Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Debate over the MLIS

I was over at Library Journal a short while a go and I came across this article about the "debate" over the MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) at the most recent ACRL conference.

Personally I didn't know there was an open debate among professionals - just those among us that don't want to get one but want to work in fields that are traditionally staffed by librarians. Apparently there is a debate.

The person in favor of the MLIS for information professionals argued that
the MLS was necessary because it fosters shared values—values essential to the transition to the future of the digital library. Library schools, Bishoff said, rightly “focus on educating rather than training.”

Personally, from what I've seen, most MLIS programs fall short on both training and educating. Shared values can be fostered without plopping down $30k for another graduate degree (considering that most librarians already have a Masters degree).

I think that the most interesting comment that was made (and published) was:

“The only way to get better pay is to get the MLS.”

I think one needs to go outside of library journal to see some more critique of the MLIS, and you won't find any place better for critique than the Annoyed Librarian. Here are some comments that really, in my humble opinion, tell me that the degree is not necessary for a person to be a librarian.

Commenting about the quality of his online education, LIS student writes
I am about to graduate from a mostly online program. When available, I completed on site classes, and wish all could have been available. Here is the run-down:
1. GA's do all of the grading, and real professors are hardly present.
2. A jumble of outdated readings and busy work are in Blackboard (this is how are efforts are measured).
3. Professors are getting paid to not "teach" but rather recycle poorly presented lectures every term. Some don't even bother to change the dates on the work.
4. The in class section in did attend consisted of showing Power-points of the same notes handed out to online classes.
5. Though I have all A's, I feel like I have learned very little and have wasted my time and money.
6. Yet if you challenge the work, program or professors you are considered negative and told you will not succeed as a librarian.
7. Some of my fellow students think this is a difficult and quality program (direct result of low admissions standards).
7. It it takes being an ignorant pushover without a grasp on reality and with little self respect, I DON"T WANT TO BE A LIBRARIAN!

A paraprofessional notes (by the way, I dislike this "title")
I am one of those "paraprofessionals", library support staff or whatever. My job title is library assistant and I catalog books (some librarians do that too, by the way). People in my unit come from many backgrounds, educational and otherwise. In any case, having come to the library world relatively late in life, the distinctions some draw between librarian and paraprofessional or library assistant would only matter to me if I wanted higher pay or more status. I don't see any qualitative difference between the two categories.

HappilyEmployed writes:
The MLIS is a no-brainer as long as you can write and put up with the mundane and trivial assignments.

And Lea (the last comment for this particular post on the matter) writes:
I am looking forward to your next column. I have spent the last five years thinking about getting an MLIS, and what's held me back is the cost of the damn degree. Why should I have to pay $45,000 for a degree to get a job that pays $37,000 a year (which I currently earn in an unrelated field)? I strongly believe that if an MLIS is required to become a librarian, then the cost of the degree needs to come down or the salary needs to be high enough so librarians can afford to pay off their student loans.

And finally, from personal experience, many librarians (those closer to my age group who've gone to library school in recent years), have told me that the MLIS is just a union card to get yourself in the door of the library (and this view is echoed online as well).

So it seems to me, based on the various comments from librarians and current LIS students, that the debate is settled. If the degree is nothing more than a union card, then it is not really required as a prerequisite for employment in an information institution (like a library).
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