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Two amazing professionals have been literally keeping me awake at night: Maureen Sullivan and Tom Stites.

Waking Up to Innovation

Waking Up to Innovation

For days now, I find myself conscious, alert, in the middle of the night, pondering a bit of conversation, or an echo of a phrase, or an idea I seem to have heard recently from one or both of them. I pick up my dream notebook and scribble something furiously before hitting the pillow again.

Both of these remarkable individuals are aiming for nothing short of reinventing their chosen professional fields of librarianship and journalism. And I can’t think of anything more timely, more inspiring, and more important than the work they’re doing.

Tom Stites has had a distinguished career in journalism, working at the Kansas City Star, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times. Now he is the founder and president of the Banyan Project, which aims to strengthen democracy by pioneering a sustainable and scalable business model for Web journalism that serves the broad public of everyday citizens and engages their civic energy. I got to meet Tom at the Convergence and Community invitational conference we hosted here at the University of Rhode Island’s Harrington School of Communication and Media on January 16 – 17, 2013, where a diverse group of librarians, information professionals, technology experts and journalists gathered to explore how to prepare future workers in journalism and librarianship for careers and community service.

Spending time with Maureen Sullivan, the President of the American Library Association and the brand-new Interim Dean of the GSLIS program at Simmons College, is profoundly mood-altering experience. She’s an inspiring leader! Maureen is an organizational development consultant whose practice focuses on the professional development of librarians. She understands the process people use to create strategic change in their institutions. She has managed the human resources departments for academic libraries at the University of Maryland and Yale University. I saw Maureen only days ago at the recent National Forum on Teens and Libraries in Seattle, Washington, in an event sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

Maureen Sullivan has been at the forefront of a movement to enable librarians to “face outward” towards the communities they serve. She’s been encouraging librarians to reinvent their social role by building a sustainable, scalable national plan for library-led community engagement. And in the world of journalism, Tom Stites has been doing the same thing, in a way, encouraging journalists to engage directly with people in their local communities using a new funding model for community journalism based on the co-op model, a business structure developed by credit unions when credit dried up during the bank failures of the Great Depression.

What Universities Can Do

To meet the information needs of people in our local communities, we need creative and inspiring new ideas like this. And I can’t help but think that the University of Rhode Island can be a small part of the solution, right here, using the power of partnerships to help people across the region get the knowledge, skills, job training and services that will enable them to thrive.

This is the reason why I’m delighted that Harrington School journalism and library faculty will be exploring opportunities for interdisciplinary connections that use the power of convergence and community to help students develop the new competencies they need for 21st century careers as information professionals. This fits with our mission to use the power of information and communication to make a difference in the world.

What’s Possible?

How can universities support the needs of people in our local communities? Imagine the possibilities:

  • How about designing and implementing project-based learning experiences that put our students –future journalists, public relations and information professionals, filmmakers, librarians — into partnerships and collaborative projects that serve the community, like the Rhode Island Library Report?
  • Or perhaps it will be a new core multidisciplinary course organized around a deep-dive exploration of concepts like SEARCH, which is itself a core practice of inquiry with deep resonance for journalists, educators and librarians.

We’ll see what the faculty cooks up this spring, with help from Visiting Research Fellow Bill Densmore, a consultant and researcher on the future and sustainability of journalism who is an expert on Internet information technologies and business models. Bill is a consulting fellow to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) at the Missouri School of Journalism and director/editor of the Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He helped create the New England News Forum and is a founding member and director of Journalism That Matters. Thanks to Bill, we’ve made new friends with a number of innovative thinkers and leaders who care deeply about both journalism and libraries, including Mike Fancher, Amy Garmer, Leigh Montgomery, Colin Rhinesmith, Kara Andrade, Peter Phipps, Brian Jones, Josh Macht, and Graf Moen. Thanks to all of you for keeping me up at night imagining the future!

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