My goodness, last week’s post on the American Libraries propaganda article drew some sharp responses. Not that I play favorites among my readers, but some of my favorite responses were from a gushing, appalled library school student who hates this blog because it’s so "negative" and "smug."
Oh, and he thinks the AL is a "classist harpy." (Or perhaps he meant I’m a classical harpist, which is true.) I speculate that the student is a "he," by the way, from that particular phrase. After "harpy," perhaps he could call me a shrew or a bitch as well. These male library school students with apparently no library experience whatsoever go on aggressively about how everything’s hunky-dory in librarianship are just being assertive. The AL disagrees just as aggressively, she’s a "harpy." Nice.
The arguments last week seemed focused on an online/traditional MLS split, with the angry library student making an obvious mistake in reasoning. Because I claim that distance education is making it easier to get an MLS, I thus think all online MLS students are stupid. I’m going to address my issue with the online MLS later in the week, but this argument is simply flawed. Despite the earnest student’s claim to have read the blog, the reading was obviously superficial. My argument for years is that library school is too often an intellectual joke. Putting it online just makes the joke more available to more people.
Comparing online and traditional education is pointless, and we could rig the game either way. How many would argue that a traditional MLS program at Michigan or Chapel Hill wouldn’t be superior to the online programs at Clarion or North Carolina Central University? My point isn’t about specific programs or specific students, but the very fact that programs exist that will let almost everyone in, give them easy work to do, and allow them to graduate. This isn’t anything new.
Our Pollyanna library student says of me, "She honestly believes that there are dumb hicks in library school who don’t deserve to be there." (I think the "hicks" part is confusing the posts on distance education and the hillbilly burning Bibles, but we can leave it in.) Apparently, our library school student has no such belief. But I could turn the question around. Who could possibly believe that there aren’t dumb library school students working their way through easy programs? All library school students "smart"? All "deserving"? All programs challenging? Is this guy joking?
Anyone who believes that all library school students are smart and would be capable of passing through a rigorous graduate program is just naive. There are enough programs online and traditional with low enough standards that as long as a student can come up with the money, they can get in and through a program. Online education makes this even more likely, because the students don’t even have to relocate. All they need is the cash and a superhuman tolerance for boredom and an MLS is their oyster.
There are plenty of very smart, passionate, and dedicated librarians out there, but there are also plenty who aren’t at all bright or competent. Anyone who’s worked in a library knows this. This has always been the case, because the MLS has always been a relatively easy degree to get. Library students who haven’t worked in libraries haven’t looked around at their workplaces or conferences to spot the dull librarians. If they’re online students, they haven’t had the same opportunities of spending time around some of their peers to figure out who the dull ones are.
But they’re there, and they are the most likely ones to be wooed into expensive, easy degree programs thinking the MLS is a guaranteed ticket to a good job because of that terrible librarian job shortage that’s always just around the corner. Do I want dumb people in the profession? Nope. That’s not good for anyone. But I don’t want to see them exploited, either.