Thursday, September 28, 2006

The "New Normal"

The president of ALA is busy indeed these days. Over at her blog, she's asking questions about LIS education. She attended a talk by someone who "spoke about library education" and proposed a "new normal." It probably couldn't be any worse than the old normal, one might think, since library education is more or less of a joke among reasonably intelligent people. But what would be the "new normal"? Well, here goes.

"1) a well-developed, universally available associates degree for basic library skills training, customer service and crisis management"

I can't imagine what a joke that would be, or how it would condemn everyone who had it to the most miserable, low-paying library work available with no chance of ever advancing beyond the person who refills the pencil cup at the OPAC stations. Can't this stuff just be learned on the job by high school graduates? How hard is this anyway? Does it really deserve its own fluffy associate's degree?

"2) a bachelors degree for entry level librarians with a major in library science and a minor in a subject area"

So entry-level librarians can be as poorly educated as other people are? I'm sure you've noticed those job ads that ask for a "subject master's" as well as the MLS. There's a reason for that. LIS isn't really a subject. If it were, there would be no need for a "subject master's." So let's take this thing that isn't a subject, and turn it into a bachelor's degree and maybe we could raise an entire generation of very poorly educated librarians. And a minor? Why does anyone even bother with minors? You only learn enough to whet your appetite for learning more, but most people never bother to learn any more after college, so that's also a joke. Sometimes it's important that librarians have actually learned something in college. On the other hand, this does acknowledge the inconvenient truth that a lot of library work doesn't require any sort of master's degree, but just good on-the-job training.

"3) a masters degree for those who are interested in library management that provides students with the education they need to be acitve, vibrant managers who can lead our libraries into the future, The curriculum would pull from many disciplines including personnel, business, organizational behavior, and political science."

Ah, so the master's degree would be for those interested in library management. With a bachelor's degree for "entry level" librarians and the master's degree for "managers," we could fix the management hierarchy much more solidly than we can now. After all, there are plenty of libraries where the "managers" are considerably less less intelligent and educated than the people they're managing. However, if the people they were managing had only bachelor's degrees in library science, that could never be the case, since it would be hard to be less educated that that. And this might make the MLS even more vapid than it is now. Yes, I'm sure everyone who goes through this program will get "the education they need to be active, vibrant managers." I look upon active, vibrant managers as a distraction, because they're so active and they keep vibrating so much that they naturally draw the eye towards them and distract me from real work. And the disiplines the curriculum would "pull from" don't help matters any. Personnel? Is that a discipline? Business? Excuse me, there's a bucket outside I've got to be sick into. And political science? Well, that's certainly an interesting discipline, but I can't imagine any of the interesting parts going into an LIS curriculum. So the MLS will be just as intellectually slack and possibly even more irritating than it is now.

"4) a PhD for those interested in teaching and research in the library field"

I still can't imagine why anyone would want a PhD in this field, or would be interested in teaching in it for a living, but since this recommendation wouldn't change anything it at least has the benefit of not changing things for the worse.

Burger concludes: the "comments resulted in a spirited discussion. What are your thoughts? Is this something that ALA should be exploring along with ALISE? "

My thoughts? Probably a bad idea. Why not just eliminate the degree as a requirement for most library work and make the programs intellectually rigorous? Or scrap the MLS entirely? Or make it a prize in cereal boxes?


Dances With Books said...

I was seething when I saw that, so I am glad you wrote about it because I don't think I would have been as polite. What is it with this president anyways? Get retirees to work so we don't have to hire new people? "Leadership" programs that are pretty much an entryway to the ALA clique? And now this? Let's devalue the library science degree, but let's also, as you point out, tighten the hierarchies? I know she is the darling of a few A-list bibloggers, but I am starting to have my questions about this lady. What gives? Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

You know, there already is a bachelor's degree in Library Science. It's useless...but it does exist. The University of North Texas offers one.

Of course, you can make all the degrees you want, but you can't make the hiring libraries accept them.

Anonymous said...

Someone with a bachelor's degree in library science would be laughed out of my library.

sassymoll said...

It seems to me that quite a few states are phasing out education degrees, in favor of hiring people with subject degrees and then testing them to see if they can teach their subject. This seems to be a similar situation, only ALA is going backwards. What I mean is the education degree has long held the reputation of being the easiest degree to get; I think the library bachelor's degree will soon take over that dubious honor. No one I know can believe you now have to have a master's to be a librarian, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Addressing one issue that seems to always slip under the rug.

I believe that a minor in computer science should be a prerequisite for the MLS / MLIS or whatever. Computers are a necessity in any modern library, and a MLS / MLIS graduate shouldn't have to learn "Computer 101" from scratch. Familiarity with computers is becoming an essential part of a librarian's skills.

AL said...

Interesting comment about computer science. I'm not sure, though. I'm probabaly one of the most technologically sophisticated librarians at my library except for the systems folks, and I haven't had a computer course since the 10th grade when I was helpfully trained on how to program in BASIC and Fortran. I was told at the time how essential these skills would be for our fast-paced technological economy.

Heather said...

Wow! First, I have to comment on Leslie Burger's abysmal punctuation and sentence structure. If one holds a master's and a bachelor's degree, shouldn't one know that these terms contain apostrophes? And what about the "bachelors degree...with major on library science." How about a major in library science?

However, I don't think her ideas are all bad. While an associate's degree is a bad idea, why could we not replace library technician programs with bachelor's degrees, and pay those people more? Techs are often running special libraries very competently, and providing a lot of the services in public libraries. They are librarians in all but name and salary, and indeed, some of them are far more competent than certain of my MLIS-holding colleagues (see: lack of intellectual rigour in MLIS programs). However, techs run into problems at academic libraries. The university library where I currently work requires a bachelor's degree for cataloguers and "specialist advisors." They don't recognize library technician programs at all. This, despite the fact that library technician programs, from what I've seen, offer far better training in the nuts and bolts of cataloguing.

My undergraduate journalism program worked on a model where it was a four-year bachelor's degree, but you did two years of arts and science first. People who already had a degree only had to complete the final two years of the program. It was a good model, and I don't see why it wouldn't work for librarians.

I agree with AL that MLIS programs are pathetically lacking in intellectual rigour. Perhaps if there were decent undergraduate programs for librarians, the MLIS could be made more intellectually rigorous, because they would not need to devote time in the curriculum to teaching introductory concepts, and they would receive a higher calibre of applicant, since the ones who just want to be teen librarians or whatever would not go beyond the bachelor's level. They could also divide the MLIS into streams -- one for people interested in management, and one for those who want to pursue research (despite AL's cynicism about research in LIS, I really think there is a lot of fodder for research in some areas, but it's usually so shabbily done).

On a different note, AL, you often deride the lack of intellectual rigour in LIS education (and I agree with you), but you don't seem to have suggestions for how to improve things. I would love to see a post on this issue.

AL said...

Very thoughtful response to Burger, and an insightful criticism of my own cynical rants. Hmmm, I'm not sure I should try to come up with ideas to improve things. It would diminish my Menckenesque persona and I might become a reformer. But I'll try to think of something.

Anonymous said...

There is a Baby Bust generation demographic ahead wherein there will be less applicants for higher education. Couple this with the awful state of American public high schools and you have a perfect storm: you need two years of associate degree work to learn what any pre-1960s high school grad knew--basic skills for the workplace.

This is tantamount to two year associate degrees in "medical office" work so you can properly fill out insurance forms, schedule patients, etc.--a needless amount of education that locks the graduate into a dead end job but maintains the revenues of the "university."


Privateer6 said...

I have to agree, the hardest classes of my MLS program were the public history classes I needed for archives training. These are my recommendations based upon my experiences.

Foundations: not only have history and theory, but also more practical, i.e. areas /divisions of a library, etc. Maybe tour a palce and see what goes on behind the scenes. I was lucky, my wife is a librarian so I know what it entails, but not everyone in the program does.

Catloguing: ok my class was a joke with the instructor showing up 45 minutes late and leaving 2 -3 hours early (this was an all day summer class for 6 weeks). But actually going over the AACR2, explaining LCSH, cataloguing unique items (at least he got that last one right), etc would improve that course. From my wife and librarian friends, they freaked out about that course. In fact I learned more from the other half than I did in class.

Management: mine was interessting in that the prof. did more leadership than management, i.e group games, exercises, etc. HOWEVER, we did learn about the everyday issues: budget, personell, etc. Final project was creating and defending a group budget. One of the better library classes. I think the role playing for the budget was very good.

Reference: this was another joke. I was trained to use a library in elementary school, and again in high school. I survived college, and like some library students survived one master's. The only interesting part of the class was trying to find the latest websites for the sources as they seem to change every year or so. Otherwise boring and frustating. IMPROVEMENT: put people on a reference desk and also DISCUSS THE REFERENCE INTERVIEW PROCESS. grant you any good salesman without a hs diploma knows how to do a "reference interview" to find out what the patron wants, but still for some of the brain dead people I've encountered in lib school, the reference interview is pure genius!

DATABASE usage: this was the best lib science course as it explained to non techies how things work. great prof who gave details and analogies to explain the process.
actually helped me relate to other classes.

PATRON USAGE: basically how people think. DUH!!!!!!! TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY BS. and people actually do research on this topic.

Like I said the hardest classes were the archiving ones because they were in the school's history department. As my archives prof said, "the MLS is only a union card...."

Privateer6 said...

OK my spelling sucks, but cut me some slack,it's past midnite and I should be in bed instead of reading this wonderful blog.

miriam said...

Leslie B has been drinking a lot of Koolaid lately.