Campus News

UB’s Library and Information Studies cultivating new breed of graduates

Conceptual illustration of information management. Business men and women walk among large screens displaying information that form a labyrinth.

UB's Department of Library and Information Studies is training professionals to manage the flood of information in the world today so others can use it in business, law, communications or other professions.


Published January 10, 2018

headshot of Heidi Julien.
I’m not interested in talking only about libraries … Our focus is on how people, technology and information intersect.
Heidi Julien, professor and chair
Department of Library and Information Studies

Kristen Squire loves her job.

The 2012 graduate of UB’s Department of Library and Information Studies loves her daily environment and the emphasis on innovation and invention. A senior research manager for edgy Edelman Intelligence in Rochester, Squire says she gets to work with some of the smartest people she has ever met.

“The culture is very creative,” she says. “It’s really focused on problem-solving. It’s fun because we have a high standard for the research we produce. That might not sound like fun, but it is. We can try new things. And if it works, we do it.”

Squire, 31, who works in “taxonomy,” also gets a kick out of telling people her job is “not stuffing dead animals.” It gets a laugh and is an opening for her to tell them what she actually does.

“If I were at a party, I would say I am a researcher for a public relations firm,” she says. “I do media and social media monitoring. I’m on Facebook and Twitter all day. That’s not necessarily completely accurate, but it gets people to understand where I’m working.”

Squire is a perfect example of the new breed of graduates from the Department of Library and Information Studies in the Graduate School of Education. Led by an outspoken chair who disdains the traditional image of librarians — she scoffs at that image as “the L word” — the department trains professionals to manage that pervasive flood of information so others can use it in business, law, communications or other professions.

“I’m not interested in talking only about libraries,” says Heidi Julien, department chair since 2013. “If libraries want to talk about that, they can do it. In fact, we’re seeking to drop the ‘L word’ from our department name.”

Detail of information management conceptual illustration.

The shift in information science

Instead, Julien prefers promoting what she calls “the shift” in information science.

 “What is it our graduates do?” she asks. “Our focus is on how people, technology and information intersect. We’re interested in how information is conceptualized: how it’s organized, how it’s managed, how it’s searched, how it’s structured to make it searchable.”

How Squire came to embrace the new, improved information studies makes for even more of a “funny story,” she says.  

She succeeded in several academic disciplines before information studies, but hated just about all of them. She studied adolescent education, and hated that. She earned a master’s degree in English and wanted to be a PhD, but hated that. She took two years off to work as a paralegal, and hated that, too.

“I wanted something different,” Squire says, “so I applied for the library degree. It was literally so I could get a job. But from day one I realized it was exactly what I wanted to do. I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s exactly what happened.”

Squire’s new information studies career with Edelman — a company of self-described “tech geeks, political junkies, branding experts and media mavens” — merges perfectly with Julien’s vision of a brave new world where the school’s graduates “create information architecture to make information accessible.”

In her job at Edelman, Squire helps companies understand what people think of them, creating media-monitoring dashboards and supporting teams that identify emerging social issues important to sales.

“The factor we always come up against is how professional people talk about things isn’t how real people talk about things,” she says. “How a news article will talk about an issue is not how people on Twitter or Facebook talk about an issue. We don’t all talk like we’re writing for The New York Times. That’s not how reality is.

“What we’re doing is identifying information for the things our clients want to see,” she explains. “Basically, it’s like a Google search, but Google shows you what you want to see based on your preferences, or the preferences of others who have searched for the same thing.”

Squire finds her work environment “very youthful, very fast.” And it’s way different from the traditional idea of librarians.

“They think quiet and boring, and they think they don’t like to socialize,” says Squire. “I don’t like to socialize, but I’m definitely not quiet.”

Detail of information management conceptual illustration.

Shattering the traditional image of the librarian

Julien’s frankness also shatters the image of the unassuming librarian. She recommends the “CRAP Test” — Current, Reliable, Authoritative and Purpose —to help people develop digital-literacy skills to recognize biased or false information.

“We’re preparing information professionals to work in profit and non-profit,” says Julien. “Corporate and public-supported. They’re doing all kinds of things.

“It’s the direction the field has gone in. As a matter of fact, the information sciences train left the station 15 years ago,” she notes. “It doesn’t mean people can’t go out and do the work of traditional librarians, if that’s what they want to do. But that’s the starting point.”

Besides its MS in information and library science, UB last fall started an undergraduate minor in information studies. The program embraces students majoring in psychology, arts, business, engineering and more.

“When we launched this minor, one of the most ‘ah-ha’ moments for me was how this minor was really about the idea of creating digitally literate citizens,” says Amber Winters, assistant dean for communication and marketing in the Graduate School of Education. “These students are going to be individuals who will know how to interpret information. These skills are not specific to one industry or profession.”

Julien also is particularly proud about UB’s acceptance in the iSchools organization, a prestigious, worldwide consortium of institutions dedicated to leading and promoting the information field.

“Membership connects us,” says Julien. “It brings us into conversations with disciplinary colleagues.”

Her department’s graduates also are connected in other ways that are just as important. Consider Carolyn Klotzbach, MLS ’13, a research analyst in UB’s Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement.

“It’s funny,” Klotzbach says, “because I feel very, very few people I’ve talked to tell me, ‘You know, from the time I was really young, I always wanted to be an information professional.’”

Klotzbach originally wanted a job as a museum curator, but an administrator at Reed Library at Fredonia State College, where Klotzbach earned her undergraduate degree, suggested she pursue an MLS. She came to UB at a time when the profession was making the shift from libraries as places to just house books to keepers of this knowledge.

“Instead, we are collaborators, guides for information spaces, digital spaces,” Klotzbach says. “It’s more of how we can be a change within the community, and less about ‘go and look up this reference article.’”

Detail of information management conceptual illustration.

Democracy needs librarians

She says studying in UB’s Department of Library and Information Studies at the time was “exciting” because critics were arguing that libraries were becoming obsolete.

“And this was our chance to change that and not be obsolete,” she says. “It was our case for ‘democracy still needs librarians.’ We need information professionals because you are noticing these trends with social media and the news, and how you’re trying to fact-check everything. We know how to organize the information, how to search, and we can help tell if it’s relevant and accurate information.”

Klotzbach’s job at UB involves working with gift officers to identify prospects.

“We’re trying to match people to the appropriate gift,” she explains. “So, when we see alumni come through from, say, the College of Arts and Sciences, we’re trying to say, this is where they have been giving. This is where their interests lie.

“We look at their history or interviews or jobs they have had, or the fact their family background in this would really resonate with them,” she says. “So that’s how we are trying to match that.”

Like Squire, Klotzbach has established herself in a profession that seems a lot more fun than the “quiet and boring” librarian stereotype.

“I think not only are we helping a mission, but we see a direct impact of what we do every day, which is fantastic,” Klotzbach says. “You can’t ask for more than that from a job.”