Annoyed Librarian
Search LibraryJournal.com ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

The All Purpose MLS

Last week the biggest news in librarianship was American Libraries making the publication even less interesting than it already is, and that’s saying something.

However, despite that unsurprising news, my favorite library news last week appeared in this very publication: Library Science without the Library. It’s a guest column in an amusing genre, LIS student telling the profession like it is.

In this case, it’s a student who doesn’t work in or even want to work in a library finishing her first semester in what I assume is an online library school telling everyone that library schools should work harder to attract more people like herself. Library schools need to “rebrand” themselves and prepare graduates for various other careers.

The writer tells us that, “Many (including myself) have discovered multimedia careers by way of graphic design, copywriting, business strategy and computer programming–without formal training as “information professionals.””

Since lots of LIS graduates aren’t getting jobs, “Something has to change to keep library schools successfully recruiting students-and for students to remain hopeful about their future. If students think there aren’t any jobs waiting for them on the other side of their academic trek, MLIS programs face extinction.”

Since when were library schools having problems recruiting students, despite the dearth of jobs?

There are at least three problems the argument that I can see, one involving library school students and two involving library schools themselves.

If, as the LJ Annual Placements and Salaries Survey says, LIS graduates are taking “lower salaries and part-time hours as retail clerks, baristas, and office assistants in order to pay the bills” instead of becoming graphic designers, copywriters, business strategists, or computer programmers, there’s probably a good reason.

They don’t WANT to be “part of the next generation of library students who work outside the library.” They want to work in libraries. That’s why they went to library school.

People go to library school for all sorts of reasons. Some of them just want a job, period. Then there are people who really want to work in a library. They would rather make less money doing something they (think they will) love than make more money working for a corporation somewhere.

No amount of rebranding or repositioning by library schools will deter these people, just as abysmal employment opportunities don’t deter them. They have a calling, or something like that.

To attract these people, the ALA and library schools wouldn’t have had to keep up their misleading propaganda about librarian shortages for so many years, because they don’t care. The MLS is the requirement to apply for library jobs, so they get the MLS and start applying. And applying. And applying.

There’s another big group that uses library school as a way to remain in academia. These are all the people with advanced degrees, usually in the humanities, and about a 1 in 1,000 chance of ever getting a decent academic job in their field of study. Instead of being an adjunct instructor of [insert humanities field here] at three different community colleges, they can be a librarian for that field at a college or university somewhere and make more money and have more job security than their peripatetic, underemployed friends from graduate school.

Those people usually aren’t interested in applying for corporate jobs. Both these groups will continue to go to library school and they definitely want to work in libraries.

Next come the library schools. Should they rebrand themselves? Well, they already have for the most part. The better ones are already rebranded as “information schools” eithe de jure or de facto. Even if they still maintain “library” in their name, the faculties aren’t usually interested in libraries. Their research and teaching is about information and technology (or, for the intellectually lightweight, how to use social media), and adjuncts teach the library-related courses.

Library schools would have a difficult time rebranding themselves as pathways to non-traditional jobs for library school students, because usually nobody associated with the school knows bupkis about that. The professors of information know how to train graduate students to be professors of information, and the librarian adjuncts know how to train students to be librarians.

The other problem with library schools is that they can’t do everything, which seems to be what some people want them to do. The only thing a library school can guarantee is that its degree with give you the minimum qualifications to apply for a job in a library.

Despite that, people want library schools to prepare students for every possible job in libraries, and now every possible job outside of libraries, especially the vague, unidentified random jobs in the private sector that might have something to do with “information.”

Librarians can theoretically do all sorts of things, but unless they’re already coming from some private sector job – like the student in question – how are those jobs supposed to be identified? Are library schools supposed to survey every company in the country asking, “what sorts of jobs do you have that people with LIS training might do?”

That’s one reason focus on libraries is easy. Libraries are easily identified, significantly networked, and connected through professional organizations. All the other random jobs librarians might be good at aren’t.

There’s an open question about whether most library schools even do a good job of preparing students to be librarians. How are these same schools supposed to prepare students to be everything else under the sun as well?

Rebranding library schools so they claim their degree is a pathway to do just about anything would just add to the lies already being told.

Instead of new lies replacing old, maybe it’s time for library schools to make a different pitch to students, something closer to the truth.

“You pay us money and take any of the classes we offer at the moment. Some of these classes will be about traditional library work and some will be about information or computers or something related. At the end of a year or two, you will have a degree that makes you eligible to apply for jobs in most American libraries. Everything else is up to you.”

Share

Comments

  1. spencer says:

    The real issue is that library schools need to accept less people and focus on quantity over quality. They should up the entrance requirements and create an environment opposite to the degree mill for left over students.

    I can’t stress this enough:

    Out of all the people I took classes with (graduated in ’06), there were less than a handful that I would hire to work for me.

    Maybe that would be the same in every profession- maybe.

    • spencer says:

      “and focus on quantity over quality”

      sorry, NOT focus on quantity over quality.

    • michele says:

      I agree with you 100%, Spencer.

      When I was in library school, there was one student who refused to speak or participate in class. When asked a question by the professor, or while working in a group, she would just shake her head “no” and put her head on the desk!

      I also have a co-worker (I work in an academic library) who I seriously think was hired specifically to muck about on Facebook all day. She’s great at it! Never mind that she can’t do the most basic processing work without detailed directions from our supervisor. She is starting library school soon!

      For schools that teach graduate-level information and knowledge management courses, library schools are horrible at weeding.

  2. Andrew says:

    I have a real problem with the idea of a multipurpose MLS. You have library schools that teach one course on web design and another course on social media and try to leverage those courses towards ad copy that states they’re “training the new generation of information professionals.”

    That just isn’t the case. The movers and shakers in computers have computer science degrees. Graphic design people study graphic design for four years or more. At the very least a self-motivated person could teach themselves these skills, but it takes longer than one fluff class that counts towards your MLS.

    I couldn’t agree with your last statement more. An MLS prepares you to work in a library. Pretending that the degree is anything more than that is just a grad deluding themselves.

  3. AL – well-argued and well-said. Bravo.

  4. Kay says:

    I went to library school more than open to the idea of alternative career paths, I like library work but had no illusions that it is a tough field to break into. I took lots of tech classes instead of typical LS electives (“History of the book”, etc) and while I have a nice overview of computer programming, systems analysis, web design, project management etc., I don’t have enough in depth knowledge in any of those areas to parlay it into a career. And all my work experience is library related.

    Sure, there are lots of non-traditional career paths a librarian could follow, but keep in mind *in this economy* you are competing with job seekers who actually have experience and specific education in those areas. In 2006 the whole “it is a versatile degree, you can get any job that deals with information” might of been relevant, but it isn’t anymore.

    • ItGirl says:

      I went to library school specifically to follow a non-traditional career path. The difference is that I had over 10 years of corporate job experience. I wanted to be a researcher, and at my company, the MLIS was a degree that could qualify you to work as a researcher.

      I worked at least two internships every semester of school, focusing on special libraries. I did learn some very traditional tasks, such as cataloging, but I avoided working in public and academic libraries.

      I was offered a job within six weeks of graduation – as a business researcher at a non-profit. There was no library, no books. I used a variety of free and subscription databases to conduct research and analysis. A year later I moved to another non-profit to continue work as a researcher.

      I personally believe that I was offered those positions based on the combination of my corporate work experience, the MLIS and my internships. I needed all three. I didn’t need a rebranded LIS program.

      And while I agree that the skills learned in library school can be used in other industries, those skills alone are not enough. Just as a second master’s is often required to work as a subject specialist in an academic library, I believe that a relevant bachelor’s is required to work in a non-traditional field. In my specific case, that was business, however, economics or marketing or graphic design could be relevant depending on the position.

      I agree with the AL: one semester covering graphic design is not enough. A bachelor’s degree in graphic design, relevant work experience in graphic design and the MLIS may qualify someone though. It all depends on the job posting.

  5. KathyS says:

    “bupkis”. Not a word I’ve ever heard, but funny enough that it should be

  6. Mary Piero Carey says:

    I’ll come down on the side arguing that a MLS doesn’t necessarily prepare you to work in a library. After almost 35 years as a library technician (no Degree), I can’t even BEGIN to count the number of people with an MLS that I had to train to work the public desk. I don’t mean teaching the idiosyncracies of our particular system & department. I mean the very concepts of public service, or how to answer a telephone, let alone how to conduct a reference interview. I have given up on the problem of catalogers being clueless about patron needs, but purported Reference Librarians? I really think that internships at real working library public service desks should be required for graduation. And the grading should be done by the staff on that desk, NOT the MLS teaching staff!

  7. Leslie says:

    I’m not hearing much about this from libraryland: http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/133778/

    Oh right, Bush isn’t the President.

  8. I Like Books says:

    Ever check a job site for “information professional”? It’s such a vaguely defined term, it could mean anything from librarian to data entry to suicide hotline. Most jobs answering to that description don’t need an advanced degree, or any degree at all beyond the GED.

  9. Ben says:

    Normally, I find Annoyed Librarian’s posts to be a bit harsh. Maybe I would find this one equally harsh if I were a fresh graduate, didn’t have a job right now and was desperately seeking an income.

    However, I would do more than agree with the statement that the degree makes you a generalist. I would say that the degree should always allow you the option to become a generalist. There were a lot of people who are keen to be particular types of librarian. They end up jumping through hoops to take all the right courses, but may never have learnt the right things. I feel like I learned a lot in the courses I took, even though there was no unifying theme to my personal program of study. I can only really point to one or two courses that were disappointing, and that mostly because they were online.

    I would consider library school disappointing if I had not learned classification, searching and reference skills.

  10. Techserving You says:

    Oh I’m sorry, I couldn’t get past “many (including myself)….”

  11. Amy says:

    I was a graphic designer and I agree, one semester is not goign to teach you much. I now apply those skills in my new job as a librarian. It seems to me, many employers are looking for people to bring additional skills learned OUTSIDE of library school to a job. And that includes being able to hold a conversation.

    I would have like to have taken some MPA classes. To me, those kind of business classes would have been helpful. I took some general ones but they were too basic.

    But I think librarians should be taught to be CRITICAL thinkers about information. That would weed out some of the, well…..people who don’t belong in graduate school frankly!!

  12. joyce says:

    If there are few jobs focusing on quality does nothing but add more candidates into a dismal future. If there is low growth in the field there is low growth. If you are a “quality” student (whatever that means) supposedly a high GPA, etc. go into something else and suffer less.

  13. Ben says:

    Despite stating that I don’t think the article is as harsh as others, on further consideration, the Annoyed Librarian is a bit off. If you are selective in addressing Greenstein’s argument, then you can take the wind out of her sails pretty easily. However, her article is concentrating on the idea that there is an increase in people finding jobs in the private sector. That may go against the generally dismal tidings regularly reported in this column, and maybe that’s threatening to its future.

    I work in the private sector in a non-traditional job, but was hired because of my library education. You may think that professionals in a professional firm are educated enough to know how to organize information for easier retrieval. But that’s not true.

    What experienced librarians can be in danger of forgetting is what it feels like to be a novice at organizing information. You may get the odd person with a knack for it who doesn’t need an MLIS to do it. But if an organization has problems with the flow of its information, it is probably because they don’t have someone who is good at figuring out its information needs. I would wager that the layperson with a knack for organizing information is more the exception than the rule.

    I think that if you concentrate too much on Greenstein’s own background, you miss the point. Courses in web design aren’t going to teach you how to be a master web designer, but that’s OK. Taking an entire degree program is not going to teach you how to be a master librarian. Doctors and lawyers, as the easiest professionals with which to draw a comparison, are not expected to be masters of their subject when they graduate either. There’s other stuff.

    As someone in Gen Y, or a Millenial, I don’t see the answer to my employment troubles to be more formal education (as a web designer, let’s say), especially after two degrees. If it were, I could be 40 before I finally get my first real job. Seriously, on-the-job training and apprenticeship type settings would be far more valuable than the classroom setting. So much time can be wasted taking courses in traditional academic time frames because “it takes a year” to learn how to do a task. It doesn’t. It takes X number of years to gain experience/mastery of a skill, not to learn about the skill or concept in the first place. Formal education is not about churning out people with the skills to immediately master the tasks covered in their program of study. That’s the real delusion, and library schools don’t have an exclusive claim on that one. Formal education is about providing basic knowledge on which to build your career. But just because you get basic knowledge, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to specialize somewhat, or that formal education is entirely useless.

    Web design courses in library school, for instance, allow you to apply principles from other typical library functions to the web. By working with the web and understanding how your website users are going to view your website, and how you can evaluate that usage, you can gain an understanding of how to balance the functionality of an OPAC with how your user population is likely to use it. You don’t have to be an expert in web design, and you don’t have to build the software from scratch. But again, that’s OK. You can figure out what you need to do later.

    At my library school we were taught that most library work will be done by paraprofessionals, or even untrained staff. In the corporate world, that probably means it will almost all be done by untrained (or differently trained) staff. The challenge of librarianship is to be a good manager and make sure that your collection, broadly defined, gets used. It’s not to do every single little job that you possibly could.