I can sure tell you all like the political posts. That’s when things really heat up here at the AL, at least judging by the comments section. I’ve thought about just making fun of the Regressive Librarians in every post, but they’re such ridiculously easy targets that I just don’t have the heart for it. Next week I might have to write a public response to an email someone sent me about them, though. It could be fun.
Right now I’m trying to get into the spirit of the AL. It’s been a busy week for me. Fortunately I can now relax a bit and devote myself to you, dear reader. So I’m reclining on my sofa listening to Chet Baker. My gentleman friend just created a martini full of delight out of nothing more than Bombay Dry gin, Noilly Prat vermouth, and an olive. The large pink eye of the pimento gazes at me from the bottom of the glass, beckoning me to consummate our desire for each other. But on to more pleasurable subjects, like…faculty status for librarians! Yay!
Seldom do I write about academic libraries in the blog. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I don’t like to foul my own nest. I have a such a pretty nest, neat, tidy, secure, and I like to keep it that way. As a librarian, I may never get rich, but fortunately I have the Library Journal to make me rich beyond my wildest dreams. However, I do have something that these investment bankers and auto workers don’t have: tenure. Tenure is a good thing, and one of the reasons I stayed in academia.
Why do I mention this? Because someone forwarded me some emails from a listserv discussion last week about faculty status and who should have it. My own opinion is, everyone in the world should have it, and then if they’re worthy they can get tenure and live happily ever after, just like the Annoyed Librarian. This is not a goal to sneeze at, and if you do sneeze at it please cover your mouth.
The initial email, as far as I could tell, was about a discussion at a particular library regarding whether to grant faculty status to professionals and administrators who do not have the prestigious ALA-accredited MLS. The inquirer wanted to know what other university librarians thought about that. There were a number of responses, but the one that struck me the most vigorously pooh-poohed the idea. In fact, I haven’t seen an idea so vigorously pooh-poohed by a librarian since I suggested removing chocolate from the break room.
The librarian in question said she wouldn’t work for such an institution because the practice would diminish her time and effort and ability "to obtain the MLS and all it represents." I almost spit out my martini when I reread that sentence, but that would have been plain rude, and as we know I always maintain an admirable decorum.
The MLS and all it represents? What exactly does it represent? It represents taking a dozen or so of the easiest "graduate" classes around, so intellectual rigor is out. I guess it represents dogged persistence, since for intelligent students library school is so ridiculously boring and unchallenging that the thought of dropping out is ever present. That should count for something, I suppose, since it’s a lot like the profession in general. The long tedious classes, the boring group work, and the challenge of pretending to stay interested in mind-numbing topics are some of the best preparation for the field of librarianship I can think of, maybe even for the field of life. For some people it represents the willingness and ability to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to obtain a degree that has little inherent value. Fortunately, I won my MLS in a raffle, so I didn’t have to pay anything for it.
And let us think about some of the professionals without the prestigious MLS who might work in academic libraries. There are subject specialists galore. If a university wanted a subject specialist in history or Asian studies or whatever, what would be better: an MLS or a PhD? Doesn’t the PhD in some subject represent at least as much time and effort and ability as the MLS? I’d say yes, based on my experience. What subject does the MLS prepare you to specialize in except the subject of "library science," if that?
Lest you think I privilege the more academically credentialed among us, let us consider some of the techies necessary to run the library. I’m not talking about those librarians who have the same facility for using social software that any reasonably bright 7-year-old has. I’m talking about those systems librarians (or "librarians") who are increasingly important to our libraries and who keep them running. Maybe they have an MLS, or maybe not. But the best and brightest among them (and there are some very bright ones at my library) are just as engaged in the profession as some MLS holders who think so highly of themselves.
What is the indicator for "faculty"? It’s hard to say. But if librarians deserve the status – and it’s not clear they do, since they’re really just fake faculty anyway (please don’t tell my director I said that!) – then the engaged and intelligent professionals who manage our computer systems probably should as well. Think about your library. If you work in an academic library, think about the library’s relation to the students. What would be more catastrophic: all the catalogers and reference librarians disappearing to Boca Raton for a month, or the two top systems people taking a long lunch during a network crisis? These people are bright and knowledgeable and utterly necessary to the academic mission of the library. If your system folk aren’t bright and knowledgeable, then you probably realize even more how essential good people are.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. The initial discussion seemed to be about who should be granted faculty status. If it’s academic prowess or research ability, it’s not at all clear to me most librarians should have it. If it’s not about a degree, then it should probably have something to do with one’s contribution to the academic mission of the institution. Clearly professors (real professors, I mean) are crucial. They do the teaching. Librarians obviously have their place to support the educational mission. Maybe the question is whether someone without the precious MLS can be considered a "librarian" and thus worthy of faculty status. The only people who worry about that are status-insecure librarians who desperately cling to the notion that while they may be low in the pecking order of the university, at least they have that MLS and can thus separate themselves from people so low they aren’t even allowed to call themselves "librarians." That’s the logic of bigotry in a nutshell. "Well, I may be powerless and worthless, but at least I’m not like these lowlifes!"
It seems to me that once a university has stooped to granting faculty status to mere librarians, there aren’t any substantial barriers to faculty status left. Thus, why not just give it to everyone.