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.”