Do I really need an MLIS?

There’s been a lot of discussion in library land about whether or not the masters degree makes one a librarian. Rachel Singer Gordon wrote a nice piece about how many people without masters are good librarians by virtue of their actions. Of course, to those with the degree it calls into question if the masters is required at all. The debate has made a lot of people look critically at the profession, though perhaps not critically at themselves, which is usually a good thing. Rachel wrote a follow up where she summarized her position and highlights other comments. The Annoyed Librarian took time away from her cats and martinis to weigh in, and The New Librarians blog has a very good examination of the debate.

I’ve been talking to some of my colleagues about this issue for a while. It’s interesting how many people told me I was wasting my time when I started my degree program, but I knew that for the type of work I wanted to do (be a reference librarian at an academic library), and MLIS would be required. It’s not to say that I absolutely need the degree to be a good reference librarian, but the institutions I want to work at would require it. I conceded that and enrolled at Drexel. I won’t say that library school has been intellectually challenging, and I agree with the others who say it’s a lot of busy work. I think that outside practical experience, there’s no way to really learn some of the important skills (like how to create complex search strings) without busy work- it’s sort of the nature of the work. I think I have a better understanding of what the whole point of it is before I started library school, and I definitely have a keener sense of how to serve the user and to focus on the user than I did before. I don’t think my philosophy has totally been shaped by library school, but I think it is has given me better skills and a better understanding that would have probably taken years otherwise.

Does it make me better than somebody without a degree? No way in hell. I do like that everybody concedes that there are people without MLISs doing the work of librarians who are fantastic, and there are people without MLISs who aren’t so great. Of course the same is true for degreed librarians- some are amazing and some make you scratch your head and wonder how they get by day after day. I think individual libraries can really impact how this divide is perceived. Luckily where I work, there is something or a meritocracy, though there definitely is a glass ceiling where people max-out without the degree. Overall though, good work seems to be recognized. Hell, UC Berkeley’s head librarian (and his no. 2) doesn’t have an MLIS.

Some people have suggested a year of experience before one can apply to the masters program, and I can see merit to that opinion. In Drexel’s on-line program, I’ve seen people struggle with concepts which seemed rote to me because I have to deal with it every day at work. I know not everybody is lucky (ha) enough to work in a library, but that experience really helps with library school. Internships should be required as well, giving future applicants not only concrete experience but references as well. Library school programs with an emphasis on practical experience in some form would definitely improve the profession, so that more time can be spent on the theory, and it would shake off the image of some places as degree mills.

Library School- Not Web 2.0 enough?

Steven at Library Stuff recently posted about a report from ARIADNE entitled, Web 2.0 in U.S. LIS Schools: Are they Missing the Boat?, which reads:

This preliminary survey indicates that LIS schools in the United States are not adequately prepared for the rapid changes in Web technology and use. It seems that the LIS programmes have not yet internalised the importance of the new, changing and dynamic innovations that are taking place in their environment. These programmes do not offer full courses that deal with the new concept of Web 2.0, and only a few of them include several issues which are based on Web 2.0 in their courses.

[T]he results are susceptible to several interpretations: The first one is that perhaps LIS progammes do not attribute a lot of attention to Web 2.0 concepts and applications as they consider them a relatively unimportant topic and regard them as ‘hype’. The second is that LIS programme planners may assume that the issue of Web 2.0 is too technical and should be taught in other departments such as computer science and not in schools of librarianship and information science. Another interpretation is that this situation reflects the fact that LIS programme designers are not open to change and innovation.

This report seems as dour as the current British Prime Minister. Perhaps it’s because I’m working on a dual MLIS/MSIS degree, but I feel burnt out from all the Web 2.0 talk I’ve had in some of my classes at Drexel. I also think this might be a problem of confirmation bias though, where I’m quick to notice my fellow classmates touting their blogs in class discussions.

As to the first point- I think it’s understandable that many people are leery of the “hype” because so many people talk about Web 2.0 applications in libraries, or Library 2.0, in a very superficial way. They say, “Isn’t this neat?” rather than say why it’s neat. One thing I think library blogs do well share information about new tools and trends, but so many of them are just feeds for del.icio.us accounts, that they don’t present any context for these new, exciting Web 2.0 tools. For Web 2.0 neophytes, I could see how this is off putting.

For the second point- I think for some classes that may be true, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it fit for many different programmes. My courses that have talked about ways to utilize Web 2.0 tools have largely been information science and not library related. It’s fine and dandy to talk about mashups for libraries, but are there any courses that actually teach people how to make one if they aren’t programmers? I guess it’s progress that we had to take a class in HTML and CSS, but it seems like it definitely is an area that needs work. We aren’t all going to have to become programmers, are we?

The last point- I don’t doubt that some LIS programmes are resistant to change, but I also think many are willing to change because it’s clear that the whole profession is in flux. The problem may be that it’s hard to determine which Web 2.0 tools/devices are really the most useful and which ones are actually passing fads. There vetting process is still happening and the jury’s still out, so it’s understandable that a programme may be hesitant to offer a class about some programme that might not exist in two years. Programmes should teach about the underlying philosophies behind Web 2.0- the willingness to change and adapt, perpetual beta, collaboration, and working in a more digital realm.

All in all, I guess I’m still uneasy about the future, but it didn’t take a report to tell me that. I guess I’m still trying to figure out the point of Web 2.0 in libraries for myself, and the library blogosphere isn’t helping.

Don’t become a librarian?

Monday mornings are always a little weird in the library. You never know what’s happened over the weekend or what state the library will be in. (Graduate students have keys to the library, and apparently it’s a happening place in off hours.) We’ve found laptops, bags of produce, and pairs of pants left behind.

Today I found this article, “Don’t Become a Scientist! posted on the wall in front of one of our posters. Prof. Jonathan I. Katz writes:

Science is fun and exciting. The thrill of discovery is unique. If you are smart, ambitious and hard working you should major in science as an undergraduate. But that is as far as you should take it. After graduation, you will have to deal with the real world. That means that you should not even consider going to graduate school in science. Do something else instead: medical school, law school, computers or engineering, or something else which appeals to you.

Why am I (a tenured professor of physics) trying to discourage you from following a career path which was successful for me? Because times have changed (I received my Ph.D. in 1973, and tenure in 1976). American science no longer offers a reasonable career path. If you go to graduate school in science it is in the expectation of spending your working life doing scientific research, using your ingenuity and curiosity to solve important and interesting problems. You will almost certainly be disappointed, probably when it is too late to choose another career.

People always say that it’s better to get a degree in science than humanities, but I’ve met a number of physics grad students who were unhappy at the bleak job market. Since all of the Ph.D. students hanging around our library are engineers, they don’t seem to worried about this article.

I wonder what if somebody wrote a similar article and sent it around library schools. “Don’t become a librarian. The pay will be terrible and jobs will be hard to find.” I know there are some people who have said that, but I’ve also heard this is the best time ever to go to library school because the field is changing so much and everybody’s getting ready to retire. I don’t buy it. If some wise, experienced librarian had told me to think about what I was doing before applying to library school (I didn’t have the luxury), it probably would have made me pause. Now, being pretty much done with the library half of grad school, it makes me wish that there was more attention to the application of what we’re learning and how to get a job. Who knows, maybe that last class I need to take will teach me that, but the job hunt scares me because I know there are lots of extremely capable librarians out these looking for spots in the same area I am.

Why do I want to be a librarian?

It’s a hard question to answer. Last week the Annoyed Librarian asked readers to answer that question, which naturally received a variety of responses. Looking over them it makes me think that perhaps the AL readers aren’t the right people to ask such vague questions to, because none of them said, “I’m a librarian because it’s a calling.” In library school, that seems to be the most acceptable answer, with “I love reading and books” a close second. Of course, this means I’m out of the club because I would probably say something about making information accessible for people to use, but apparently that sounds forced.

This weekend was full of school work and midterms, which naturally made me ask what the point was. Why am I in library school? What does business administration and finance have to do with helping people find old tech reports about traffic lights? Nothing, and I’ll admit the business course is for the MSIS not the MLIS, but the end result will hopefully make me a librarian so I’ll lump it all together. I guess learning more about information systems and administration will be valuable later on in my career, but for the moment it makes me see how vulnerable libraries are and that the old model needs to change. That’s easier said than done and I have a feeling my education’s already out dated before I even graduate.

The other important question (since I’m not really a librarian) is what sort of job do I want when I graduate school? I’ve always seen myself in an academic library and I would still prefer that, but I know I’ll have to go wherever I can actually get a job. The big thing I’m afraid of, is not actually working in a library, but for one of those library support companies. I really hope that doesn’t happen though because it seems like people who become teachers only to go work for Kaplan or textbook companies. Would I even need an MLIS for that? Probably not, though for most library functions you don’t. Oh well. Nothing fun to think about the day after a three day weekend.