February 17, 2018

Is Library School Worth It? Are There Too Many LIS Programs?

By LJ Staff

Numerous readers react to the Annoyed Librarian

LJ Blogger the Annoyed Librarian has taken another swing at those who promote LIS education, notably online programs, in a post headlined Come to Library School! Just Don’t Expect a Job! It’s generated more than 100 comments.

Pointing to the LJ Placements and Salaries 2009 report, the AL noted that “the news is bad” and, given that it reports on last year’s grads, can only get worse.

A sampling of comments.

Defending online education:

I graduated from UWM’s online program last year, and I thought it was a hell of a lot more challenging that what my friends and co-workers were doing at Dominican. Also, I had two FT job offers before I graduated. Maybe that had more to do with me than anything else, but maybe it had something to do with the quality of the program? I actually learned things that apply to what I do in my public library. Is my experience that rare?

Suggesting who should choose library school:

The ONLY people who should be getting a library degree nowadays are people who meet the following criteria:
1. already have a job where the degree would be helpful
2. that job is located in a city with a college that offers an MLIS program
3. the job provides tuition reimbursement.

Some amendments to the above:

1. Have substantial library work experience, preferably in internationally-renowned institutions. Only those who are in this position can even justify staying the field…
2. Don’t have so MUCH experience that you’re going to have to take a pay cut when you accept an entry-level position after graduation
3. Be fully mobile for both library school and an eventual professional job…
4. Get your MLIS at as prestigious a school as possible so that when you finally decide to switch careers, your MLIS still looks good on your resume

Taking the long view:

The question is not "are there jobs in my area right now that I need a MLS for?" but honestly looking at library trends and asking if in 5-15 years if there will be a job for you in the future with that degree and your skills when libraries are deprofessionalizing positions, hiring other skill sets and facing a huge budget crisis.

Why the degree helps:

I’m a paraprofessional in a public library and just received my Master’s degree a few months ago. Did my degree give me a pay raise? No. Do I need it to do my job? No. But I figure I’ll stick it out for a few more years, get some experience, and move on (hopefully when things improve). And I’m also looking into opening my own independent info business (people with an MLIS CAN do more than work in a library).
What my degree does give me, however, is respect.

Still struggling:

I got my MLIS three years ago and have yet to land a paying library job of any type. I’ve had one non-library job after graduating, but have been unemployed for 1.5 years now. I regret the $35K in student loans I took out to get my degree and feel like I made a huge mistake.
Btw, I didn’t go to some low-rent online program. I graduated from a residential program that liked proudly proclaiming it was THE most competitive LIS program (the University of Washington). Only 50 percent of applicants are accepted. The coursework was a lot of work–definitely, not a cakewalk–but I don’t think it adequately prepared us either. Too much theory and not enough practical knowledge.

What exactly is professional work:

People are wringing their hands over jobs that were previously ‘librarian’ jobs being made paraprofessional jobs. I understand that that is extremely frustrating if you have just graduated with your MLIS and can’t find a professional job. But this can be looked at in two ways – first, that the libraries want to go the cheap route and reclassify professional jobs as paraprofessional so that they can pay the people less. But, it might also point out the fact that the role of ‘professional’ librarians can, in most cases, EASILY be done by someone without the professional degree. It’s not professional work. That’s the side of it that none of the applicants want to admit. Quite frankly, everything I learned about the field was learned in my paraprofessional jobs, and I only ‘used’ my MLIS to get my foot in the door for professional jobs.

A view from a manager:

Are there too many MLS graduates? Yep.
Is the overall quality of library school graduates too low? Yes!
However, I’ve hired three sharp library school students in the last year and three newly hatched librarians in the last two years. Each of them is awesome and has made our library more effective and relevant. However, for each of those great hires, I’ve interviewed 10 other candidates and round-filed 50 more resumes. The 50 in the can could not muster a grammatically correct cover letter or resume. The 10 other interviewed candidates generally had no interpersonal skills….
Library schools absolutely need to take the degree seriously and raise the bar for degree candidates. The library school program in our area now offers 98% of its classes online. Whether or not it affects the quality of the degree, it is absolutely intended to increase the number of students.

A student reacts:

As a student it is disappointing to read this smug blog and know there are more bitter, angry librarians out there judging library students so harshly. I’m sure you graduated from an in-residence Ivy League school with a 4.0 and therefore have every right to judge, AL, but, even so, please give me one small break. I am in an MLS program at Southern CT State U (I know, I may as well just stay in my trailer, right?) and the classes are exactly the same whether you take them online or not. I’m doing both, and actually the online are a bit harder…

Looking back on grad school:

1) There are plenty of people in library school who shouldn’t be there. My "competitive" program accepted something ridiculous like 94% of applicants, and I had classmates – in person – who could barely write a coherent sentence. My online classmates, as a whole, were bright, engaged, and hardworking. But there should have been far fewer in our cohort, given the prospects out there.
2) Leaving issues of competence aside, there were WAY too many students in our program for inappropriate reasons (e.g., "I have a BA in History, and I hate my current job.)….
3) …The experience ends up being key, and it’s far too easy to get the MLIS without any experience whatsoever (and end up working retail to pay off your library school loans, as some of my classmates are doing.)

A follow-up
In a follow-up post, headlined On Dumb Librarians, the AL responded to a library student’s criticism:

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.

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.

It also generated numerous comments.

A Ph.D reflects:

I went to library school after getting a Ph.D. in history… When I went on to my MLIS I found a few classes intellectually demanding (e.g. a cataloging seminar in which we had to write real research papers.) A few classes were at the opposite end of the spectrum – vacuous. Most of the classes, however, did not tax one intellectually but still taught one things that a librarian needed to know, and that I sure didn’t learn in my history program… [F]or me library school happened to be the most convenient and cost-effective place to learn them. My program, however, was not online and the opportunities for face-to-face interaction and class practica on-site were invaluable.

A student gets scared:

I’m an MLS student in Canada… I have ten years of experience in completely non library related field and I decided to apply for a MLS because I wanted to be a public librarian.
One year into the MLS I am terrified that I’ve wasted my time. Nothing so far has proven extraordinary.
…So what do librarians do actually? Why are we being forced into a two year master’s degree just for the right of calling ourselves a librarian? And wait a minute, don’t you dare to call yourself a Professional Librarian, no oh.. that’s reserved for librarians who pay their dues to their respective association.
…Seriously, are public librarians still relevant? Do you really need an MLIS to be one? This is a practical question, not a rhetorical one, if any public librarians would care to share your point of view I’d be very grateful. Otherwise I think I’ll emerge from the program a depressed avatar.

Defending the value of librarians:

IF MLS programs were challenging and selective-yeah, you WOULD need a Masters to be a public librarian—If you’ve ever seen a GOOD public librarian in action, you’ve seen them turn "whereza dictionary?" into a full fledged reference interview-getting the dictionary, an overview of the person’s project and and idea of their research and computer skills quickly–then the librarian will hook them up with what they need and encourage them to keep coming back. If you are a bad librarian (one with bad training, no analytical skills and no experience) you will hand them the dictionary and go back to screwing around on facebook…because you have no idea how to help.

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