February 16, 2018

Gorman, Walters Clash in MLS Discussion

By LJ Staff

At the recent Public Library Association (PLA) national conference in Boston, a session titled "Is the MLS Needed for a Career in Public Librarianship?" offered a look at library education that eventually became contentious. It began with PLA president Daniel Walters, who directs the Las Vegas – Clark County Library District, NV, noting that he’s CEO of a $50 million public corporation, which has employees with a wide variety of degrees and certifications. He has an MLS and stressed that it was sufficient for him to run the system. He said the issue of hiring nonlibrarians was not a new one but had been exacerbated by the need for fewer catalogers and a decline in reference service. "Libraries have always hired others," he said.

Michael Gorman, American Library Association (ALA) president and dean of the Henry Madden Library at the California State University, Fresno, said that "it depends on what you mean by MLS and by a career in public librarianship." Certain library activities and duties must be carried out by a librarian: "How do you organize a library if you have not been immersed in its culture?" Gorman criticized ALA’s accreditation of library education programs, saying "the process is flawed" because of standards that insist a program describe what it intends to do rather than prescribe standard curricula. John Budd, of the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri – Columbia, agreed that a core curriculum is needed and said the entire profession must be involved in defining those needs.

Asked whether information science is the same discipline [as library science], Gorman responded, "Information people work in kiosks, librarians work in libraries." Gorman also denounced the outsourcing of cataloging and the less rigorous standards that result. Walters took strong issue with this assessment, saying that outsourcing had produced a better and less expensive catalog, and also allowed the library to add professional positions in cataloging, acquistions, and collection development.