Monday, March 31, 2008

Librarians and "Librarians"

Take a week or so off and the bibliotek blogosphere just keeps on rolling. On the AL, commenters were wondering why so many library bloggers don't actually work in libraries. On Twitter, Steven Cohen irritated a gamey librarian by implying he played videogames to pick up teenage girls, or something like that. It was a fun week. Glad I missed it. The key question last week for a lot of librarians was, who exactly has the right to the title librarian? The Liminal Librarian asks the question, and got as many responses and arguments in the comments section as a hot AL post does, so we know she's on to something. (I hope she's not the Annoyed Librarian, though, because that would be weird.)

Apparently there are insufferable folks out there in libraryland who disdain or mistreat those people in libraries who do the work of librarians but don't have an MLS. (On the question of what to call those people--para, sub, etc.--I suggest "librarians" for concision.) One of my favorite comments began, "'In the olden days, whenever I expressed an opinion in front of a 'librarian,' I would be asked, 'Where did you get your MLS?' This was code for, 'Do you have permission to speak?'" (The full comment is great; go read it.) I have to say this is about the rudest and stupidest response that any librarian could give to someone expressing an opinion.

So there are people out there who think they are somehow special merely because they have an MLS? I just find this sad. You all know how I dislike being uncharitable toward my fellow librarians and the profession of librarianship in general, but believing that the MLS is anything special or difficult just shows how thick you probably are, and publicly declaring your belief how desperate and insecure you are.

I say this having a genuine ALA-accredited MLS, which I earned by performing large amounts of busywork totally devoid of intellectual content at a highly ranked library school. And please don't comment that library school is what you make of it, and if I'd wanted to I could have turned it into a difficult intellectual endeavor and powerful learning experience. No, I couldn't. I tried. It was still easy. I found it easy. All my friends found it easy. Just about every librarian I've ever talked to found it easy. Rather than using IQ as a measure of intelligence, librarians have an even better measure--did you think library school was difficult? If so, I'll write slowly using short words so you can understand me. And if you're offended, that's just tough. I don't write this blog for dullards, because they already have plenty of library blogs to choose among.

Some of these insecure librarians seem to know instinctively that library school is an intellectual joke, and yet still think the MLS should be required to call someone a librarian because they went to the trouble of getting the degree, so why not everyone else. As the Liminal Librarian characterizes this argument: "I spent a heck of a lot of time and money earning this degree, so everyone else should too, dammit." She responds to this, but I'd like to as well. My response to this argument is, this isn't even an argument and you're a pathetic git for even bringing it up.

I know librarians working in libraries with no MLS. They have PhDs and subject and language experience appropriate for their very professional jobs. To be honest, some of them don't particularly like being called librarians, but that's because they don't think much of the library degree or most of the profession. It doesn't bother me because I'm the same way. They know, as all of us brighter librarians know, that the MLS is a hoop set up for some people to jump through. It's job protectionism, pure and simple, and it should be clear that this protectionism is starting to break down, especially at some public libraries. But to think that someone with a PhD and no MLS who is doing collection development in, for example, area studies, is somehow too lowly to be called a librarian is ridiculous.

Let's look at the other group, the "librarians." I know people working in libraries who are highly educated, often with several degrees. They work in a library, and I wouldn't necessarily call them librarians. Some of them are doing surprisingly low-level work, and I can't quite figure that out. Some of them trail academic spouses, some of them have spouses who make enough money it doesn't matter what they do. Some of them, however, do fairly high level cataloging or reference work, for example, and the only difference between them and some of their colleagues is the MLS. Thus, it's only the artificial hierarchy that makes them less than "professional," and I'd be willing to bet that what they do is much more "professional" than what a lot of people calling themselves librarians do. Based just on what some bloggers seem to think is work worthy of a professional librarian, I can only say, don't be so impressed with yourself, because the rest of us aren't.

These days I notice a lot of ads for professional librarians that ask for an "MLS or equivalent degree or experience" or words to that effect. I hate to break it to you sad, insecure librarians who think holding an MLS makes you special somehow, but advanced degrees, appropriate subject knowledge, relevant languages, superior technical skills, and a few years library experience qualify people for some of these "professional" library jobs, and you'll have a difficult time arguing that you are somehow more prepared or intellectually qualified just because you managed to slog through a year or two of library school.

A lot of this argument is really about professionalism and deprofessionalization and lots of other Latinate words. The insecure librarians so desperate to keep their professionalism by tying it to the MLS don't have very pretty futures to behold, it seems to me. It should be obvious to everyone that nobody outside of libraries cares who is a librarian or a "librarian." Library school has always been something of an intellectual joke, and the twopointopians and the gamey librarians are doing their best to make the whole field an intellectual joke, that is, if it isn't already.

Tie your professionalism to what you can do related to libraries that others can't do very well. Since just about anyone can get an MLS if they apply to the right school and spend a little money, then that can't be the measure of professionalism. The MLS is a joke, and if that's your criterion for being a professional librarian, then being a professional librarian is a joke as well. If that makes you feel better about yourself because otherwise it would be difficult to consider playing videogames or pointing the way to the bathroom professional behavior, then so be it, but don't drag the rest of us down with you.


I'm Kat! said...


Your blog has done wonders for me professionally over this last year, and I thank you!

Idealists often fail to see eye to eye with Realists. Tragically, Idealism with no connection to Realism often means a slow dullard death for both sides as they plod along inside separate glass boxes, one "Idealism" and the other "Reality."

Idealists with no plan of how to get from Reality to their ideal will find no path to obtain their dreams of "what can be." Realists without a path to Idealism will find they live a life void of dreams, stuck in "what is."

Hence, both become trapped!

I'm Free!!! :D

Anonymous said...

"I don't write this blog for dullards, because they already have plenty of library blogs to choose among." So true. Thanks for hitting the dullards topic once again. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear by sending the sow to library school. If I see one more misspelled, ungrammatical listserv message calling for a campaign to increase "respect" for librarians...As I've told a few people who've inquired about library school, it is the equivalent of the urine sample required in the Monty Python insurance sketch--the insurance company doesn't actually need it, but the company just wants to know that "you're serious about wanting an insurance policy."
Keep up the good work, AL!

Brett said...

I'd second Kat there, because that's exactly what I've been doing with my MILS. I'm viewing at as an education in organization, presentation and research. That's it... and a side benefit is that it qualifies me for work in academic libraries.

The thing that drives me crazy is that among my fellow students we have a significant percentage on people who don't want to manage libraries in any way. I think they've bought into the 'MLIS is somthing special that will guarantee me a career' baloney.

J said...

I pretty much thought that getting my MLIS was a waste of time and money, but the public library I was working in required it, so I did it. I couldn't understand why any public librarian had to get a Master's degree, when a bachelor's would have sufficed. I mean, I can maybe see a Master's being required for an academic librarian (but not in Library Science, in a specialty area) or maybe extra course work for people who want to go into the administrative side. Honestly, graduate school to be a librarian is just absolutely ridiculous.

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Great post AL. I would like to add that "degree or equivalent" is par for the course in most other professions as well.

When I was pursuing my undergrad, we had a course that required the use of Excel. The course didn't teach us how to use Excel, but we were required to hand in our assignments as Excel spreadsheets (this was in the olden days before e-mail). We were expected to learn Excel on our own.

Now that I'm in library schol, I'm appalled that my department requires we take a course in MS Office. $1500 for something I could teach myself?!?!? Talk about an insult to my intelligence!

Anonymous said...

Anon@10:09 here again! I can't stop thinking about this:

Tie your professionalism to what you can do related to libraries that others can't do very well.

Isn't this true of every profession? Isn't that the only way to truly succeed? Is there something about librarians and/or those pursuing the MLS who don't believe that? Do library schools teach something couter to this? I'm not sure if mine does. If they do, I blocked it from my memory because it's just so patently false.

davimsg said...

I really think it's time to begin to emphasize a bachelor's degree in library science as a primary professional degree.

My guess is people who got an undergraduate degree in library science would actually end up with more knowledge and more experience than a lot of those with the MLIS.

Many of my classmates had no library work experience (neither did some of my professors, but that's a different story.) They weren't required to take any kind of "make up" classes to get into the MLIS program. 30 some credits vaguely related to libraries doesn't really give you much knowledge.

The other benefit from the BLIS is that librarians' knowledge base would become much more visible if it were tied to a regular college "major."

Keep the MLIS for academic librarians and for actual research in the field. Then we could stop acting like practicing librarians are really doing any research. As far as I'm concerned the requirement of an MLS for the status of "librarian" has done a lot to de-professionalize the field.

In the interest of full disclosure: I have 18 yrs of experience as a library assistant and completed an online MLIS a year ago. I also have a subject masters. But I don't want to leave my locality so I'm staying in the paraprofessional position. So, am I a librarian?

Taupey, the Bush Kangaroo said...

The "pathetic git" quip made my morning.

How about "Infosupials?"

Anonymous said...

I'm in my last semester of an MLIS program, and there are only two reasons why I'm pursuing it at all. First, I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in a job title, but I am interested in earning a halfway decent salary. Unfortunately, if you work in a library and want a shot at a halfway decent salary, an MLIS is required. Second, I have a big picture window behind my desk which gives me a nice view of the golf course on my campus. I looked out there Friday morning and saw a guy cutting a fareway with a tractor, and I thought to myself, "Hmmmm . . . that could very easily have been me out there." That's when I remembered why I'm paying for an MLIS: I don't want to have to mow grass in the hot summer sun. If it takes $10K and slogging my way through library school to avoid that, then so be it.

Sarah said...

I've always thought of an MLIS as I've thought of a lot of other professional programs. Its main benefit is that it is an indication that one has received accredited training in a particular field.

Often when people take these sorts of courses or follow these programs, they already know a lot about the subject area. The program itself may seem to just teach procedure or jargon (as I often feel with my MLIS program), but it indicates to potential employers that one has training in these procedures or jargon - in the same way a driving course indicates that one has been taught the theory of driving, or that someone who has followed a community college program has learned the particulars of their field of work.

I suppose what frustrates me about the derision towards an MLIS is that it seems to be directed towards the MLIS degree in particular and not other professional programs.

Strictly speaking, one doesn't need an MBA to be skilled in the business/ corporate world but when's the last time anyone heard the disbelieving "You need an MBA to run a business!?!" or "You need a law degree to be an attorney!??!"

I just wonder what it is about an MLIS or the people who pursue one that encourages this derision when B.Eds, MBAs, LLBs, and MDs seem to avoid it - at least so far as I know.

Anonymous said...

when's the last time anyone heard the disbelieving "You need an MBA to run a business!?!" or "You need a law degree to be an attorney!??!"

"You need a master's degree to be a librarian?" The emphasis is on the masters degree. I suspect less people would express shock if only a bachelor's degree were required. I agree with davimsg, perhaps it's time to bring back the BLIS.

stacyr said...

to respond to sarah - the difference between us and MDs is that the docs have to have a license. not just a degree but a real license that requires a test and annual renewal. lots of professions require academic training, testing and continuing education and that's where the rub really is for me with regards to our (real or perceived) professionalism. i work in health care and everything is all about your certifications - the more initials in your email sig the better. but we don't do anything except go to school and walk out with a degree and that's that.
i can say i'm an ahip librarian (which i'm not) but who cares? it's just four letters that you pay mla for - there's no regulatory body for me to answer to.
architects, lawyers, nurses, docs, therapists, dentists, opticans - they all have licensing issues to face AFTER they have their degree. in my mind that is part of what makes them "a profession"
just my two cents...

Anonymous said...

My response to this argument is, this isn't even an argument and you're a pathetic git for even bringing it up.

Amen. Before I got my MLS, this was the only reason given. I thought it was idiotic. I got the MLS anyway because the economy was slow, and because I figured that once I got it, I'd have a little more authority to call "bullshit degree." (Of course, the idiot factor of going into deep debt to prove that it's unnecessary goes without saying, but well, it got me out of town and got me a job, so I'll just shrug at that--and advise as many other people as I can that it's silly.)

It does bug me that a lot of the time, they require the MLS, treat it as necessary at the time of hire, then proceed to dumb down the actual library work. The few things I did learn to do in library school--analysis of circ stats and so on--I have to pull teeth to be able to do on the job, and the things I do on a daily basis can be picked up fairly easily.


I see no reason why they don't just institute a certification test. Pass it, congrats, you're qualified to apply for librarian positions.

Of course, the MLS is job protectionism from the librarians' point of view. It's also a handy sorting mechanism from the hiring point of view. Too few jobs, too many people wanting them, so hey, we'll degree it to death. In some cases, we'll require two masters, or if you want a law librarian job, a JD and an MLS. Why not? Plenty of both around, and we can then automatically toss a lot of resumes into the circular file without close examination. Saves time.

Brent said...

So a patron should trust a reference librarian that forks down a ton of money for an MLS for sound information?

a nonny-like moose said...

"I really think it's time to begin to emphasize a bachelor's degree in library science as a primary professional degree."

Agreed. In one of the Marathon posts, I just added something echoing this in ways...and I think that while the system hasn't changed yet at the university level, public perception may be getting there in saying that the MLS is mere certification in something that an undergraduate degree could encapsulate with room for advanced training afterward, thus, the push for wage cuts.

My question is, who's the bad guy in this? ALA? Universities? Ourselves?

I'm Kat! said...

Many of the courses In my MLS seem like they would be more at home in a two year Community college and not a four year University and certainly not at Masters level certification.

Worse, there are many courses that are also unnecessary or way too far behind. Like anon 10:09 said, it is only in library school that they teach you how to do what other Serious fields expect you to learn on your own and be proficient on BEFORE you get to their programs.

I personally learned MS Office in high school - they had a course on it and I took it!

I understand that many MLS studnets are 30-60 year olds who have been foriegn to the computer movement of the past ten years and may not have exposure to the internet capabilities, but a masters program is Not the place for a Internet 101 course - I don't care if you relable it Internet 501, it's still the same course just under a different name!!

At the 400/500 level course you should be seeing Serious research projects, Serious term reports requiring Critical Analysis of Library funcitons, and original research that could be published in a professional journal.

Instead, you get 101 level course rebranded as 500 level courses, a light research paper that cannot go anywhere and do anything about a topic that is already obvious or beneath Masters level research [Write a 4-5 page paper about the impact email has had on the communication of information in our society...], Group projects on more of the same [Review these communication ideas[email, chat, text, IM, ..., in a 10 page paper], and research that could be done by Junior high school students [DDR, Guitar hero, etc].

This is NOT to say that there ARE some GOOD serious courses in some of our MLS programs. However, in programs that last roughly 12 classes, and the first is an introduction to the program, ANY Rebranded 101 coures in the remaining 11 courses means more time lost that could have been spent towards better use of one's time.

Anyhow. I will be graduated soon with a Masters and I will be fine!! ;) But I do not expect any Respect from THIS masters!!

Anonymous said...

If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, is professionalism the last refuge of pettifoggers?

ex-lib said...

My two cents worth on this. When I was in library school people hated
the various reference oriented classes. The school happened to be strong in this area, with at least one teacher with a national reputation. I got off on this and did fairly well - though most of my recognized work has been since I left the field. The historical and legal research I've done has gotten me some note or praise, including a book [biographical] I wrote being a finalist in a major competition [the winning book was published by Oxford, so this was nothing Mickey Mouse].

To call some people doing
"reference" a "Librarian" is a joke. I can recall one time returning to a regional library HQ. where I worked after a long day visiting branches in one county. A woman who I would prefer to call a "library technician" had been at a question for hours. I found the answer in a few minutes, to the astonishment of everyone there.

Several years later, after I was out of the field, I was in another public library. Two students had been looking for material on the Great Depression for a report they needed to make for class. All the books directly related were checked out. The students were dispondent. The woman at the reference desk didn't know what to do. I interrupted and suggested they check biographical works on Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. Duh. Well, they did and
found a good bit. The woman behind the desk wondered how I knew to think of this. I thought it highly ironic since I had offered to work as a volunteer there some years earlier, to get my foot back in the door to find other library work elsewhere, but had been refused. They already had an MLS librarian from the state univ., I was told, and didn't need anyone. WOW. It was one of several reasons I became less and less excited about returning to the field.

Basically, you get what you pay for, and if you want a warm body you can call a librarian, that's what you'll get. I made a reputation in another field in the meantime. Public libraries, little by little, are killing themselves.
If they want a dumbed-down staff they can get for peanuts, it's their funeral, eventually. You can have all the dance parties and other gimmicks, but that won't change things. They can put all the political hacks they want on boards as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm highly suspicious and tend to back away slowly from anyone who says they liked Library School.

I don't have a problem with non-MLIS people who do the same or similar job as me being refered to as librarians. I work with several people who don't have an MLIS and they can kick my ass at the reference desk. The only problem I would have is if someone without an MLIS or (similar level of education) was getting paid more than me.
The non-MLIS staff at my university do reference work, and some do collections, but generally I have a lot more responsibility than they do. Among other things, I have to teach, do reference, do collections, manage staff and I am required to research and publish.

ex-lib said...

" can say i'm an ahip librarian (which i'm not) but who cares? it's just four letters that you pay mla for - there's no regulatory body for me to answer to.
architects, lawyers, nurses, docs, therapists, dentists, opticans - they all have licensing issues to face AFTER they have their degree. in my mind that is part of what makes them "a profession"

My thoughts exactly. Though I wonder if this will ever happen, in my lifetime at least. I think a lot of high level dead wood and dry rot would be pushed out of the field. Too many vested interests in not doing this. I have ceased to think of librarianship as a true profession. In the legal field you'd have someone brought up on charges before a disciplinary board, and possibly be suspended for a given period, or have their certification/ license yanked. It would be for the equivalent of certain things that we discuss here all the time.

The paralegal field is heading in this direction. Yes, you run into ads on TV and in junk mail/email about becoming a paralegal, but the move is towards post-grad certification, and even then with graduates of ABA accredited programs. Has anyone EVER considered forming something like the NATIONAL ASSoCIATION OF LIBRARIANS, or would that be considered heresy? ALA seems mired in it's own swamp of twaddle.

I'm Kat! said...

The only problem I would have is if someone without an MLIS or (similar level of education) was getting paid more than me.

Epiphany of life: How much I get paid versus some one else has very little relation to my degree. ;)

Drillers, for example, get paid 75-95k after one year of on the job training. That's with barely a GED or HS diploma. Yes, it's hard work and in lots of places, but its more then I get paid for working in the same area...

That person with an AA getting paid more then you with your MLS is a simple applicaiton of the phrase "Life Ain't Fair - get over it" and "If you want that pay, then go do THAT job!!"

You want to be appreciated more and your current position doesn't give it to you? Either learn to be Happy Underappreciated and fill your job description or Stop Demanding it and go get a position that Comes With Pre-established Appreciation.

Telling people about your trials and tribulations in your own position and how they should appreciate you more when they don't [Raising Awareness, they call it] is a sure way to become a laughing joke in the back stalls and boardrooms.

Anonymous said...

If you guys don't mind, I'd like to keep it a secret for as long as possible that library school is a big joke -- we're only shooting ourselves in the foot by going around announcing our graduate-level educations are completely meaningless, aren't we? Be a lot easier to keep cutting our salaries (or just firing us and hiring lower-paid associates instead) if we tell everybody our degrees aren't worth the paper they're printed on. I didn't learn much in graduate school, but I sure spent a lot of money and I'd like to make some of that back, so psst, shuddup!

Anonymous said...

Just a question regarding this bit from your first paragraph: " many responses and arguments in the comments section as a hot AL post does..."

Does the adjective "hot" refer to the "AL" or to the "post"?


Anonymous said...

This whole "librarian" problem could have been avoided if the profession hadn't been named after the building in which most of the work is done. Just ask the "hospitalarians" and "courthouseians." No confusing them with their workplace.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Many, many thanks AL!

Actually, the joke isn't the library qualification per se. The joke is that it is sufficient unto itself to secure the professionalism of the librarian for the next forty years, subject to the annual back-hander (oops) professional subscription to the appropriate Professional Association.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Anonymous 4:52pm,

We avoided this problem by not calling our librarians Decayingshedarians.

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have to say this post made me a little depressed. I will have my graduation ceremony in two months, and even though I don't think getting a MLIS was that much hard, I would like to celebrate it.

But like many others, I went to library school because my undergrad degree and many years of library experience was not enough to qualify me as a "librarian".

davimsg said...

"A woman who I would prefer to call a "library technician" had been at a question for hours. I found the answer in a few minutes, to the astonishment of everyone there."

Ditto. With the roles reversed.

emu said...

"A woman who I would prefer to call a "library technician" had been at a question for hours. I found the answer in a few minutes, to the astonishment of everyone there.

"Ditto. With the roles reversed."

Snap. To nobody's astonishment.

Earl said...

I like being a "Library Keeper", and so I shall remain...

Anonymous said...

I too will be graduating with my library degree in several months. I believe I worked hard for it, but it doesn't make me better, nor feel more entitled.

But I feel something that keeps being taken away by people here, and that is the concept of "earning" your degree.

I could have given up over the course of the last two years, but I want to make a difference in a second career and if my MLIS will help me get there - then so be it!!

I have an engineering degree, but I am not belittling it, nor my undergraduate business degree. I think the standards are fair, and that is all I will have to say - a proud MLIS candidate!

Rachel said...

I could never even aspire to be the AL, although that would be some awesome weirdness. said...

AL, you said, "Library school has always been something of an intellectual joke...." That may be but I found one student who seems to have an open mind and a willingness to learn. See:

Library Bill of Rights, by Linda Summers, March 29, 2008.

Unexpected Assistance with Comps, by Linda Summers, March 30, 2008. This later one has a novel, possibly interesting topic to be explored in library schools.

Information Student said...

Well, this was depressing to read. I'm slogging through my "MLIS" (my institution calls it a "Master of Information Studies") after getting my BA and MA (History).

I've sometimes wondered if the profession couldn't get licensed in the same way that doctors and lawyers are. You could build in other professional requirements too if you like...

Without the consolation that I will get to enter a profession at the end and pull down a middle class salary ($50 k and up/year), it is difficult to maintain motivation.

I'm Kat! said...

I've sometimes wondered if the profession couldn't get licensed in the same way that doctors and lawyers are. You could build in other professional requirements too if you like...

But just what do librarians do that takes so much skill and training to become "Professional?"

Surgeons, for example, cut people open and slog through people's internals and put them back together - that takes years of practice and strict training to accomplish!

Dentists have to have great skill and knowledge to remove your decayed tooth along with the root when they do a root canal. That is not easy to do.

Electricians, Plumbers, and Contractors build things of great physical monetary value that could be potentially dangerous and lethal if they are built wrong.

But when it comes to books, there are millions of people who have those and thousands of people who even make them. And billions of people keep books. Information is worth, after all, Two cents a thought if you consult for it without regards to the source and free for the taking otherwise.

Ever since the Internet Explosion, people have suddenly started picking up the abilities to sift through information and find what they need quickly; that WAS our job.

Just what skill do we HAVE anymore that an ordinary Joe can't pick up after a week of training? We contracted out pretty much all the heavy lifting - the Cataloging, well, someone else can do that, and the databases, someone else can do that too, and the scanning, well, if we put it all on the web they will stop coming to the doors!

What dangers do we pose to our patrons when we work to meet their needs? If we fail, they will live. If we fail, they have lost nothing but a couple moments of time. And we have no liability whatsoever in the equation - we are upfront at the beginning that we can only show them where an answer might be, we can't tell them what to do or how to interpret the information in the books when they do find it. If we did, we would be practicing Medicine, or Law, or Tax Consultation, if their questions pretained to those subjects. And we aren't licensed to give that advice!!!

Hence why Madison, Wisconson has happened...

And it has happened to the local school district here too.

skeptical thomas said...

Back from hibernation, I can not help but rant again:

"exactly what I've been doing with my MILS. I'm viewing at as an education in organization, presentation and research."

Organization? Perhaps. Presentation? Perhaps. Research? Maybe not.

"Keep the MLIS for academic librarians and for actual research in the field."

See the above. On second thought, how about a PhD for academic librarians, and by that I mean a PhD in something other than library "science". And I base this on hard science, there is lot of science behind this, and the science supports this, give or take several quotation marks.

Crumbly said...

How weird am I? I like the title Librarian and it is an honourable one with a pedigree older than that of Doctor.

The title Librarian should mean that the holder maintains and holds to standards in their work, their relations with their readers/enquirers/customers/clientsand with their suppliers. They should be somebody willing to cooperate with any other library.

Finally, if they are a true Librarian then they will own a duty to more than the organisation that pays them.

The key difference between the above and a library worker is that in the main the library worker only experience is of the institution that employs them and their boundaries are those of the institution and its own parochial ethos.

Anonymous said...

Finally, if they are a true Librarian then they will own a duty to more than the organisation that pays them.

I think you're confusing librarians with priests. While there is no shame in being a librarian, let's not pretend there's anything ennobling about it.

Anonymous said...

Of all the professions that have been mentioned as a basis for comparison, the one I haven't seen is teacher. It seems to me that the librarians have far more in common with teachers than with either the medical and legal professions or the construction and engineering fields. At least no one dies if you screw up.

Teacher education and certification in the more demanding states could serve as a model for library education on perhaps a slightly smaller scale. Perhaps the prospective librarian could obtain a degree in a subject area with a minor in librarianship, receive a provisional certificate, work with an experienced mentor-librarian in the candidate's preferred track for a year, and finally receive the laurel wreath of a full-fledged librarian. There could be several layers of testing to progress through the various levels of librarianship, alternate routes to certification, and a required Masters degree at the end of the process, all of which could generate tons of revenue for the state. A win-win situation, no?

And for the happy librarian: all the respect that we give our teachers.


Annoyed Library Worker said...

As of late I've taken to calling myself a "Faux Librarian". Sounds fancier than Library ASSistant.

However, I'm not a Librarian and do not wish to be referred to as one. Still, I do get annoyed when Librarians feel that simply having an MLS trumps my years of experience as a supervisor, or my knowledge of the Library system and it's services. The notion that only those with “the” degree can participate in the discussion to make Libraries better is frankly, asshattery.

As the child of a "real" MLS librarian (back in the day when they were also expected to be subject specialists) I grew up having great respect for Librarians. I would take any opportunity to educate the public that the Librarians were highly trained specialists in their field.

Then I got a job at a Library.

I once was ordered to write up a page for showing a patron how to use our online card catalog. Because that's the "Librarians job". I think the official term they made me use was "not following the chain of command"

Once a patron was asking a Librarian for a copy of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” She checked the record and said it was out. I happened to know from years of shelving and retrieving materials, that the title had cataloged copies in several different subject areas including American History, Literature, Biography, as well as being shelved in our Popular Fiction section, and she was able to leave with a copy of the book.

Rather than a "thank you" I was also written up for breaking the chain of command, and working out of title.

I don’t really care if I’m undervalued, but I do care if the patron is getting shortchanged in the process.

Drillers, for example, get paid 75-95k after one year of on the job training. That's with barely a GED or HS diploma

I know this is off topic, but I'm not sure what kind of "driller" you're talking about and where. Being married to someone who works in the trades, I know that there is a lot more to it than a year of on the job training. An apprenticeship can take up to 5 years and often requires college level coursework to receive certification. It’s extremely technical and precise work that if done incorrectly can bankrupt companies, damage property, or even kill people.

Kristen said...

"Strictly speaking, one doesn't need an MBA to be skilled in the business/ corporate world but when's the last time anyone heard the disbelieving "'You need an MBA to run a business!?!'"

I agree with this analogy, but not necessarily in the way it was intended. In my former private-sector life, the MBA really is given just as much respect as the MLS. Ie, little to none. There are some respected schools and some good programs, but there is also a lot of University of Phoenix hoop-jumping. My office was full of people taking random night classes in order to get promoted, and the intellectual rigor was just as lacking. There are also still all kinds of self-made executives out there. It's much harder to get your foot in the door of somewhere prestigious without showing you went to all that extra effort to prove how serious you are, but it's still pretty symbolic and most of your learning is still on the job.

In terms of basic MS Office, I think my program handled it well. They would admit people with little or no computer experience, but didn't allow them to slow down the classes. By the end of your first semester, everyone had to pass a basic computer proficiency exam. Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, basic html, posting to a listserv, etc. If you failed, you had to take (and pass) an undergrad-level course by the end of the following semester. In the meantime, it sucked to do group projects with them, of course.

Anonymous said...

You really do need an MBA to run any large entity.

Why, if you had and MBA from Harvard you could be looked upon as the most stellar CEO. . .

oh never mind. . .

Crumbly said...

"let's not pretend there's anything ennobling about it."

I am sorry for anyone claiming to be a librarian that doesn't feel something of a calling. Perhaps that is why there are so many timeservers and those who are looking to Dance or Guitar or management as a way of avoiding being a Librarian while taking the money as one.

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lola said...

I’m all for LIS being an undergraduate minor/certificate. People interested in art librarianship could earn a B.A. in Art History with a LIS minor. Those interested in science libraries could earn a B.A. or B.S. in Biology. Those that want to be average and not have other librarians look at them funny could earn degrees in English or History. The job descriptions that ask for a second master’s degree piss me off. I don't need a master's degree in chemistry to catalog chemistry books.

Minks said...

This is kinda what I have been preaching all along. People need more then an MLS to be deemed worthy of more $$$ and respect. The MLS does not add much actual value to a person. It does not in any way mean you are ready or capable of running a library... even a small one.

What is does mean is that you are dedicated... which is good... but dedication does not = $$$.

The meat is in the undergrad I am afraid. Soren F knows where I am going with this. =P

Monty76 said...

Don't you guys realize that degrees such as MLS, MBA, etc are just ways for employers to narrow down the candidate pool...sad but true!!

I'm Kat! said...

Don't you guys realize that degrees such as MLS, MBA, etc are just ways for employers to narrow down the candidate pool...sad but true!!

Close but is the EMPLOYEE's way to narrow the candidate field!!!

Otherwise you would have to compete with High School grads for your library positions!

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite comments began, "'In the olden days, whenever I expressed an opinion in front of a 'librarian,' I would be asked, 'Where did you get your MLS?' This was code for, 'Do you have permission to speak?'"
Frankly, I think that's the way it OUGHT to be.
*runs and hides*

Tudor Rose said...

I'm in my second semester of my MLIS, and all the classes in my first semester dealt with the importance of the professionalism of the librarian career and I seriously felt like I was only student not drinking the Kool-Aid. Maybe it's because I worked in a public library during high school and college and couldn't tell who had the degree and who didn't, and it somehow didn't matter.

Actually, the only people I did know were the MLIS students working at my library during their graduate program or had recently graduated and kept acting like they were better than everyone else because of their degree. They're attitude is probably the reason it took me so long to apply to grad school for the degree, which I'm getting because my BFA didn't prepare me for much beyond asking "would you like fries with that?"

Somehow, all I can figure out is that it's the theory discussions and classes that elevate the MLIS holders above the non-degreed employees, since most of what I'm learning my more hands-on, practical classes can be picked up by anyone if they work with the application long enough. And the fact that it's the theory classes that seem to "make" the degree makes me a well, annoyed librarian-to-be.

nolajazz said...

I've laughed off a lot of calories today reading your blog - thanks! Your posts expand a quote by author/educator Jonathan Kozol that I ran across last week, "You're going to need a big dose of mischievous irreverence if you want to survive with your soul intact." Being employed by a state government, this is my daily mantra.

However, being employed by a state goverment means I have to brag about my MLS so that I get paid more than the janitor.

dewey_decimal said...

I've had it up to here with people who suggest we be licensed, "like doctors, lawyers and engineers." Anyone who seriously believes this obviously is not well acquainted with either profession.

Doctors and lawyers are admitted to their educational programs based on very high qualifications that encompass the academic, the personal, and the civic/volunteer domains. Library schools, as AL has noted, let in just about any type of dullard/pothead/weirdo. Then, these programs have a gruelling curriculum that weeds out even some of these "best of the best." Library schools, as some commenters have noted, may still have introductory courses in computing.

So licensing is not the first determinant of competence. Way before these people write a licensing exam, they have been through a pretty stringent process that determines their suitability for their field.

Should we go this route in library school? I don't think so. I don't think my job is devoid of intellectual activity, but I'm certainly not designing bridges, arguing Supreme Court cases that will set a precedent for future judgments, or doing open-heart surgery.

I would say that librarianship is more analogous to management, software design, or journalism. People in these professions come from various backgrounds, and contribute a wide variety of education and experience as a result. I used to date a guy with an English degree who was a programmer at a web design firm. They hired him for his self-taught skills, rather than specifying that he needed a computer science degree. Similarly, lots of people run businesses without an MBA or even an undergraduate business degree. Microsoft is pretty successful, despite all those years of having a college dropout at the helm.

I did my BA in journalism, and for a while that field showed dismal signs of heading in the professionalization direction -- hire a journalism grad to report on politics, rather than someone with a political science background and strong writing skills! I think there are lots of grads of journalism programs who become great journalists, but there are lots of great journalists who never did a journalism degree. I think this is one area where social media are rewriting the rules. If you're a good enough writer, you can publish on the web, get noticed, and parlay that into a job, regardless of what degree you hold.

Bottom line: I think we need to define a core skill set, for both the profession and for individual librarian job postings. Then recognize the people who possess those skills as librarians, regardless of their educational backgrounds.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Library schools, if they're worth their salt, should be providing would-be librarians with skill sets valuable in the community.

But that is not to say that they are the only possible sources of these skill sets, nor that these are passed on down on holy tablets.

And the degree -- like any other vocational or professional training -- means that you've embarked on the journey. Not that you've arrived.

Scott M said...

I'm currently in library school (University of Pittsburgh - online) and agree that it's not challenging at all - like you said, "busy work." Or as a friend of mine (also a Pitt grad) said, "you get to the point where you can do it in your sleep." And it is just "hoop jumping."

With that being said, however, one does need the degree to do anything within this profession - unfortunately. The reason I'm getting my MLIS degree is so that I never limit myself again. I never want to get into a situation where I have tons of experience (which I do), but I'm up against people who have that AND a Master's degree. So, that's why I'm spending all this money (and Pitt ain't cheap for an out of stater like me) to get it. I hope it pays off.

Monty76 said...

"Close but is the EMPLOYEE's way to narrow the candidate field!!!"

Then why are the EMPLOYER's requiring these degrees??

Matthew said...

No. An MLS does not make you a better person, a better professional, or even a better librarian. Necessarily. But the same could be said about the professional certification for accountants, lawyers, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. What it does is provide a quick and easy way to make sure an applicant has a minimum of library related knowledge. It weeds out those people who think that being a librarian means working the circ desk.

Could there be applicants who are perfectly qualified for doing the work without the degree? Absolutely. Are those people in the majority? Probably not. Are there librarians with an MLS who don't have the sense the good lord gave gravy? Totally. Went to school and worked with many of them. Should the library schools of this world be improved? In a heartbeat.

Does this all mean that anyone who works anywhere near information sources and feels the urge to can call themselves a librarian? No. The title being limited to a select few is also to bolster our image, such as it is, for our own well-being and for the sake of our patrons/customers/users. It may not mean much but taking it away makes it even worse.

(You rock, Annoyed Librarian... Thanks for "stirrin' it up". Not enough of that in this world.)

I'm Kat! said...

"Close but is the EMPLOYEE's way to narrow the candidate field!!!"

Then why are the EMPLOYER's requiring these degrees??

Tradition and Self Preservation.

When they were fresh, the MLS was their secret handshake - it showed on one peice of paper that they had theoretically gone further then the people who did not have the MLS. Now that they are doing the hiring, they continue the tradition in the same manner that Greek organizations work.

The second part is that by maintaining high "qualifications" they can keep themselves insulated from those peopel who do not have the degrees or the ability to go get the degree - even if those people have better skill sets then themselves. If the managers were hiring a bunch of nondegree people at 15,000 while making 60,000 themselves becasue they have a degree and a management position, how long will it take administration to figure out that some of the 15k people are worth the same amount as the 60k person?

Administration then identifies those 15k people who go above and beyond in their job capacity as ripe for promotion. Howeve, the next level up requires an MLS...and ther eis already an MLS in taht position. What to do...hmmm.... AHA!!! Administration then declares a library staff "Reorganization," which in short reclassifies and redefines the job descriptions and job requirements. This promotes a couple of the non-degree people to the next level up as they are encouraged to apply for the new positions that pay 35k, while defining the person with the MLS as "overqualified for the position" or some other jargon; the MLS toter is encouraged to reapply for a lower paying position of the same level, but in reality, they have just been demoted and sent to the glue factory.

Afterall, what justification does a library have for paying their MLS employees even $30,000 when they can hire a H.S.D. to do similar work for $18,000? If you have the Masters, you Are entitled to a higher paycheck, as the line goes. But at the same time, once it gets to the point that your job description can be filled by someone with much lower credentials, there is a danger that the MLS requirement can become Reevaluated.

Im my local area, the Elementary School librarians were all fired and their positions reclassified as parttime halftheoldpay Clerk Positions. The school district saved 1.7 million doing this.

Do look into the Madison, Wisconson pubic library ordeal. This is the beginning and I foresee no real end to it And I saw that first on the AL ;).

a naughty mouse said...

Librarians are nothing like Doctors. But Doctors are nothing like school nurses, either. If Doctors pushed out lower level education and insisted on doing everything besides mopping the floor themselves, the public would view them as band aid distributors and forget about the emergency surgery they just had. Current Masters programs are filling the need of the industry: with undergrad level education in graduate courses. Having various levels of education would validate graduate education.

ex-lib said...

"we're only shooting ourselves in the foot by going around announcing our graduate-level educations are completely meaningless, aren't we? "

Unfortunately, we don't have the backing of a REAL "Professional Organization". Many years ago I was axed in an illegal sectert meeting, without due process. I was told by two of my former instructors ", "we can't get involved" and "I wouldn't do anything if you want to work again anytime soon." I kept my mouth shut but didn't find another job anyway. This is a longer story than I care to get into here, but I have to wonder. At times I'd LOVE to point the finger and name names. Would there be anyone that would listen after all these years? Not likely. I have documentation.

Excuse me, I'm still P.O.'d after 28 years. I put in 7 years and 51 semester hours. F*** them!

I'm Kat! said...

The Article link doesn't work over there...if you search the Capital Times Archive, the story is on February 8, 2006; Entitled TO WHAT DEGREE ARE CITY LIBRARIANS HIRED?By Mary Conroy

Jaded said...

All I can say, AL, is Amen! You said what I meant to say in a far more coherent and rational way. Perhaps I should just bag my attempt at blogging and just stay tuned to you.

Anonymous said...


If you want to compare humble librarians with nurses or teachers or folk like that. . .

Nurses need to be licensed and registered with the state.

Teachers need to have certificates.

Librarians? Show up and stand at the reference desk, AND YOU ARE QUALIFIED!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I am beginning to wonder if the current situation of librarianship mirrors that of what professors have been facing during the past 15 years or so. In the early 90's, supposed authoritative sources offered statistics pointing to a scarcity of professors in the early 2000's. During that time there was a mad rush to enroll in graduate school. For those who finished the PhD, jobs were difficult to find in desired locales with good salaries. Newly minted PhD's, if they were lucky to land a position, had to take what they could get. By in large, the academy resorted to hiring adjuncts instead of reopening tenure lines previously held by recent retirees. There aren't enough openings to satisfy all newly minted PhD's. Cruise the Chronicle message board sometime for further enlightenment. Many of those who are on the job market are professors somewhere else and are looking to move to a larger university, liberal arts college, community college, etc. They already have experience, publications, etc.

Now, let's compare this with the state of librarians. In the late 1990's there was a call to arms, courtesy of ALA, regarding the imminent shortage of librarians. People signed up for library school. Why not? The degree is relatively easy to obtain. Working in a library is a pretty good gig--especially in academe. Guess what? There's simply too many of you now. I know some of you would make wonderful colleagues and I sincerely wish you all land decent jobs that are reasonably satisfying, etc., but many of you will either end up empty-handed or in positions that fall way short of your expectations. It isn't that librarianship is dying. There are jobs, but not entry-level ones. Mid-career librarians are applying for those jobs. I know some of you think that getting your name out there via blogging, etc. is the way to land a sweet job, but that usually isn't the case. No one really cares about the fact you can tinker with Web 2.0 technologies, for example. As we all know, this stuff is easily learned. The question is can you handle the day to day mundane reality of some aspects of librarianship. Above all: Can you work with people? Some of you look great on paper, but when you show up in person, you leave a lot to be desired.

The most successful people I know from library school don't have much of an online presence. They spent the first few years taking on grunt work, humbly learning from others, and have a solid work ethic. They work well with others. They have a LIFE outside work.

I don't mean to sound discouraging because I truly believe that if you aren't picky about where you live, possess some emotional intelligence, you will eventually get something. In the meantime, have a back-up plan.

I'm Kat! has the right idea.

JJJ schmidt said...

My wife and I (both card carrying MLS's) have run across public librarians who have actually uittered the 'where is your MLS from question' -- the conservation turns on a dime when we answer (a top five school) and then ask them where there degree is from....

Actually quite funny to watch....

Does it make me a better librarian (NO)... Was Library school a joke (for the most part) -- would have liked a research intensive program but did learn some things....

Don't know how to fix things --- my recommendation would be to have more professors actually work in libraries, never promote anyone who actuially wants to be in adminstration, etc....

INMHO -- you all complain about ALA -- how about trying to get involved and changing it??? or is it just too easy to sit outside and complain?

Anonymous said...

I work in a small library with two other librarians with their MLS's.

Two of us have them from state schools and the other from a big name MLS school in Boston.

Guess which on of the three couldn't run a library or do any original thinking if someone pointed a gun at them?

So much for name dropping schools.

Anonymous said...

I am halfway to my library degree at San Jose State. Yet I am still dumbfounded when my fellow students, usually with multiple masters or PhDs whine about the state of the profession. Without blinking an eye they espouse the theory that we should be earning the respect as doctors, attorneys, or accountants with the same earning potential. Surely I am not alone in thinking that this is insanity.
Doctors, attorneys and accountants are in another class all together, being a professional requires more than an advanced degree it also requires accountability. All of the above mentioned professionals are held accountable when they screw up, as they should be because there errors can lead to loss of life, property or liberty. What happens if a librarian screws up?

I am not convinced continuing education is the answer either. I have been to quite a few Minimum Continuing Legal Education classes for my current position, and I fail to see any relevance except for filling the state bars requirements, which sadly doesn't apply to me.

The thought of continuing education makes me quake in fear, because at least now it is done and over with once the MLIS is in my pocket. I am willing to bet if you find a candid teacher that the continuing ed, is a requirement filler rather than an a trued educational expierence.

In the end what you are capable of means a lot more than the MLIS it is merely your E ticket.

Anonymous said...

The Crook Librarian (retired) thanks "Crumbly" and "Nolajazz" for their comments. For me, being a librarian was "a calling" and having a "big dose of mischievous irreverence" helped make a 33+ year career as a "thin skinned" director a pleasure.

Not only did I use the Kozol philosophy, I also took some cues from Postman's book "Teaching As a Subversive Activity." Librarians can benefit from both honoring the tradition(think books)... and by being respectfully subversive to create and adapt.

The G.I.Bill encouraged me to finish a "master's" degree before I moved to the small town where I wanted to plant roots. But for that, I'd have probably lived there anyway and worked in a mill. My sense of place was more important than the means of income. It was mostly chance that led to a "calling" in a "place."

Don't know if it was professional, but I enjoyed being (inaccurately) viewed as someone who could answer most questions, sometimes with tongue in cheek. Some patrons enjoyed admittedly irreverent ignorance coupled with a willingness to go "Searching for Stones" That people have continued to telephone and email with requests for book reading suggestions tells me the work had value.

As to "librarian" professionalism, when children and adults wanted to talk with other employees who also really knew the collection, they asked for the "librarians" that didn't have an MLS rather than the one who did. Maybe those book lover's could at least be considered "Journeywomen" librarians if not "Masters."
Those employees had the "Calling," too, and they enjoyed the "trip" of being "book pushers."

This question/observation is for "Ex-Lib" whose comments I seek in AL -- Should newly graduated MLS/MLIS library workers be considered "Shavetails" ???

If the patrons repeatedly sought advice from specific non pedigreed library employees, I considered those co-workers to be librarians, too.

Anonymous said...

AL, if you weren't my hero before this entry you surely are now. I was a paraprofessional in a large academic library for nearly 20 years before I finally went to library school. What kept me from taking the plunge during that time were the so-called professionals (i.e. librarians) I worked with. The unprofessional behavior and attitutes these imbeciles demonstrated on a daily was absolutly amazing; I found it very difficult to consider joining a profession that condoned this sort of thing. What ultimately changed my mind is the sad fact that there are far more opportunities (i.e. money) available for even a mediocre librarian than there are for the best paraprofessionals. While I did get something besides a sizable student loan debt out of library school, what's driven my success as a librarian is my experience as a paraprofessional. No fancy piece of paper from a top-ranked library school beats actual work experience.

Lola said...

Another potential option

Many public schools systems give an automatic pay grade increase to teachers that earn graduate degrees. They need only a B.Education and teaching certificates to be a teacher but if they earn a Master's or Ph.D. in any subject they get an automatic pay increase.

Librarians could have a similar set up, BLIS minimum then pay increases for Master's or Ph. D's.

Anonymous said...

ack, dagger to the heart, but so much of this is true. I want librarianship to be a calling but I'm often left wondering why I spent a year of my life and thousands of dollars pursuing this degree. And then I look at the house I never would have been able to afford and I say 'oh yeah..'
But missing in this conversation is any discussion of the professionalism and dedication of youth librarians. Their work has real impact, they are expected to keep current with trends in education, and they spend a great deal of their own time reading to keep up. surely that's a professional job, mls or no.

Anonymous said...

In spirit, I'd like to agree with you that anyone who works in a library is a librarian. But that's just kind of stupid and silly. I mean, if I ended up bloodied in the emergency room in need surgery, I'm confident that the dietary aid, er, I mean "doctor" would do a fab job of sewing me up while at the same time making sure I get the full liquid rather than the mechanical soft.

nolajazz said...

to the one anonymous poster who said "Librarians? Show up and stand at the reference desk, AND YOU ARE QUALIFIED!!!!!"

you may be qualified to reshelve some books or help people make copies, maybe even hand someone a dictionary. but if that's all it took, that's how we would be getting paid.

and for myself, when i was in grad school, sure it wasn't rocket science it was library science (as the cliche goes). the difference is that in today's ever and rapidly evolving world patron expectations are changing just as quickly and libraries must be able to move in new directions as fast as the people want or we're going to be left behind. and to use another cliche, you can't know where you're going unless you know where you've been.

Roy Tennant said...

AL is sadly conflating two things into one:

- Disdaining the opinions of others because they do not have a degree; and,
- Calling yourself a librarian without a library degree.

These are two very different things and should be treated as such. I'm with AL that disdaining someone's opinion because they lack a degree is just plain wrong. But calling yourself a librarian when you are not one is too. When I was a library assistant, which I was for a number of years, you sure didn't see me making that mistake.