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New Librarianship Masterclass MOOC – Megan Dyson

Manchester NLPN put out a Twitter call for guest posts from people who’ve taken the New Librarianship Masterclass, a massive open online course (MOOC) run by Syracuse University’s iSchool, USA on I’ve just finished and am happy to share my experience with the Network! I blogged throughout the MOOC if you’re interested in a more blow-by-blow analysis (

The course ran in supervised mode from July 9-Sept 4, and you can still take it afterward on demand, just don’t expect any supervision or credit options! The masterclass took me four weeks to complete and consisted of about 8 hours of video lectures and 185 pages of assigned readings in R. David Lankes’ The Atlas of New Librarianship (MIT Press, 2011), plus some optional reading. I didn’t keep track of how many hours I spent, but they advise it will take about 20 hours. It is not truly a MOOC since you have to buy the required textbook, otherwise it doesn’t cost anything. The course is presented from an American viewpoint, and as an American with three years of UK postgrad study/life experience, I must say there are potentially some areas for confusion (e.g. university ‘faculty’ in the US is what UK would term ‘staff’ and tenure is a foreign concept to UK). Otherwise you Brits should manage just fine 🙂 and I think the concepts are applicable no matter where you live and across the range of librarianship roles.

The Atlas of New Librarianship (from

The Atlas of New Librarianship (from

New Librarianship is summed up in the mission statement Lankes proposes:  The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities. The masterclass then proceeds to ‘unpack’ this statement through a discussion of theoretical underpinnings and practical applications with many real world examples drawn from Lankes’ wide experience in the field. Some areas which are addressed include:

  • Worldview, Conversation Theory and values of librarians
  • Information and traditional models of librarianship: we used to have information scarcity, but now have information abundance (and attention/time scarcity).
  • Function-based, collection-centric definition of librarianship vs. learning/knowledge-based definition
  • Terminology, ‘user’ vs. ‘member’
  • Librarians as active, ‘radical change agents’ in the community rather than passive people behind a desk.
  • Competencies of librarians (addressed both in terms of formal study and CPD), including a look at the Salzburg Curriculum.
  • Justifications for libraries
  • Criticisms of New Librarianship and the Atlas by various reviewers and bloggers

There was quite a bit of theoretical discussion but I definitely approached the masterclass in a practical fashion. As a newbie in the field I am, pardon the expression, a bit of a ‘blank slate’ since I have yet to complete any formal librarianship training and had only my own learning as a starting point. The discussions of worldview, Conversation Theory and constructivism were important and I agree that a solid worldview and values, whether stated or unstated, underpin our thinking and the way we approach the world and librarianship. However the constructivist idea that knowledge and truth are created and agreed on by individuals and the community is one I’m not entirely comfortable with. Lane Wilkinson discusses this much more intelligently in his blog.

Philosophical nitpicking aside, I found the course very eye-opening, interesting and sensible, and again with many practical take aways for my professional practice. For example, the focus on the community and a participatory framework. Librarians regard themselves as serving the community. Therefore it makes total sense that you would need to have conversations with that community to figure out what their needs, dreams and aspirations are. Lankes is right to point out in the Deficit Model module, though, that viewing a member/community as a set of problems that need solving is unhelpful. Instead of trying to ‘fix’ everything from the outside, librarians should get into the community and figure out together what their aspirations are, using those as a starting point for community action rather than constantly reminding people of their failings. What I take away is that by keeping the community and knowledge creation at the heart of new librarianship, we are focusing not on our services but on what the community needs and aspires to and shaping our services around them.

The library as platform was another concept that stood out to me as sensible, exciting to be part of and very apt for these times when we definitely need to be demonstrating our value. And, it has lots of practical applications. I love printed books, but the library can (should?) be much more than an artefact-centred collection. In the school I’m about to start work in, the library is already used as a platform for literacy and learning. I’m excited about how I can help and innovate in that, particularly in improving reading scores which are lower than desired at the moment. New Librarianship has given me lots of ideas to do this, which all make perfect sense when viewing the library as a platform.

Whilst the Atlas and New Librarianship might have some shortcomings, I’ve found it a great learning experience and would recommend the MOOC and the Atlas as a thought-provoking entrance into one view of a new librarianship.

Megan Dyson


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This entry was posted on September 5, 2013 by in MOOC review and tagged , , , , , .

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