Faculty Voices: Anthony Bernier, PhD, Associate Professor

Faculty Voices: Anthony Bernier, PhD, Associate Professor


What were you doing before you joined SJSU’s School of Information?

In the days before I joined the SJSU faculty, I was in the fourth year of my five-year plan as a library administrator for a public library. I served as director of Young Adult Services for the Oakland Public Library in California, the library’s first YA director – hiring, training, and cultivating the library’s first team of YA specialist librarians. During that time, we grew our staff from zero to six full-time YA librarians. I also helped the Oakland staff adjust to offering a higher profile for YA services throughout the library. I just wish I had had that fifth year! But when the university appointment called, I had to answer.

What experiences led you to your professional area(s) of interest?

My career turned on such things as civil disturbances and arson. Like most of us in this field I started out in libraries because they joined the best values upon which to build a satisfying work life: public service, education, community building, and professionalism. But it was not a straight path.

I landed a part-time position as a young adult librarian in Los Angeles – not long after LA’s 1992 civil disturbance/rebellion (some call it the “Rodney King riots”). By that time, I had started connecting the dots of what I know today as our anti-youth culture. I grew increasingly disenchanted (to say the least) with the disciplinary regime and punitive apparatus the city used to blame the violence on young people. But neither was I encouraged by the library’s disengagement with the city’s youth. Indeed, in many ways, the library frequently contributed to this production of youth-as-problem.

Gradually, as I progressed through my PhD studies in history, I began to see a way to bring a more studious approach to the development of youth library services – and so the Oakland position offered me the opportunity to apply my skills and passions to further a progressive library’s work with youth. Since my appointment at SJSU of course, I have been able to contribute even further by helping to cultivate the next generation of YA specialists.

Describe your favorite or least favorite LIS school professor. What did you learn (or miss out on learning) that shaped you into who you are today?

Everyone who has been through an LIS program has their own collection of these stories! I am no different.

I hated the way my management course instructor taught the class: top-down management as if we were entering the medieval church or military establishment: rigid bureaucracy, moribund ideas, concretized formality. I think I even recall, in a fit of rage, actually throwing the textbook across the room and into the garbage can… Oh, wait! That was what I did to my US government text book in high school… They had a lot in common, those two classes!

But the high point of my LIS program (at UC Berkeley) was Professor Patrick Wilson. Like me, Dr. Wilson did not have a PhD in LIS. His was in philosophy. He presented the library in direct contrast to the vision I had encountered in my management course. His assignments required creativity, exploration, and challenged me to imagine the library as a cultural invention – an institution only as nimble, energetic, and relevant as the people connected to it. I took three courses from him in a program that lasted only one calendar year.

What do you find most challenging about teaching or researching your area of information science?

Teaching challenges differ from research challenges, of course. But I would say that one of my most recent teaching challenges is helping improve student experiences when working in small groups. Dr. Geoffrey Liu, Dr. Cheryl Stenstrom (both at SJSU), and I are currently embarking on a project to examine steps faculty can take to better facilitate learning outcomes on small team projects.

As far as research challenges… well, where to being?! Chief among my challenges is that my specific area of LIS, young adult services, is at least a quarter century behind the rest of LIS research, in some instances far more than a quarter century. And it is bloody difficult to get students excited about a field so desperate for current, evidence-based, and practice-informed research.

On the other hand, among the circumstances rendering YA services in such desperate straits, is that Institutional Review Boards (IRBs, the committees responsible for determining if research subjects will be in any danger as a result of academic research) have succumbed to tremendous “mission creep.” Across the nation and beyond these bodies frequently make researcher access to young people, as study subjects, nearly impossible. Rather than safe-guarding study subjects from danger (a noble cause) they commonly act to protect universities from the risk of potential exposure to possible law suits. That is not their job. Yet the result is that these boards unnecessarily prevent researchers like me from studying young people. I have just completed a paper about such IRB obstructions and their implications for youth studies. That will be among my next publications.

Where do you see the future of LIS education and professional research going, and how do you hope to shape the evolution of LIS studies during your career?

Among the trends I see developing is that in order for information professionals to remain viable, they need to jettison their cultural and historical attachments to their buildings. This is not a new or original sentiment by any means. But it is the skills and value that define professionals, not buildings. Librarians need to envision themselves in the community not for old fashioned “outreach” purposes, but out in the community to stay – embedded in any number of different capacities in public service, private industry, in international contexts as consultants and leaders. We are making good moves in that direction here at the School of Information. And I am proud to be a part of making that happen.



Please view Dr. Bernier’s faculty bio here.