenney meant to equate Michael Gorman to her, I’m outraged. Mr. Kenney’s slam to Michael Gorman is worse that I had thought. After his 50 year career in libraries, with hundreds of articles, book chapters and books to his credit, and his massive amounts of service to the profession, it really is beyond the pale. Mr. Kenney has compared Michael Gorman to a self-help guru. So those of us who hope to follow in Michael Gorman’s footsteps and live a life of service to libraries have this to look forward to from our press? The future is bleak indeed.

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