Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Who Gets Faculty Status?

I can sure tell you all like the political posts. That’s when things really heat up here at the AL, at least judging by the comments section. I’ve thought about just making fun of the Regressive Librarians in every post, but they’re such ridiculously easy targets that I just don’t have the heart for it. Next week I might have to write a public response to an email someone sent me about them, though. It could be fun.

Right now I’m trying to get into the spirit of the AL. It’s been a busy week for me. Fortunately I can now relax a bit and devote myself to you, dear reader. So I’m reclining on my sofa listening to Chet Baker. My gentleman friend just created a martini full of delight out of nothing more than Bombay Dry gin, Noilly Prat vermouth, and an olive. The large pink eye of the pimento gazes at me from the bottom of the glass, beckoning me to consummate our desire for each other. But on to more pleasurable subjects, like…faculty status for librarians! Yay!

Seldom do I write about academic libraries in the blog. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I don’t like to foul my own nest. I have a such a pretty nest, neat, tidy, secure, and I like to keep it that way. As a librarian, I may never get rich, but fortunately I have the Library Journal to make me rich beyond my wildest dreams. However, I do have something that these investment bankers and auto workers don’t have: tenure. Tenure is a good thing, and one of the reasons I stayed in academia.

Why do I mention this? Because someone forwarded me some emails from a listserv discussion last week about faculty status and who should have it. My own opinion is, everyone in the world should have it, and then if they’re worthy they can get tenure and live happily ever after, just like the Annoyed Librarian. This is not a goal to sneeze at, and if you do sneeze at it please cover your mouth.

The initial email, as far as I could tell, was about a discussion at a particular library regarding whether to grant faculty status to professionals and administrators who do not have the prestigious ALA-accredited MLS. The inquirer wanted to know what other university librarians thought about that. There were a number of responses, but the one that struck me the most vigorously pooh-poohed the idea. In fact, I haven’t seen an idea so vigorously pooh-poohed by a librarian since I suggested removing chocolate from the break room.

The librarian in question said she wouldn’t work for such an institution because the practice would diminish her time and effort and ability "to obtain the MLS and all it represents." I almost spit out my martini when I reread that sentence, but that would have been plain rude, and as we know I always maintain an admirable decorum.

The MLS and all it represents? What exactly does it represent? It represents taking a dozen or so of the easiest "graduate" classes around, so intellectual rigor is out. I guess it represents dogged persistence, since for intelligent students library school is so ridiculously boring and unchallenging that the thought of dropping out is ever present. That should count for something, I suppose, since it’s a lot like the profession in general. The long tedious classes, the boring group work, and the challenge of pretending to stay interested in mind-numbing topics are some of the best preparation for the field of librarianship I can think of, maybe even for the field of life. For some people it represents the willingness and ability to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to obtain a degree that has little inherent value. Fortunately, I won my MLS in a raffle, so I didn’t have to pay anything for it.

And let us think about some of the professionals without the prestigious MLS who might work in academic libraries. There are subject specialists galore. If a university wanted a subject specialist in history or Asian studies or whatever, what would be better: an MLS or a PhD? Doesn’t the PhD in some subject represent at least as much time and effort and ability as the MLS? I’d say yes, based on my experience. What subject does the MLS prepare you to specialize in except the subject of "library science," if that?

Lest you think I privilege the more academically credentialed among us, let us consider some of the techies necessary to run the library. I’m not talking about those librarians who have the same facility for using social software that any reasonably bright 7-year-old has. I’m talking about those systems librarians (or "librarians") who are increasingly important to our libraries and who keep them running. Maybe they have an MLS, or maybe not. But the best and brightest among them (and there are some very bright ones at my library) are just as engaged in the profession as some MLS holders who think so highly of themselves.

What is the indicator for "faculty"? It’s hard to say. But if librarians deserve the status – and it’s not clear they do, since they’re really just fake faculty anyway (please don’t tell my director I said that!) – then the engaged and intelligent professionals who manage our computer systems probably should as well. Think about your library. If you work in an academic library, think about the library’s relation to the students. What would be more catastrophic: all the catalogers and reference librarians disappearing to Boca Raton for a month, or the two top systems people taking a long lunch during a network crisis? These people are bright and knowledgeable and utterly necessary to the academic mission of the library. If your system folk aren’t bright and knowledgeable, then you probably realize even more how essential good people are.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. The initial discussion seemed to be about who should be granted faculty status. If it’s academic prowess or research ability, it’s not at all clear to me most librarians should have it. If it’s not about a degree, then it should probably have something to do with one’s contribution to the academic mission of the institution. Clearly professors (real professors, I mean) are crucial. They do the teaching. Librarians obviously have their place to support the educational mission. Maybe the question is whether someone without the precious MLS can be considered a "librarian" and thus worthy of faculty status. The only people who worry about that are status-insecure librarians who desperately cling to the notion that while they may be low in the pecking order of the university, at least they have that MLS and can thus separate themselves from people so low they aren’t even allowed to call themselves "librarians." That’s the logic of bigotry in a nutshell. "Well, I may be powerless and worthless, but at least I’m not like these lowlifes!"

It seems to me that once a university has stooped to granting faculty status to mere librarians, there aren’t any substantial barriers to faculty status left. Thus, why not just give it to everyone.



  1. Knownuthing says:

    On this issue I believe what ever my supervisor tells me to believe.

  2. At my library, we do many important and faculty like things to show we deserve faculty status. For example, we attend meetings, publish unimportant articles in unreadable journals, and avoid contact with the undergraduates.

  3. “Well, I may be powerless and worthless, but at least I’m not like these lowlifes!”

    Are you sure you’re AL talking about librarians and not Edmund S. Morgan talking about the great problem and inconsistency of the American republic?

  4. Of course librarians should be given faculty status. Then they can be replaced with non-benefit earning adjuncts just like the rest of the faculty!

  5. That is it for me says:

    I agree with the listserv post. I did work hard to obtain my MLS, and I am an intelligent person. I guess I was wise enough to choose a vigorous library school with a quality, theoretical curriculum. Martini Drinking 101 was not offered at my library school, and I didn’t miss it at all. Goodbye AL.

  6. RealityChick says:

    *Vigorous* library school? What is this school of which you speak? Is there a hamster wheel installed there for library students? Seriously, if you’re going to defend your school, I want names, because I’m highly dubious about the existence of any *vigorous* library school. Workload-heavy, sure, maybe, but significantly stimulating? Hm.

  7. jane of the waking universe says:

    I would also have to add that at some institutions the more nebulously classified systems librarians, specifically e-resource librarians and ILS administrators, have a really hard time getting away from work. At our institution, reference librarians and catalogers refuse to troubleshoot problems when things go awry.

  8. Tenureisevil says:

    No one deserves tenure – not faculty, not librarians -from kindergarten teachers through secondary education. Everyone should be reviewed anually and his/her employment continued and rewarded based on the person’s performance and contributions to students’education and furthering the mission of the organization. It’s time for academia to join the real world.

  9. Common Sense says:

    Actually, are we now aware of the curriculum requirements, and degree of difficulty for each every class, for each and every library school that offers the ALA MLS? How can you speak with such vitriol RealityChick, without prior knowledge of this person’s experience at library school? If we are to teach critical thinking to our students, we should practice it ourselves first.

  10. Common Sense, I’m confused by your post. RealityChick expressed her doubts about MLS programs, then asked for the name of the school. I would assume so she could research the program and solidify or modify her current opinion. Which would be thinking critically about the issue. But you criticize her for not critically thinking? Huh?

  11. Sidney, you made me laugh out loud!
    As far as who deserves tenure and how much a PhD is worth, I can say that I worked in a university archive with a history PhD and he was easily one of the worst library workers I’ve ever encountered.

  12. But that is the problem, Bork. The original poster did not say they were going to research the library school. You did, so I find Common’s reply valid.

  13. The librarians in my library are faculty yet they are not required to publish. They are also supposed to have tenure reviews but that doesn’t happen. It’s like they are making the same money as professors, but without any of the risks involved.

    I am a professional, and thus not in the faculty ‘club’. Should professionals be in the faculty club? Yes they should, but if and only if they want to play by the same rules –>

  14. It is true that some MLS courses are not challenging and some students are just there to get the degree, however, I think academic librarians should have some qualification in education/teaching which would qualify them for faculty status.

  15. I guess my post got cut off… oh well..

    same rules = being up for tenure, publishing, and/or teaching

  16. Seriously, I would also like to know which schools have challenging programs. My library school, Dominican University, was like clown college. I have friends who went to Michigan and U of I Urbana-Champaign, 2 schools that are consistently held up as paragons of quality library education, who also said that their schools were pathetically easy. I have been talking with someone who’s looking into MLS programs and if there’s a good one out there, I would sincerely like to know so I can steer him toward it.

  17. AlwaysWanted2B says:

    So people keep trashing their MLS as extremely easy. My question is for those of you who have a masters in another field – was it really more challenging or difficult? Mine was not.

  18. Library Observer says:

    “No one deserves tenure – not faculty, not librarians -from kindergarten teachers through secondary education. Everyone should be reviewed anually and his/her employment continued and rewarded based on the person’s performance and contributions to students’education and furthering the mission of the organization. It’s time for academia to join the real world.”
    That’s the kind of garbage public librarians have to deal with. Yes, when the new admin. comes in, out the librarians who have been there and replace with adjunct faculty. Oh, and do it in a secret star chamber session, for which no minutes survive.

  19. At least choose a library school that has a great song written about it … Kent State, where everyday on campus was like taking a trip back in time.

  20. Kent was ridiculously easy. Yes, I had one professor who made things challenging, but I got nothing but A’s and I was drunk most of the time.

  21. Dr. Pepper says:

    I have an MA and an MEd. All of these challenged me intellectually and taught me things I did not know by just doing it for work. When I compare my curriculum to MLIS curriculum its pretty clear that the MLIS is a cakewalk.

  22. Chinese Bandit says:

    Many library schools offer both intellectually rigorous classes and intellectually vacuous classes. As for you, Realitychick…you want specifics? The Advanced Seminar in Cataloging at LSU, at least in the early 2000s. (I’m not saying the current version of that isn’t intellectually rigorous. Rather, I’m just speaking from my own experience which was in the early 2000s). There was a (real) research paper requirement, and several other writing assignments. And garbage did not past muster.

    LSU also had some less-than-rigorous classes, but the preponderance of them were challenging.

    So Geaux Tigers.

  23. “As far as who deserves tenure and how much a PhD is worth, I can say that I worked in a university archive with a history PhD and he was easily one of the worst library workers I’ve ever encountered.”

    Hey Hero, you brave enough to say what university that was?

  24. It does not matter how Hard [I.E. EXPENSIVE] your MLS was. The cheap schools undermine any prestige you might feel you have because at the end of the day, your degree is no better then theirs; it is an MLS. And in Library science. Or something to that effect.

    Someone asked if Masters programs in other fields are any harder. I looked at a couple; first, they are longer – like 54 units to our palsy 36.

    Second, their masters students have to either teach or TA classes in their major. Now we can’t do that because there are very few BLIS students out there. This ration of BLIS to MLIS students should be a Foghorn for everybody in the room about the caliber of the MLIS program. Or maybe an air horn. Or a Dental Drill!!!! wwwreeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

    But it gets harder in serious majors. In addition to these classes they have to TA, they also have to do research projects – like how our Ph. D candidates have to do research projects. When they set down to do their PhD, they already have a serious research project behind them so they are already familiar with the process and bring with them into their program a preparation that cannot be under valuated. This is an important distinction between the serious fields and the more tinker bell pixy majors.

    And then they have to go through thesis program including yearly reviews and an official defense. They have to take classes but these classes have dual 400/500 listings, which means you have both undergrad and graduate student in the class. The 500 level coursework usually includes a more substantive syllabus including a serious paper of longer length and other minimal requirements above and beyond wha the 400 level undergraduates are doing.

    My MLS program was easier than my High school experience ten years ago. I do not lie; I did have a couple harder classes back in high school! The problem is, as I said before, is that my masters, from a school that prices itself at $5,000 a year, is completely equivalent to your masters from school X where you spent $40,000 a year. The sad part is, as I am seeing more and more, is that your degree might have been just a little harder because you had to work two full time jobs while pursing your degree – just to eat Ramen on your plastic patio chair.

    Should we have faculty status and tenure? I personally feel everybody on campus should be graded based upon the level of education they have. Experience is subjective; Age and race are outlawed. The ONLY quantitative value is education and it is a concrete indicator.

    Level I jobs require an HSD. Level II, AA level or 48 units of college study; Level III, A BA/BS and/or at least 120 units. Level IV, an MA/MS. Level V, a MA/MS level thesis or second MA/MS. Level VI, a PhD. Level VII? An award [emritus, Newberry, Nobel Peace, etc] in addition to everything of the previous level.

    Level I jobs would be mainly work-study general studies students, focused on servicees like food service and janitorial jobs. Level II would be mainly your research undergrads. Level III would be your TA and graduate research students. Level IV would be your junior level professors and research technicians; Level IV, Junior level professors, researchers and teaching Assistants. Level V, General Professor and Faculty. Level VI would be your egghead professors, serious research lab heads, senior officials and Vice presidents. Level VII: Senior professors college Presidents, Board of Regents, etc.

    Who gets Faculty status? Nobody! Because you are ALWAYS a student in an academic environment no matter how high on the ladder you are!!! You are there in that environment because you are in the pursuit of higher knowledge! If you are not, then GET OUT!!

    Who gets Tenure? Tenure goes to those people who get grants, private endowments, and other cash flow generators. How long does the tenure last? For as long as the cash flow lasts!! Otherwise, subject everybody to annual reviews combined with proficiency tests!! If you fail, there are a whole lot of people who want your job!!!

  25. “Hey Hero, you brave enough to say what university that was?”
    Wonderer, I’m afraid I’m not. ;)

  26. Privateer6 says:

    I can tell you that the MLIS is easy compared to other master level programs, even from a top tier school. My wife received her MLIS from a very high ranked SLIS. Yes she did a lot of work and busted her fanny to get the degree, but it was a lot of busy work and nothing to challenging

    When I did my MA in History, she could not understand the long hours I spent reading, writing papers, and doing research. She couldn’t understand why I had to go to Washington DC to do research for a week, or spend my weekends doing oral histories and interviews. Major stress on our marriage. Then one day she saw one of my syllabi and freaked out. That one class had 13 textbooks, each with a written synopsis, due every week. Additionally we had to lead the discussion one week during the semester, and write 2 major papers. After reading that syllabus, she finally understood why I was only taking 9 hours a semester instead of 12 like she did. She understood why I was not spending as much time working a part time job like she did.
    When I did my MLS, it was so easy, especially after the MA, that I was able to take 12 hours every semester except summe (the most I could take without paying more money), AND deal with 2 kids, a 2 year old and newborn, AND do some volunteer work.

  27. I am currently a student in library science at the top-ranked school, and I have a previous Master’s in English, so perhaps I can add some perspective. Yes, my English class required more reading, more research, and more writing. But my current program offers its own challenges. I am making A’s, but it certainly isn’t a cakewalk. Perhaps I’m just not as naturally brilliant as those of you who dismiss the degree which makes your livelihood possible. But is it really fair to compare a professional degree to a more academic degree?

    In any case, I think everyone is asking the wrong question. It shouldn’t be, ”

  28. My post got cut off:

    “Did I work hard enough to get my degree,” but “Did my degree help me to become an effective librarian?” Sounds like the means are being confused with the ends.

  29. MiniPerson says:

    It’s funny that you make the distinction between a professional degree and academic degrees. Yes there is a difference, but the difficulty and knowledge gained should be equivalent. I think there is something wrong when everyone gets an A (unless you’re only admitting MENSA people). The fact that the MLIS is a professional degree just points out that Librarians should not be faculty, and if they are faculty, others should be too. Being a faculty member means that you research and publish, and that you contribute to your profession. Most MLIS librarians don’t research, and don’t contribute to the profession (example: we’re still using MARC in 2009 ?!) In my library librarians are part of the faculty, but they’ve got a nice niche carved out for them. They get all the benefits of the faculty, but none of the risks – no need to publish (or perish), and no need to go through a tenure review. This is wrong.

  30. Privateer6 says:

    A Student,
    While the degree is needed for my job, most of the SLIS courses I took were things I learned in elementary and high school for the most part. My reference class reiterated the tools I used 20 years earlier; almanacs, encyclopedias, etc. No modern databases or tools were taught. Plus the instructor NEVER actally looked at the papers since I basically turned int he same paper week after week with minimal changes to it.

    Then those classes that would be expected and needed turend into a joke.
    For example my cataloging class. The instructor showed up 45 minutes late, let us out 2 hours early, and “required” us to buy his junk to catalog. I actually learned more about cataloging talking to my wife than from that joke of a class.

  31. MiniPerson says:

    LOL @ Privateer. One of my MLIS trained colleagues has a similar story. She claims that when she was in a SLIS the cataloguing course was so bad that she learned to catalog on her own. In class she just surfed the web. I’ve also heard that some “tough” professors make you memorize all possible reference sources, their pros/cons, etc. in a ‘basic’ reference class. Ooooo! Scary! I am not an MLIS, but I started reading MLIS required texts. After I read the texts and heard of this story I asked myself “who learns by memorization and regurgitation?” – Nobody I think.

  32. I went to library school at UIUC, and compared to my graduate experience in English at a comparable university the library program was a breeze, and grad school in English was already pretty easy. I’m not saying I didn’t learn anything. I’m just saying it was an easy program. The difference between the two is that a library degree would get me a job, which in itself is worth something.

  33. I wish to challenge RL. I also went to library school at Illinois, and I can say with all honesty that it was the most rigorous and challenging library school I have ever attended.

  34. Morse, have you attended many different library schools?

  35. No. Your point?

  36. Dismiss the degree that makes my livelihood possible????? PUH-lease!!! I have gone a new route thanks this degree – the route of finding a new field altogether because this field has done anything but make my livelihood possible.

    My experience in library school was similar to Privateer; Only I took 15 units a semester and still had time in my schedule to volunteer and work a hard job with a two hour one way commute and then taking care of my GF and her two kids and especially her third when he came visiting and she had to work all day. My time in class was spent sketching, configuring my weekly schedule and thinking that at the very least, I wasn’t paying the full rate for this degree and it would be done with in a single year…

  37. UIUC rigorous? As compared to… what?
    I know of no librarian who thinks that their library school was a difficult proposition, and my experience there surely was not terribly difficult. In comparison with other graduate work I’ve done, it was shockingly easy.
    You all know it to be the case, do you not? It is not a terrible burden, nor is it particularly challenging, from an academic point of view.
    As for the discussion about faculty status and tenure itself, I believe that it accomplishes one very important purpose: it gets the librarians on committees and into social situations where the library and the services offered can be explained. The teaching faculty know that we’re not like them, and they do often value our contributions to the institution and to the students. So if having faculty status gets one onto important campus committees, and tenure follows that status for the successful, that’s a huge positive for a well run academic library. Of course, deadwood. But then, all departments have that, and there is nothing that can be done about it.

  38. Morse, your point is brilliantly made -Everybody has only really attended ONE Grad school – and I am sure there are a couple out there who found the MLS to be Difficult – Why else would the degree be so easy? LOWEST common denominator!!!

  39. Exactly Mr. Kat. I earned my law degree and my library degree at the same time. When my library professors found out I was earning a law degree they would remark, “Gosh, this must feel like a lot of busy work for you.” And it was.

  40. “I guess I was wise enough to choose a vigorous library school with a quality, theoretical program.” LOL! Vigorous? Quality? Please spare me. I have a good friend who got the MLS, a nice woman with a super smooth brain (i.e., no ruts in it, therefore dim!!) and I had to bite my lip when she described her graduate work as “rigorous.” I worked lots harder on my BA, granted by the same university. It’s a union card!! That’s all it is, Folks! Having written that, I’ll add that I love my work. Undergraduates and all. But I’d love to have tenure in this sucky economic climate.

  41. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Mr. Kat makes a good point about cheap schools. I’ve been appalled by our applicants with online degrees – people who got the degree in a community that has no library to speak of. When I got my degree at UT Austin we spent hours in one of the best library systems in the country (disclaimer: I’m in the “boy was it easy” camp, though some classmates didn’t think so). I don’t believe you can learn good library practice (whatever it might be) virtually. Our last hiree got the degree at a bricks-n-mortar institution. Head and shoulders above the multiple online degree holders who all got their degrees from the same cruddy little virtual university.

  42. Why is there faculty status for anyone? It doesn’t spur better work, but lazy elitism. But I guess without faculty status, academics would have to live in the real world and that just doesn’t work for them.

  43. counting down to cocktail hour says:

    Graduating from library school means that you have the proven ability to sit through long hours of discussion with idiots and NOT poke out your eyes. It’s a skill necessary to sit through faculty meetings.

    I went to Univ. of Maryland, which is well-ranked. The parts that were rigorous were the parts that I made rigorous. My research could have been much more shoddy and my papers could have been much crappier for the same A. I just mustered the effort to keep myself interested.

    At my school, librarians have faculty status because we theoretically teach. Every semester there is a library skills class about the basics of research taught by “staff.” The librarians all need faculty status because any one of us could teach it. (We figure out who has the best vacation planned, and then schedule the meeting while he or she is gone, and assign them to the class.) If the administrators and other professionals want to teach about how to evaluate web site authority and using subject headings, they can be my guest and get all the faculty status they want.

  44. “I guess I was wise enough to choose a vigorous library school with a quality, theoretical curriculum. Martini Drinking 101 was not offered at my library school, and I didn’t miss it at all. Goodbye AL.” Martini Drinking 101, indeed. Drinking martinis isn’t something one learned in library school classes. It’s what allowed one to tolerate the people who thought library school was “vigorous.”

  45. questioner says:

    Do all of who like to yap about how devoid of substance library school is think that dictum also applies to classes and programs in special collections?

    If you really find Descriptive Bibliography, for example, just so shamefully easy, etc. blah blah blah than YOU can come figure out the collation on the copy of Burnet’s History of His Own Time I’m about to buy and wade through a dozen ESTC records that might nor might not actually describe it….cause that should be just mindless busywork, and I’m stupid if I find it anywhere near challenging, right? Is that is?

    Or it’s not the whole of library education that’s devoid of anything intellectual, but rather just…um….YOU?

  46. The problem you describe, Questioner, is a result of Librarians trying to do technical work and Technicians trying to anticipate Library Work. Put real programmers to the task of improving the system with a person in the room who collects old books and your job could be done by High School grads.

    even Amazon’s pages could do with a little ambiguization/disambiguization, as there are multiple ISBNs to decribe monogrpahs; each future printing is possibly done by a different printer and/or publisher, which means each individual monograph would need a different record – but there should be a home record that applies to the family of records thus making it possible to identify all possible printings of a book with a single stop.

    I started messign around with record structure since before Library school. I went to library school hoping I could find the environment necessary to foster future development in the library field. I found a field horsebackackwards and completely unwilling to move forward. the school website was the first clue the school didn;t get it; the second clue was the insistance on the use of listserves for just about everything. In this age of blogs, Bulletin Board forums, and other smart technologies, a listserv makes about as much sense as using Conestoga Wheels on a Ferrari. But I digress.

    Library school was a joke and I soon discovered why the sciences were heckling the library so much…and I also understood why the systems the science field craves simply do not exist. But I have moved on; the field may die and wind up in an archeaology museum for all I care.

    Your job is not near as hard as you make it or think it is.

  47. ConfusedByItAll says:

    I am still considering getting an MLS just because I want the pay differential between the have and have-nots in the library system where I work.

    The only thing I will say is that one of the reference librarians mused one day at work that his MLS, for all the new information he learned, should have been a 6-week correspondence course.

  48. some of my courses WERE 6 week correspondance courses!!!!


    The really funny part, however, is that the two shortest classes I had were actually the most productive classes I had.

  49. Vegans For Meat says:

    When I was getting my MLS, I used to take other courses outside of the program, such as public policy course, simply to make it feel like I was being intellectually challenged. It’s sad that these side classes were always more challenging than any of the library course I took. With that said, I’m glad I have a job as a librarian, which is what the library degree is solely for. I’m slowly working on another Masters that will add to my professional options.

  50. Youth librarian says:

    Guess I’m not the norm. I learned quite a bit in my program, and chose my school based upon the professors there and what I wanted to specialize in. I’ve used the theoretical part as a way of thinking, even if it’s not always related to my day-to-day job. My schooling was paid for with assistantship jobs, and I was lucky to find good mentors.

  51. Questioner says:

    Mr. Kat,

    Your apparent zeal to carp about what a bunch of idiots we all are is so great that you’re willing to reveal that you don’t know what you’re talking about. How does the quality or effectiveness of programming in any online system affect the challenges of descriptive bibliography? Do you know what descriptive bibliography is? Your comments about collocation of different manifestations of the same work suggests you think I was referring only to a cataloging problem. Maybe you are mixing up “descriptive bibliography” with “bibliographic description”. The latter is one component of cataloging, but the former refers to the analysis and description of the physical characteristics of books as physical artifacts. It’s a field necessary for the history of ideas, the history of books and reading, literary history and criticism and other areas of knowledge.

    The challenge that I referred to with using ESTC records to identify a particular item in hand had nothing to do with ESTC being a poorly designed catalog on a bad platform in need of a better programmer. In the particular case I mentioned the difficulty had to do with the challenges of being able to recognize a false imprint, identify a work bound by a former owner in different physical parts than in which mutiple printers issued it, and check the chain lines/wire lines in the paper and other phyiscal evidence to identify the format. Meeting that challenge depends on one’s knowledge of printing history, the bibliography of early printed books and the history of books and reading in general. Those aren’t superficial subject areas but they ARE something that some library schools teach.

    So why all this business about progamming? ESTC has more indexed fields/access points than any other union catalog or library catalog that contains descriptions of early printed books and its current platform, provided by the British Library, allows access just fine. Have you used it? If you had any experience with it you’d know that the author and uniform title access points in the advance searches allow for collocating different editions and issues of the same work – the very supposed problem you mention. Again, your invective about everyone else’s ignorance provides some of the best evidence for your own.

    You’re right that if a book collector and a good programmer were in the same room, they could do the task that I referred to – as could a bright high school student – IF they book collector were knowledgable about the bibliography of early printed books. There’s lots of places they could have gained that knowledge. A few library schools in the U.S. aren’t the only places, but they’re some of places.

    Maybe my job isn’t as hard as I think, but your criticism isn’t as effective as you think it is.

  52. “Dismiss the degree that makes my livelihood possible????? PUH-lease!!! I have gone a new route thanks this degree – the route of finding a new field altogether because this field has done anything but make my livelihood possible.” Ditto here. I have 51 Semester Hrs. in L.S.. Didn’t get me anywhere but out. Contributed to reference works too. Big deal. Been there, done that, seen the politics, despite ALA’s alleged “Ethics” statement.

  53. miniPerson says:

    Questioner, what’s your field? (well other than “librarianship”). The only reason I ask is because some of what you’ve said actually comes out of the mouths of what I call responsible librarians. The only problem is that most librarians I know are not ‘responsible’. All of the library schools that I’ve gotten prospectuses from are not ‘responsible’. The only librarians that have gotten something out of library school are people that either went to library school before electronic databases (older librarians), or people who actually pushed themselves hard, did extra work, studied extra courses on their own (etc) because the curriculum that was a requirement to graduate was poor.

    Now in recent years I’ve known many people who’ve attempted library school after having completed 1 or 2 masters degrees and they found library school to not be worth their money because they paid to ‘learn’ what they already knew. Most librarians that I know that complain about their MLIS went to University of North Texas, Simmons, URI, Rutgers, Michigan, SJSU, U of Alabama, and southern connecticut just to name a few. Clearly there is a range here of different institutions, but still the same type and amount of dissatisfaction.

  54. Questioner says:

    Hey miniPerson – my field is specialized enough that if I describe it too closely I’ll give up that vaunted anonymity that John Buschman got so upset about us having a few weeks ago. But suffice it to say I do dabble around with eighteenth-century English bibliography here and there (and, interestingly, I myself have never had a course in descriptive bibliography – I wish I had because I need it. The point is though that it’s substantive, meaningful and taught in a very few, yes, that’s right…Library Schools).

    I’m young enough to live thoroughly in the computer age and I enjoy learning about and using electronic databases, many of which are no absolutely essential in the humanities. ESTC is a great example. Mr. Kat included in his tirade a contention that librarians won’t allow anyone to mess with record structure. I wonder just what the heck he thinks all those librarians who use digital library management systems that allow user-defined fields are doing.

    Yes, I did do some extra work in library school but I also had some challenging classes in the special collections field. In fact, some of the coursework in curating archival and manucript collections – if it’s taught by the right people – can be intellectually challenging, especially when the subject of electronic description of cultural materials comes into play. People like Mr. Kat should take a break from their self-righteous proclaimations and take REAL look, for example, at the relationships between elements in one metadata scheme and the elements in another metadata scheme. If you do it seriously you’ll see that it raises serious questions about ontology and epistemology. Subject analysis is another dimension of professional library work that has its own challenges that requires sophisticated historical knowledge and research abilities. For example subject analysis is supposed to be objective, right? Well if you want to make it objective you have to understand the historical origin and cultural context of the very terms that some thesaurus builders have chosen as preferred terms. None of that is simple, rarely is it easy, all of it is substantive and it takes careful work by thinking people. Take an example from LCSH…go read the scope notes for the headings “African Americans” and “Blacks” and see whether and how they can be used WITHOUT incorporating some basic ideas and unspoken but strongly held assumptions about the history of the African diaspora, and the nature of American and African identity in the modern world. If you want to apply them as terms when doing original subject analysis AND be objective, you have to be cognizant of those assumptions and ideas.

    I learned about that kind of stuff in cataloging classes and in archives and manuscript classes in library school. If other peoples’ schools didn’t teach that stuff, they should blame their schools – not the profession or its educational system as a whole.

    So, no, Mr. Kat, we’re not all a bunch of vacuous dopes who lack only real programmers. (Although the latter are necessary).

    And thank you for your comment miniPerson.

  55. Youth Services librarian says:

    Thank you, Questioner. When I was in school a couple years ago, some beginning course work in describing information objects and records management was required for those like me who were going in a different direction. In depth course work was available and from what I heard from other students the classes were quite good. I chose my school based upon the background of the instructors in my field of choice. They were excellent, and some of them were also great mentors. I don’t believe that everyone has a mind numbing experience in school, that librarians are all idiots…

  56. Questioner, I went to a school that offered A preservation course – PHENOMONAL course – but still no more than an introductory course. The knowledge you describe would be more appropriately learned through first an undergraduate degree in history or the humanities [archaeology, etc] and then accompanied by a Masters in curatorial science or museum studies with an emphasis on books and preservation. Your expertise [the amount of work you have actually put up] would suggest that at this point you have a Ph. D in Library science. You do, yes?

    If library schools were serious about offering serious ideas to their graduates, then you would see degree programs consisting of the traditional 36-unit MLS course fluff designed to give all library graduates a general base knowledge followed by another 18 units of field specific studies in those disciplines most pertinent to the individual. That is what you get in other Masters programs – minus the 12 fluff courses, because the fluff courses are covered in the undergraduate program; if you do not have those proficiencies, then you take those courses as remedial studies. As it currently stands, a 54 unit program of study in library sciences will get you a Ph. D. A 54 unit program of study in physical geography, by comparison, will get you a Masters in that program. Think about that for a moment.

    At this point I would describe my degree of library science to be equivalent to the level of a second year student in a standard BS/BA Program. But it is a Master’s degree just like all other MLS degrees. If your degree is as rigid as you say it is, you should very well be quite upset by all these cheap degrees diluting the value of your degree – although you probably have already learned it is not the degree but rather your personal experience that matters the most.

    I still contend that library work is not near as hard as you make it out to be.

    P.S. I got to play with your metadata theory as well as I could in that single class as that is how it is offered. My metadata schema crosswalk was the only system that provided the common ground necessary by which all schemas would be unified into a single Universal metadata schema library.

    P.S.S. I’m not going to touch the issue of Descriptive Bibliography very much because I see it as another relic of a bygone era. In this day and age of high power computers with high storage capacities, I recognize that people no longer want derivative records; they want the primary document. Abstracts are nice; however, the full text article is what really contains the meaningful data, and since computers can search each and every file for any word you wish to search in relative seconds and further highlight and bookmark where each occurrence occurs along with the sentence/paragraph/page in which it occurs, derivative work really is becoming trivial UNLESS it contains the full intellectual content of the primary source.

  57. privateer6 says:


    Well I specialized in Archives and Records Management in SLIS. BUT I had to take those archiving courses at a nearby university that offered them through their public history porgram. THOSE courses were challenging. Grant you our ”

  58. privateer6 says:

    Got cut off. the rest of the post.

    grant you my “theory” course was more practicial: dealing with the lawsuit that my instructor was involved in the state’s attempt to recover a MAJOR public record and the everyday workings and politics of being involved in government archives. But all those specialized classes: preservation, collection management, etc. were specialized and had instructors who worked int he field on a daily basis. they were hands on, without a bunch of theory. Those were intellecually challenging.

    Maybe because you took mostly specialized courses, you think MLS programs are challenging. My library science courses were a joke.

  59. Questioner says:

    Mr. Kat, *once again* your zeal to show how smart you are results only in displaying your own ignorance. I don’t have time now to respond thoroughly, though I hope to later. For the present, though, here are some thoughts.

    No, I don’t have a Ph.D in Library Science, but I do have a Ph.D. in history in addition to one of the few substantive M.L.I.S. degrees out there.
    So your assumption is wrong.

    In your P.S.S. you say you won’t touch on the Descriptive Bibliography issue but then you do precisely that AND you ONCE AGAIN do it in a way that only shows you don’t understand what it is. You keep talking about access to the texts. Descriptive Bibliography is about more than the text, it’s about the physical structure of the book. That matters in some areas of research. Inform yourself on that and you won’t come across so ignorant.

  60. BricksMortar says:

    Interesting comments. miniPerson – your comment about the schools to which the biggest complainers go? I’ve worked in Texas for many years now and the comment I’ve heard from many co-workers is “I’ve never worked with a decent librarian who got their MLS from University of North Texas.” So maybe the complainers are the worst practitioners among us?

  61. miniPerson says:

    BricksMortar – the persons that I knew that went to UNT decided to drop out of the program because it wasn’t rigorous enough and they were just doing busywork LOL

  62. Mr. Kat says:

    My observation of the average patron shows they do not care about the physical structure of the book; my observation of library committees shows me that they do not care about any text older then about 1950. The value of anything older than as intellectual content is lost upon them. Thus, there are reasons why there are specialized areas in academic libraries to handle these materials. and there are reasons these area look and work more like a museum than a library.

    You missed the words that came right after “I’m not going to touch the issue of descriptive bibliography.” Again, I will repeat in other words: these issues librarians harp about and book connesuiers celebrate are nonissues amongst the common crowd. The book scanning projects are moving forward at a steady pace, providing many with access they never would have had to these ancient volumes otherwise. Once these scanning projects commence, the intellectual value of these old books will be null and void unless we lose the digital records. But then we have to recognize that old books are not matters for libraries but rather matters for Archeaology musems. These books have surpassed their usefulness as informaiton containers just as 4000BC oil jars from Egypt have surpassed their role for holding oil.

    These rare books are similar to gold coins or stamps; they may have a face value, but their intrinsic value so surpasses this face value that the currency of the information bound within the volume is no longer valid. Yes, you could use an 1865 20 dollar gold piece at the supermarket as 20 dollars; the same could be said about using a 200 year old book on a bedside table. Preservationists and archivists are not practicing librarianship persay, even though some elements of librarinship are useful. They practice curatorship, particulary the curatorship of books.

    I was quite correct to suggest you have a Ph.D.

  63. Demosthenes says:

    Hmmm library school. I would say with library school and other professional degrees, you get out what you put in. I think having a library job should be a prerequisite to admission to an MLS program. As far as tenure, I agree with those that it should not exist for librarians. Clinical faculty status makes the most sense to me. For those who have not read it Rachel Applegate has written a very good article on the matter.

  64. Dr. Pepper says:

    Now that this discussion is derailed…Is the concensus that because the MLIS is perceived to be held to a lower standard compared to PhDs that librarians shouldn’t have tenure? Or that because the bar is perceived to be held so low for MLIS candidates, other professionals working in libraries (MBA, MS-Comp Sci, MA Marketing, MEds, PhDs and so on) be considered faculty? Also Demosthenes, I would love to read the article you mentioned, can you post a link to it?

  65. Wonderer says:

    I thought about writing another reply to Mr. Kat’s ill-thought-out commentary, but he just ignores what doesn’t fit what he already wants to believe. He starts off above with some statement about the average patron not caring about the physical structure of the book. No duh. But some libraries – like research libraries for instance – exist to provide things that are culturally important even though the other-than-average patron, not the average patron, wants them. Then he goes on about how once everything is digitized the original will be useless, obviating the very point *already made* about how books are important as physical artifacts (and, yes, that’s still the province of libraries as well as museums.)

    Mr. Kat, I really think your time would be better spent educating yourself about what research libraries do and how early printed books are important for understanding our cultural heritage. Your time, however, if yours. So is posting ill-thought-out baseless commentary on this blog makes you happy, go ahead. I have better things to do than argue with a wall, which is the equivalent of trying to discuss something of substance with you. If you post some other baseless, irrational, senseless claim and then have a little celebration that you got the last word, go ahead. I have better things to do than deal with you…that’s all I have to say on this.

  66. Dr. Pepper says:

    I’ve read both Mr. Kat’s comments, and the comments of the Questioner and the wandered. I agree with all three of you, no matter how opposing your views are. What *really* sticks out to me is that it appears that no one has defined librarianship. The three of you have taken the idea of librarianship and ran with it in two different directions. I agree with both opinions, but Special Librarianship (aka Archival studies, aka Curatorship) is not the same as Academic librarianship (at my college anyway), which is not the same as public librarianship. There are different goals in each, but from what I see from the defenders of the MLIS is that if you get an MLIS you should be able to do all 3 types without a twitch. This may be true for some exceptional individuals. People need to define librarianship – what its goals are, and how it differs from X, Y, Z that appear to be the same or competing fields. Questioner, can someone with a degree in History and Archival studies and experience do a job in your area without an MLIS? Why or why not? Can someone with a degree & experience in nonprofit/public management run a library without an MLIS? Why or why not? And so on…

    Until a definition of librarianship is provided, we’ll all be going round and round in a never ending circle of bickering.

  67. Not a Dissatisfied Grad says:

    I’m apparently outside the norm, too. I went to Simmons and was incredibly careful about the professors and courses I chose. I worked quite a bit, and learned a lot. For example, my cataloging class was shaped entirely around the intellectual issues Questioner brings up. That seems to make it the opposite of other cataloging classes being described.

    I’ll also reiterate earlier points that I had to drive myself to learn that much. In some (but not all) courses it would have been entirely possible to coast. But I didn’t — when given a topic I did graduate-level research and turned in graduate-level work. Was it the same work as that done in a PhD program? Of course not — the degree is a practical, professional degree. However, I was challenged.

    Some of the loathing for librarians and the library degree surprises me. I agree that the MLIS needs re-vamping, to make it more consistently challenging and meaningful. I like Mr. Kat’s suggestion of a traditional 36 unit MLS program followed by 18 units in an area of specialization. But I’m surprised at his vitriol.

  68. Not a Dissatisfied Grad says:

    (Wow, the LJ commenting system is as atrocious as people say!)

  69. Youth Services Librarian says:

    I had a similar experience, Not a Dissatisfied Grad. My program was 42 units, 12 of which were required to be taken in the student’s field of specialization. Many of us did more than that, and I found that the experience depended upon how much effort was put into it. Choosing the school and classes based upon the professors wasn’t a bad idea, either. It was possible to coast, but the folks (at least those I knew) that did weren’t able to find jobs once they completed the program.

  70. Mr. Kat says:

    When books become regarded more as physical artifacts then for the content within their covers, those books no longer have a place in a lending library or even an academic library. In the first place the book circulates, and I hardly imagine anyplace allowing a 500 year old copy of anything circulating like a last week copy of Harry Potter. In an academic setting the information within the book is more imporatant; however, once the information is digitally captured, the academic study can progress uninhibited. This leaves one group of people interested in the book: those people who study books as objects in history, the historical book manufacturing process as part of history, and the preservation process as means to keeping this piece of hisotry intact for a longer period of time then naturally allowed.

    The rightful place for these ancient books is thus in a Museum because they are artifacts of past human history. If you look at many specail Libraries, you will see that they more resemble museums than libraries – in process, in facility, in mind. It is an important distinction and it will be more obvious as projects like Google move forward.

  71. Demosthenes says:

    Here you go Dr. Pepper :)

    “Deconstructing Faculty Status: Research and Assumptions.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 19(3, July 1993):158-64.

  72. Dr. Pepper says:

    Thanks Demosthenes! That was quite an interesting read (one that I think applied both to “librarians” with an MLIS and “library professionals” without one. It would be interesting to see an actual empirical study of this topic.

  73. Youth Services Librarian says:

    I have been thinking about this idea of adding more hours to the MLS/MLIS program, as was Mr. Kat’s suggestion. For me, who went to what I considered a fine program at Florida State University, which apparently requires more course work than some, that would have meant a mere one additional semester. That would have been fine, except it would have increased my student loans. Since I was trying to keep those loans at a bare minimum by having tuition, fees, and a health insurance subsidy paid by graduate assistantships, increasing those loans would not have been fine at all. School for me at least was great in providing a foundation, but that one extra semester would not have made me any better at what I’ve been doing for the last couple years, running a Youth Services department at a mid-size library. My degree, however, has helped me to do that job, particularly in providing a theoretical framework in which to approach a variety of problems. What has not been mentioned is that there is free continuing course work through places like Webjunction. The degree is a beginning and a framework for people who will put the extra effort in, but it is certainly not the end.

  74. I am fine with the degree; however, look at it closely and ask yourself: is this MASTER’S work? I’m still convinced that the majority of MLS courses are no higher then a second year undergraduate level; they are introductory, touching on many individual components, very broad in concept and theory. There is a place for this in Education – but it is NOT the MASTER’S level. The Course Work Questioner has pursued, for example, very well is MASTER’S level work – but that was by that person’s volition.

    The problem is not the Degree; it is the Degree masquerading itself as a higher degree than it actually is – and for reasons more POLITICAL than Theoretical.

    I apologize to those who get antsy about caps words. The Emphasis should help some people skim my main message: The MLS is a political key and not a true professional measure.

  75. Some good points have been made here, and I agree with several of them, plus I have one of my own.

    1) Most MLIS programs are NOT very intellectually challenging or rigorous. The EASIEST class in my Master of Arts in Music Theory (UW, Seattle) was more difficult, more intellectually challenging, than the HARDEST class in my MLIS program (Univ. of N. Texas).

    2) Nevertheless, despite its lack of intellectual rigor, my MLIS degree gave me a career; I still describe my MA degree to people I meet as one of the most unemployable degrees ever granted.

    3) Faculty status for librarians is great if you can get it. But don’t EVER fall into the trap of thinking that your degree is in ANY way academically equivalent to the PhD that the average tenured teaching or research faculty member has! There lies hubris!

    Finally, my own observation: There IS a significant difference in the viewpoint, the outlook, the overall conception of the library and its goals, from the average holder of the MLS/MLIS, than from the average library worker without the degree. Yes, there are exceptions on both sides (people without the degree who truly “get it” and people WITH the degree who don’t). But by and large, in my experience, people with the degree see the bigger library picture better than those who don’t have it.

  76. At my institution, librarians are tenure-track faculty, held to the same standards as all other faculty. We must have not only an MLS, but also at least a ‘subject Masters’ degree as well. Several librarians have doctorates in their other subject areas. We contribute extensively to service to the university and the profession, and are required to contribute professionally at a national level in order to become a full professor. Those of us who have instructional responsibilities teach, with heavier loads than faculty in other disciplines (and I’m married to one of those, so I know). And for the final leg of the three-legged stool (service, teaching/librarianship/publishing) – yes, we fulfill that as well. We are held to the same standards as other faculty – and yet we do not get summers off and they do. For promotion to full professor, you’d better have at least one book. perhaps more. So who deserves faculty status? If anyone does, and if you aren’t in agreement that no one should get such a thing, well then we do.

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