New Library Management MOOC Series Fills Educational Gap

Written by Laurel Thomas, Michigan News

A new massive-open online course (MOOC) series offered by the University of Michigan will provide advanced training in management to public librarians, many of whom say they have to learn most of those skills on the job.

The Public Library Management series is among 11 Professional Certificate programs being announced today by online platform edX.org. Professional Certificate programs are a series of on-demand, self-paced, online courses designed to build or advance critical skills for a specific career.

“U-M is well on its way to creating a flexible and networked model for global and lifelong learning,” said James DeVaney, U-M associate vice provost for academic innovation. “This new certificate program provides a truly unique opportunity for learners around the world to engage with U-M experts and each other in order to develop the critical management skills needed to understand and address the needs of their local communities.”

The first in the sequence of eight courses in the Public Library Management series began in May 2017. The courses cover identifying community needs, diversity and inclusion, personnel management, budget and finance, infrastructure management, strategic planning, grant writing and crowdfunding, and marketing and public relations.

“Public libraries are among our most valuable public institutions. They play a vital role in our democracy, serving as community centers and resources of trusted information that is accessible to all,” said U-M School of Information Dean Thomas Finholt. “As one of the first ALA-accredited programs in the nation, the U-M School of Information has played a leading role in the education of professional librarians for over 90 years.

“Through this new Professional Certificate online program in public library management, we look forward to sharing our practical expertise on the many essential aspects of running a successful public library, whether in a major city, small town or rural community.”

The series of MOOCs is led by Kristin Fontichiaro, clinical associate professor of information, who said the Office of Academic Innovation and School of Information took this focus for its first Professional Certificate program because of a gap in current library education.

“We discovered two things: that many of our alumni called themselves ‘accidental managers’ and that 58 percent of Michigan libraries are small enough that they are not required by the state of Michigan to have any formal degree or university coursework in order to receive state aid,” Fontichiaro said. “That identified a unique niche that we believed we could fill with high-quality courses designed by a team of professors and highly respected practitioners.”

In addition to Fontichiaro, the courses are taught by Lionel Robert, U-M associate professor of information; Josie Parker, U-M School of Information alumna and director of the Ann Arbor District Library; and Larry Neal, U-M alumnus and director of the Clinton-Macomb Public Library and former president of the Public Library Association.

There are more than 400 libraries in Michigan and 119,487 in the United States, according to the American Library Association.

Fontichiaro said those who would benefit from the series include new managers and directors in public libraries, library board members, library students and current librarians who aspire to be managers.

“Current librarians can complete the coursework, develop job-embedded portfolio pieces to show current or future employers that they are ready for more responsibility, and determine if the duties of managers and directors are a good fit for their career interests and trajectory,” she said.

Fontichiaro said that librarians who go through graduate programs, like the one offered at the U-M School of Information, get a chance to build professional networks. Those in small or rural libraries may not have the opportunity to do so. The course structure allows shared ideas among colleagues that could help form those connections.

She said interest is not limited to the U.S. So far, about two-thirds of enrollment comes from international students representing 155 countries.

“We’ve heard from our global community of learners that they are seeking courses to help them advance their careers,” said edX CEO Anant Agarwal, “Professional Certificate programs on edX deliver career-relevant education in a flexible, affordable way, by focusing on the critical skills industry leaders and successful professionals are seeking today.”

With the latest additions, edX now has 23 Professional Certificate programs.

This new offering is one of the latest additions to U-M’s growing portfolio, which includes more than 100 MOOCs, three micromasters programs and the Teach-Out series, among other initiatives.

The Office of Academic Innovation Gives Back to the Ann Arbor Community

Trevor Parnell, Events and Marketing Specialist

The Office of Academic Innovation values innovating, creating new opportunities, and engaging with the local community. Therefore, when the opportunity arose for the Academic Innovation staff to volunteer with Food Gatherers of Ann Arbor, it seemed like a natural fit.

Giving back to the community is an area in which the Academic Innovation team feels strongly. All members of the team were surveyed earlier this year to gauge their interest in volunteering within the Ann Arbor community and the responses were overwhelmingly supportive. “I feel fortunate to be a part of an office that values service and an office that creates opportunities for us to serve together,” said Megan Taylor, Research Associate within the Digital Innovation Greenhouse.

Food Gatherers, Michigan’s first food rescue program, is a not-for-profit organization established in 1988 founded by Zingerman’s Delicatessen. 30 staff members, along with more than 7,000 volunteers help to rescue food that would otherwise go to waste from more than 300 local sources including food retailers, restaurants, and food wholesalers. Volunteer opportunities are very hands-on. Food Gatherers operates a working warehouse, moving an average of 9 tons of food each day as well as a busy kitchen cooking and serving hot meals seven days a week.

Groups of 17 and 8 volunteered on Thursday, July 20 and Tuesday, August 8 respectively. Each group was made up of members of all three Academic Innovation labs: the Digital Education and Innovation Lab (DEIL), the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG) and the Gameful Learning Lab (GLL).

During their time at the Food Gatherers warehouse, Academic Innovation staff members packaged dry goods to be shipped out to food pantries and sorted through donated produce. Staff members were also given a tour of the facility and briefed on the history of the organization prior to volunteering. Mike Daniel, Director of Policy and Operations for the Office of Academic Innovation added, “Having an opportunity to learn more about and contribute to the great work being done at Food Gatherers was a memorable experience that I won’t soon forget.”

Multiple men and women of the Academic Innovation team posing humorously while holding volunteer supplies. Mike Wojan, UX Designer within the Digital Innovation Greenhouse had some excellent things to say about his experience. “I was very impressed with the Food Gatherers operation and the great people who work there. It felt good to spend a couple hours giving back to the community in a meaningful, tangible way. Seeing how much food we were able to save and repackage for others in the community was really rewarding.”

The Office of Academic Innovation plans to lend a helping hand to other not-for-profit organizations in the future, especially as the holiday season approaches.

Amy Homkes- Hayes, Lead Innovation Advocate for the Digital Innovation Greenhouse summed up the volunteer experience by saying, “What struck me about volunteering at Food Gatherers was the wonderful intersection of giving and getting. We gave our time to a discrete project where real progress was made. We gained an opportunity to build team while enjoying each other’s company.”