Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

What is a Librarian?

I’m giving you a short one today, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m feeling a bit down in the mouth. Chip thinks I might have the swine flu, but I’m pretty sure he’s not a licensed physician.

No, I’m giving you a short one because I want to take a survey of sorts. Some colleagues and I were arguing over what the criterion is for being a librarian. It’s amazing how heated a silly argument could be, but we were all in disagreement.

Is a librarian anyone with an MLS? Would someone with an MLS, but who didn’t work in a library or as a librarian, still be considered a librarian? My position was that just having an MLS doesn’t make someone a librarian. One has to actually work as a librarian or in a library to be a "librarian."

But what about those people who do work in libraries, and who do high level work normally considered professional, but who don’t have an MLS? Can they ever be considered librarians? I said yes, but I was distinctly in the minority.

And what about that tiny minority of people with a bachelor’s degree in library science who don’t have MLS degrees. Can they ever be librarians?

So what is a librarian? Do we use a formal criterion – having an MLS? Or a functional criterion – working in a library doing librarian-type work? Or some combination of the two?

My position is that if it look like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a librarian. Thus, a librarian would be someone doing librarian-type work in a library, and those people with MLSs who no longer work in libraries aren’t librarians. Would you consider someone with an MSW a social worker if they didn’t work as a social worker? I wouldn’t. And the longer it’s been since the person worked in a library, the further from librarian the person is.

But what do you think? What is a librarian?



  1. First off, a caveat, I don’t have an MLIS, so my opinion may not be worth anything here :P I agree with the all-knowing and mighty AL that having an MLIS doesn’t make one a librarian. A library degree, however, qualifies one to apply for a librarian position, and when one is hired to fill such a position, only then is one a librarian. Now, about others who work in a library and perform library-related duties, I don’t think that necessarily makes them a librarian in the professional sense of the term. Strictly speaking, technical specialists and library assistants aren’t librarians because that’s not their job title. I’m a TS at a library, and even though I do perform some esteemed librarian duties, I do not see myself as a librarian nor do I call myself one. I get a bit embarrassed when people (as in the public) call me that at work sometimes, embarrassed not because I’m ashamed of being called such (pfft) but rather embarrassed in being called something I’m not qualified to be. I feel so unworthy! On the other hand, other TAs I work with can certaintly qualify to be librarians and in fact can actually be called LIBRARIANS, but they’re not because they don’t have an MLIS and were not hired to fill a librarian position. Anyhow, I’ve always found it a bit amusing how the library profession seems so fussy about who can and can’t be called a librarian. This issue has been passionately discussed many times before. I don’t think there is any other profession that makes so much brouhaha about professional titles within its field.

  2. Andy Ekins says:

    I’ve been working in an academic library for six years now as a Library Systems officer. It has come to a point where I am seriously considering doing a MLIS qualification. Not because I want to be labelled as a Librarian, but because I believe that the role of the Liberian and the role of the Library Systems officers are converging to a point where it is necessary to have a rigorous amount of knowledge about both fields. This is in direct response to changes in the way that libraries are engaging and utilising technology in response to customer demand and industry pressures. I think it’s worth reading Carl Grants blog post on the disappearing library (Blog post title: Going, going, gone??)
    He argues that libraries and librarians might be a disappearing breed. I think this in part true, but it is more complex than this. I believe (as I stated above) that the librarian role is changing and in the future may even come to be known by a completely different title. So to answer your question: What is a Librarian? At preset it may be someone who has a MLS and works in a Library, but very soon it will become something completely different or even (dare I say it) obsolete.

  3. Librarian is a state of mind. Librarian works in a very wide field of library and information science. So I say everybody who want to be a librarian can be called librarian.
    I have a library education. I don’t work at a library. I work for an ISP doing not a library job but a job where my education is very beneficial (call centre). But I manage a librarian related blog. And continuing my library postgraduate education.

  4. As someone who is hoping to get her BA in librarianship in the next week, I have to say that I can’t see how the MLS is so much better, I shared most of the units on my course with the MA students and have been advised that for all intents and purposes taking an MLS is pointless now.
    But I do think you can’t go round calling yourself a Librarian unless you are employed as a librarian, unless you want to qualify the statement with a qualified or retired or job-hunting or presently not engaged in a librarian capacity.

  5. Techserving You says:

    Okay, my story – I worked in ‘the field’ as a paraprofessional for a decade before going back and getting my MLIS full-time. I now work as a professional librarian. I feel that all of the skills, knowledge, whatever you want to call it, that I use now came from my previous work experience, not the MLIS program. And I know that what I did as a paraprofessional is the same or even higher-level than what some so-called professional (MLIS-holding) librarians do. I contend that practically-speaking, you can be a librarian without the MLIS. That is, you can do the exact same work, and know MORE about that work than many MLIS-holders. That should make you a librarian. Of course, actually getting the TITLE is a different story, but that is because of the rather arbitrary credentialization movement in the field. Can someone with an MLIS working in another field call themself a librarian? I suppose so. I don’t agree that it’s like a doctor or lawyer who, once they have the appropriate degree, is always a doctor or lawyer whether or not they’re practicing. the JD and MD degrees actually impart some body of knowledge, whereas the MLIS program does not. But, what is the harm in calling yourself a librarian if you’re not working in a library? If you’re so hot to do that, then you are probably have deeply-ingrained stereotypical librarian traits, so go ahead. Now, for a BA in library science… you know what, in my MLIS program, I studied with a girl from Jordan who had a BLIS. She thought the MLIS was a massive waste of time, because she learned absolutely nothing that she hadn’t already learned in the BLIS program. But, she wanted to get a PhD in the subject and teach, so she needed to get the MLIS. So I agree that a BLIS (I suppose this might be different from program to program) should be sufficient to become a librarian if an MLIS is. But again, good luck getting a job with that title anywhere but a very small town. And here’s a question… can an MLIS with never having worked in a library make you a librarian? I really don’t think so. And I really can’t stand it when new MLISs with no experience suddenly think they are so above paraprofessionals (who, by the way, often have real masters degrees or even PhDs.)

  6. If you don’t have an MLS, work in an academic library, go to conferences (paid for by your employer, sit on committees that decide the future. . . you are not a librarian.

    Doing clerical work with MARC, setting up the WII for the Dance Dance Revolution party, shelving the latest Danielle Steele book, blogging tweeting your newsletter onto the Internet, . . . etc Even if you have an MLS. . . does not make you a librarian.


  7. Mostly I’m with you, if someone’s doing professional library work then they’re a librarian, although I would say if someone has an MLS (or equivalent) and has once worked professionally in a library, then they are still a librarian. Or if they’re working in information, even if it’s not strictly a library per se, they’re still a librarian.

  8. Your Conscience says:

    Do official job description titles matter in this conversation?

  9. Ninja Librarian says:

    You’re a librarian if you have a degree that says you’re a librarian.

    Look, everyone who works in a bank isn’t a banker and everyone who works in a kitchen isn’t a chef. Education means something people.

    *throws smoke bomb*

  10. Is a librarian anyone with an MLS?
    No. I have a degree in art and I can assure you I am not an artist.

    Would someone with an MLS, but who didn’t work in a library or as a librarian, still be considered a librarian?
    No. They got wise to this librarian gig and high-tailed it to a more lucrative profession.

    But what about those people who do work in libraries, and who do high level work normally considered professional, but who don’t have an MLS?
    Thank the lord for these folks.

    Can they ever be considered librarians?
    Absolutely! They are some of the best ones.

    And what about that tiny minority of people with a bachelor’s degree in library science who don’t have MLS degrees. Can they ever be librarians?
    4 years studying library science? Oh that’s just wrong.

    Do we use a formal criterion – having an MLS? Or a functional criterion – working in a library doing librarian-type work? Or some combination of the two?
    The MLS is helpful if you don’t have the necessary subject expertise for a position. Then again in past years when we did searches to fill positions, we were more interested in subject knowledge and would have gladly taken a candidate with an advanced degree in the subject over someone with an MLS who had no clue about what our students were studying.

    But what do you think?
    This is a terribly unscientific survey. Not a single Likert scale to be seen.

    What is a librarian?
    I know one when I see one.

  11. NotJustLibrarians says:

    I would like to point out that librarians aren’t the only one that are uptight about this sort of thing. I have met nurses that were brilliant diagnosticians and paralegals that could produce top notch legal arguments/documents. But in neither case, even if they did the full work of the doctor/lawyer, were they allowed to retitle themselves as doctor/lawyer. Yes, it’s artificial and higher-ed revenue driven, but we do require those bits of paper to define the bounds profession and not the actual accomplishments or day-to-day work. If all it takes is doing the work of a librarian: teaching storytimes/literacy, organizing and cataloging books, or answering questions, then anyone with a collection of books at home and a couple of kids should properly be allowed to add “Librarian” to their business cards.

  12. If you think that computers have a place in society, you are not a librarian.

  13. Jeff MLS Worthy says:

    If you know the difference between LC, MARC, cataloging, and classifying,

    ….you might be a librarian.

  14. As a “clerk” I do indexing, database management, patron training, CONTENTdm historic photo collection management & display, and reference queries. And I do it well… Some of my MLS co-workers are adamant that I am not a librarian. Well, if I’m doing the same job… I maintain that I am a librarian, while they are Librarians. I’m not paying the cash for another degree just so I can capitalize my job description, put three precious letters after my name, and earn another $3000 per year. I already make more than a starting MLS in Montana.

  15. Librarian-in-training says:

    I am in a MLIS program right now, but my offical title at work is “librarian”. The person who best trains me and who by far knows the most in my library, moreover, is officially a “library assistant III” but I think she knows more than any of the high and might librarian dinosaurs who are in admin. and in non-public-service areas of the organization. A title means nothing.

  16. Ha, yes I see a “You Might Be a Librarian if…” list in the works =D

    Archivists (I’m a new MLS graduate, and potentially-aspiring special collections librarian) have the same sort of professional identity crisis (it’s been brought up again lately on the A&A listserv, which is why I refer to it.) Rather than defining the profession by the tasks we do every day, Society of American Archivists president Mark Greene urged us to define it by our values and why we do what we do every day. I think that can help us bridge these gaps between “professional” and “para-professional.”

  17. Techserving You says:

    I always find it ridiculous when people try to compare librarians with doctors or lawyers. One library school classmate actually said that a scholar trying to do research without the help of a librarian was as risky and irresponsible as someone off the street trying to represent themself in a criminal trial. By the way, doctors and lawyers used to apprentice and did not need advanced degrees to be called doctors and lawyers. In at least one state, people can still sit for the bar exam with only a bachelors degree. The exam is rigorous enough that in order to pass it, one would have to study as much as one studies in law school. And who knows, maybe people with the knowledge and experience of a doctor or lawyer should be able to be called a doctor or lawyer, if they can pass the rigorous licensing exams. But librarianship is just different from those professions in many ways. We’re not dealing with work of much consequence – there are no matters of life and death, freedom or lack of freedom… we can’t get in trouble ourselves if we fail to file something on time or otherwise commit malpractice. There is no licensing exams for librarians. No large body of knowledge is imparted to us in our MLIS programs. What we learn is the same, or often less, than what one would learn very quickly on the job. Oh, and a bit of BS theory is thrown in. I think, as someone with an MLIS (and yes, one who works in an academic library and has always worked in academic libraries, and yes, attends conferences paid for by my employer and sits on a committee) that if you have worked in a library long enough that you have an in-depth knowledge of how the library is run and have a hand in how it is run, then you are a librarian even if technically, you are not. Sure, if you’re just doing really basic work, more basic than any librarian would do, you’re not a librarian. But a lot of paraprofessionals are doing the work of professional librarians, and have the sort of autonomy that professionals have. And I have no problem with them considering themselves librarians. The public thinks that anyone who checks out a book is a librarian, anyway. When I was a paraprofessional, I would actually have to correct friends who referred to me as a librarian.

  18. There are people who work in my library who have PhDs but no MLS who do exactly the same work I do. I’m a librarian, so presumably they would be, too.

  19. Techserving You says:

    Oh no, no, but don’t you see? If they ‘only’ have a PhD but no MLS/MLIS, they couldn’t possibly be as knowledgeable as a librarian. (Sarcasm, obviously.) But as I said, I worked with several PhDs and the librarians looked down on them.

  20. Jeff MLS Worthy says:

    If your job entails things that can be taught to a fifth grader, you are a librarian.

  21. Techserving: And I really can’t stand it when new MLISs with no experience suddenly think they are so above paraprofessionals (who, by the way, often have real masters degrees or even PhDs.)

    I’m one of those paraprofessionals (pffft) that have a real masters :P

    Anyway, the argument that if one works in a hospital it doesn’t make one a doctor, or bank, a banker, etc. is really a weak one–and dare I say stupid! This is what I often hear from the library crowd. I can’t quite pinpoint the flaw of this sort of argument, but I can say that it misses the point of the question of who can be called a librarian.

    I think the label “librarian” is bestowed upon getting a librarian position and not an MLIS. Heck, if someone with a high school diploma gets hired as a librarian, then he is by virtue of his position a librarian.

  22. I think there is a ceremony where you are knighted by your library director. Once that happens, you become a librarian and everyone accepts you as one.

  23. Jeff MLS Worthy says:

    If you take yourself WAAAAYYYYY to seriously and are anal retentive, you might be a librarian.

  24. It’s an irrelevant question. Who cares what a librarian is? This oft-asked question only leads to snitty arguments over “Well, that’s not the work of a master’s degree holder. Give it to a clerk.” Let an employer give you any title they want. The only thing that matters is the size of your paycheck. I’d rather be classed as a ‘clerk’ and make $50,000 than be classed as a ‘librarian’ and make $30,000.

  25. Walking and Talking says:


  26. Lame Duck says:

    What is a librarian? A dinosaur, a viper, and a sloth all rolled into one Second Life animal.

  27. I really don’t care who is called a librarian. Heck, I have division heads here with no MLS and I gladly call them librarians. However, calling an argument stupid and then admitting you can’t pinpoint why it is stupid is, well, stupid.

  28. BTW, what’s wrong with being anal retentive. It comes in handy on the job.

  29. I agree with the AL. The scope of the work you do is what counts whether you have the degree or not. I don’t have a computer science degree but I was officially a programmer/analyst for ten years at a major firm.I got raises and promotions over people with the degree because we worked in a merit-based system. Being so hung up on who is allowed to have the title is utterly ridiculous.

  30. Techserving You says:

    I don’t know if the hangup is really about having the title, or the things that go along with the title. Where I work, we have one paraprofessional in particular who clearly does the work of a librarian. But, she doesn’t have the masters degree. So, although she works harder than some of the librarians, she is kept as non-exempt and has the benefits that go along with being a non-exempt staff member… a couple weeks less vacation, less sick time, less flexibility, etc.. (Of course this benefits issue is not the case with all paraprofessionals… depends on where you work.) We have meetings for ‘the librarians’ and she is not allowed to attend, although she coordinates large projects. I guess maybe several of us are talking about different things when we talk about whether you can be a ‘librarian’ without the degree. Can you get a job as a professional librarian, with the benefits that usually go with that? Not usually. Should you be able to? With the right experience, I think yes. I don’t care what anyone CALLS themself. If they work in a library and want to consider themself a librarian… whatever, do it. ‘Librarian’ is not such a lofty title that we should CARE who takes it. It doesn’t command the same kind of respect that doctor or lawyer commands.

  31. Montmorency fan says:

    “And I really can’t stand it when new MLISs with no experience suddenly think they are so above paraprofessionals (who, by the way, often have real masters degrees or even PhDs.)”

    When I took my first “professional” job (also my first “faculty”) job, I had a Ph.D. in History and had published in my field, but had just earned my M.L.I.S. a few months previously. Moreover, before I got my M.L.I.S. (but while earning and after earning my doctorate) I had worked in a special collections library dedicated to the subject of my Ph.D. field. Some of my “colleagues” at that first faculty library job angrily told me that none of that previously library work counted as meaningful experience because I didn’t have my M.L.I.S. yet (though they still hired me!) I left that job after a short while and got another one where they weren’t so fussy about which degree you had when you got the experience…they just cared about the experience and knowledge. I’m not sure I care whether or not I was an official “librarian” at some point or other.

    I will say this….the academic history field seems to be in agreement that you’re a “historian” if you have a doctorate in history. Your actual job doesn’t matter – if you dig ditches for a living but have the History doctorate, you’re a historian. Nor does some life-long interest in reading history, working in a museum, etc. make you a “historian” even if you have an M.A. and years of experience. I don’t know how fair that is. It is a contrast from what librarians seem to think of themselves (and contrasts what some of the commenters here think.) No skin off my back though….y’all have at it and enjoy yourselves….

  32. Montmorency fan says:

    “Oh no, no, but don’t you see? If they ‘only’ have a PhD but no MLS/MLIS, they couldn’t possibly be as knowledgeable as a librarian. (Sarcasm, obviously.) But as I said, I worked with several PhDs and the librarians looked down on them.”

    This is common, but fortunately I found an institution where it’s not like that. And now I have a happy little academic home. I don’t drink martinis but I do prefer a cold beer.

  33. anonymous says:

    Is someone with a PhD/LIS or MLS who has never worked in a library but who teaches in an accredited library school a librarian?

  34. Techserving You says:

    You know what… I really don’t think so. And it has little to do with them not ‘deserving’ that title, etc.. But I was so frustrated in library school, having as much library work experience as I did, to be taught by some professors who had literally NEVER worked in a library and actually argued with me about things when I had first-hand experience at two Ivy League schools. I think that ‘practicing’ is integral to being a librarian, particularly since, as I have said, it is mostly all about various tasks and no real body of knowledge. I mean, sure, there’s a bunch of BS research that we read. There’s also some real research into information and learning and computers, human-computer interaction, etc., but that has little to do with librarianship. It was so frustrating to be ‘taught’ practical things by someone who had never actually done those things, and to have said person tell me that my ideas were wrong when I knew that many reputable libraries were doing things a certain way. Or, in many cases, these profs had not done those things in 20 or 30 years. I have two questions, though… 1.) why would anyone ever want to teach library school if they had no other involvement with librarianship… what would prompt the desire? The desire to teach and get a relatively-easy PhD? and 2.) wouldn’t they just prefer to call themselves professors, and not librarians?

  35. the.effing.librarian says:

    in the olden days, “country lawyers” practiced without any formal training, so why can’t we have country librarians? if you work in a library at the level of materials selection, preservation, cataloging, etc., in order for others to access that information, then that’s pretty much a librarian. if you just know that the Washington DC yellow pages swung across the back of the head gets a suspect to confess faster than a thin Staten Island phone book, then, no, you’re not a librarian, but I’d hire you in a minute.

  36. And beyond being a librarian, I wind up doing a lot of work that is outside the scope of my job description, because I can do it and we have a shortage of people.

    I guess I should be a librarian/system engineer / web master / copier technician / janitor / carpenter / stevedore / hod carrier / graphics designer / coat holder etc….

    I need a raise.

  37. Montmorency fan says:

    “in the olden days, ‘country lawyers’ practiced without any formal training, so why can’t we have country librarians?”

    …because the legal profession had a state-sanctioned licensing process and a professional association with real power to enforce sanctions. Sure, there were plenty of country lawyers who practiced without formal training, but they still were admitted to the state bar. (They used to call autodidactism in law “reading at the laws” – they would just do a lot of reading, perhaps under the direction of an experienced attorney, and then take the bar exam. By the way, is that still possible?) So I think the analogy isn’t really valid, given that there’s not licensure for librarians, and that the ALA isn’t a “real” professional association with teeth the a state bar association.

    That’s only one way to look at it though, and I’m certainly open to counterarguments.

  38. I Like Books says:

    Not every banker has a degree in banking, and not every chef has a degree in chefing. The banker might be required to have some degree, ANY degree, but more than one has gotten a degree in English and a job as a teller, and worked up into management. I know a network engineer with a degree in Russian area studies, and a database administrator with no college degree, and a store manager with a degree in computer science. Most people’s careers diverge from their college degree.

    Some jobs are different. Like a doctor, lawyer, public accountant, or professional engineer. Sure, you can be an engineer without being a PE, but when they need someone to sign off on a bridge or an airplane or something whose failure will cause death and destruction, they need someone with the degree who has taken the exam, earned the ring, and stayed current on continuing education requirements. And doctors and lawyers need credentials for some pretty obvious reasons. Even if some clerks or nurses think they can do the job just as well, they might not even know what they don’t know– I’ve had that experience as a pharmacy tech when I’d deferred a question to the pharmacist that I thought I could answer myself, then found out I couldn’t.

    But besides expertise is the concentration of RESPONSIBILITY. The doctor, the lawyer, or the engineer who signed off on the bridge, are the ones who are going to get their butts sued if something goes wrong. And they officially speak for the company, so they’re also the ones that are going to get the company sued if something goes wrong.

    And possibly criminal charges, such as professional negligence– the rest of us are only held to the standards of an ordinary, reasonable, prudent person. But a professional is held to the highest standards of his profession. And it’s the responsibility as much as anything else the drives credentialism in the learned professions.

    But a librarian? Come on. Let me tell you, I went to a public library and asked the reference librarian where the image of the pointed witch’s hat came from– was it the general fashion of a place and time, did it get assigned to witches somehow, or what? The librarian couldn’t find the answer. Now then, who thinks I should be able to sue the librarian? Who thinks the librarian is criminally negligent and should do time in jail? Who even gives a rat’s ass whether I got my question answered? Questions of expertise and subject matter aside, librarians don’t have that kind of professional responsibility.

    I’m pretty sure there were librarians before there were master’s degrees, and not every library is anal about requiring the MLS and are perfectly willing to hire people as librarians who don’t have the degree. If they’re doing the duties of a librarian, and their job title says “librarian”, and they don’t have the MLS, then they’re librarians who don’t have an MLS. That should not be any more astonishing than finding a banker with an English degree.

  39. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    “I already make more than a starting MLS in Montana.”

    Let’s see I am a ‘Librarian’ because: I have an MLIS, I have been doing the work of a ‘Librarian’ for 30+ years….I get paid more than most outside of our system and our starting ‘Librarians’, but I have the job title of a Library Assistant II (circulation/staff supervisor). I also volunteer as a 27/7 Online ‘Librarian”….yadda yadda yadda. So you decide what you want…

    I have the degree, I do the work, I have the pay, but I Do Not have the job “TITLE”….Oh yes…I am also crazy!

  40. Corporate says:

    I run a large and very active corporate library – we use the term librarian, not information professional or the like. When we hire a librarian, they are hired and retained because of their capability level and ability to function in a very fast paced corporate environment – some have MLS degrees some don’t. The degree actually does seem to help in a general way, as there seems to be a common understanding among those who have it, but it isn’t necessary. If someone moves from the Library to another part of the corporation they are no longer called or titled librarian within the organization – what they call themselve at that point would seem to be completely up to them. Our administrative staff are not called librarians, I don’t think they would actually like it.

  41. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    I like books points to responsibility being a defining characteristic of a profession. Another is knowledge and continuing knowledge. I had a young paraprofessional ask me “Do you have to memorize the Dew system to get your masters.” I laughed because I knew he was half joking. I said no thats for paraprofessionals, my job is to know the difference between Dewy, LOC and other systems and be able to explain it. More importantly to teach others. I also read in the field and until I got wise to this field tried to care about it and help others understand it. A librarian isnt someone who binds books or answers reference questions or setups the WII. They are people who understand why we do all that.

  42. Techserving You says:

    I like books – VERY well put.

    I read I Like Books’s comment as pointing out the differences between professions that SHOULD require a degree in order for someone to have the professional title, and librarianship. One of the main points seems to be that the work in certain professions has real consequences, and someone needs to take responsibility for possible negative consequences. Librarianship is very different in that way, so no, the degree really is not required. Post Post Modern, you do have a point about the difference between someone who does the work and someone who understands why we do the work. BUT, as a librarian who worked as a paraprofessional for years… I contend that plenty of experienced paraprofessional can do that. (And maybe that was your point, not sure.)

  43. Dr. Pepper says:

    For hump day, this was a very lively discussion! I don’t have an MLIS. I do have 3 others degrees (an MS, an MEd and an MBA). My title isn’t “librarian” but I do call myself that. Why? Because in my 6 years in library-land I have done cataloguing, reference, collection development, circulation management and training and I have bothered to learn the loose theory that the MLIS students learn (well that and read the annoyed librarian lol).

    I thought of getting an MLIS, but the cost involved was not work it when factoring in what I already know from my 3 other masters plus 6 years on the job.

    Who is a librarian? Someone who can organize collections so that they are retrievable and someone who can research and get information. Degree or no degree – it does not matter

  44. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I don’t think an MLIS makes one a librarian. Curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, a commitment to service all make for better librarians. But the degree itself just qualifies one for those positions requiring an ALA-accredited degree. I’ve worked with any number of idiots who had the degree but weren’t really librarians. Oh … wait a sec … there are a couple at the current place who are idiots, so I’m still working with idiots who have an MLIS and consider themselves librarians. I knew many a LAI, II or III at UT Austin who knew far more.

    Librarianship just might be a state of mind and lifestyle. I know I’m one.

  45. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    That is my point Techserving. Is the young man who asked the question a librarian no not at this time could he be..he’s shocked me more then once. A librarian or any professional is a person who understands the reason’s why. Thats why you have country lawyers, doctors and what nots. They may not have a degree but they understand it and take part in it in a professional way. This professional way is the reason behind publish or parish for profs. It is the correct behavior to contribute/add knowledge if you dont your an instructor or teacher. A nonprofessional does the work but more often does not contribute to the field. That last bit is dangerous for some librarians who are not academic. But it aslo the reason we flock to conventions. Its the one time for many of us to participate on a professional bases. The rest of the year we are supervisors and desk jockeys. This means a librarian is someone who understands the field, contributes to the field, and takes responsibility for the field. It does not matter how or they do it it only matters that they do.

  46. Sorry, Matt, I really meant that I couldn’t be bothered to point out the flaws of the argument. It was early morning for me and whatever I said at the moment was more convenient. Hmmm, ya know what, I still can’t be bothered to point out the flaws because I don’t care!

  47. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Interesting enough or not so interesting, I am reading Jay Clayton’s Charles Dickens on Cyberspace. Its a book that uses literature of the Romantic Victorian eras to describe how all the scientific advancements of the age affected culture. Yea now what is interesting is the chapter undisciplined cultures covers the battle to professionalize the scientific and literature communities. It points out how people reacted to the same arguments we are trying to make here.

  48. Almost a librarian says:

    I am two classes away from my MLIS. I have worked in a public library for over 10 years. The last 3 years I have been an Information Specialist. I do everything the librarians do except supervise. I don’t consider myself a librarian, but when I get my MLIS I will proudly call myself a professional librarian. There are many jobs that can be done by paraprofessionals, but unless you have the certificate or doctorate or license you cannot call yourself a teacher, doctor, or attorney. Why should our profession be any different? Most people don’t know and don’t care, but I’ve done the work and paid the tuition and I actually learned “stuff” so come December I will celebrate and proudly call myself a librarian.

  49. Almost a librarian: “but when I get my MLIS I will proudly call myself a professional librarian” and “so come December I will celebrate and proudly call myself a librarian.”

    So you will call yourself a librarian even if your position is not one? I find that unethical.

  50. When librarians have to be licensed like doctors, pass the bar like lawyers, or some other such test, they are not professionals.

    Just because you have the degree and work in a library does not make you a librarian. This brings us back to the age old argument that we need to have an organization for librarians that regulate the “profession”.

  51. To be employed in federal service as a librarian you must have an mls/mlis. And what happens when a librarian moves on or retires? They, more often than not, are replaced by a tech or departmental secretary who may or, more often, may not have enough knowledge to operate what’s left of the library.

  52. Dr. Pepper says:

    Someone please get me a brain washing machine like the one “Almost a librarian” went through. We can use it for some fun purposes :-)

  53. What do you say to a “librarian” with an MLS but is not working in a library?

    “I said I wanted a large fries to go with my burger!”

  54. Functionally-Defined Librarian says:

    The natural definition is, of course, the “walks and talks like a librarian” one. The rest of the claptrap has to do with our vaguely scam/guild-like protectionist degree system. I’ve met sub-human “librarians” with the MLS and non-MLS holders who could outperform most librarians in the building. The fact winds up being, however, that the people who are most interested in the work tend to wind up acquiring the Master’s degree. This has conned many otherwise reasonably smart people into believing that one needs an MLS to be a librarian.

  55. Techserving You says:

    Almost a librarian – I thought I, and some others, made very clear arguments for why librarians are different from other professionals. I should remind you that the MLIS is NOT a license, the profession is not regulated, it does not in any way show specific knowledge or ability beyond what a non-degreed practitioner could easily have. It’s just a meaningless hoop through which we have to jump in order to get a ‘professional’ job.

  56. Stephen Denney says:

    My father was a meteorologist, which is much more complicated and intellectually challenging than being a librarian, but his certification came from being hired at the job, first in the army and then for the federal government, not from going to meteorological school. As for me, I don’t mind begin called a “library assistant”, which is what I am, according to my job title. But I don’t think it is necessary to get an MLIS to be a librarian. Consider that public school teachers in the math and science fields often receive “emergency credentials” because of the shortage of qualified people in these fields. The intellectual level of post-graduate education required for receiving a teaching credential is very similar to that required for an MLIS degree.

  57. So long as there are no standards or certification, anyone can be a librarian.

    Even the biddie volunteers I worked with in a small public library who told everyone they were librarians with the qualification that they like to read books.

    Certification, we don’t need no stinking certification.

  58. DementedLibrarian says:

    I’m sorry but I see a lot of snobbery in some of the replies (like 77c63’s). Does an MLS make me a librarian? Does where I work count? Yes, I believe you have to work in a library of some sort to be a librarian. And I’m sorry to those elitists who feel you are only a librarian if you work in an academic library-but some public librarians do more in a day than an academic librarian does in a friggin month. Get the stick out now.
    I think if you are doing the job of a librarian (regardless of degree) you are a librarian. If you are stuck in the trenches doing professional and paraprofessional jobs at the same time, you are a librarian. It’s not just the degree, its the work that make you what you are. A person may have a law degree but if he isn’t practicing, he isn’t a lawyer. A person with a teaching certificate & appropriate education isn’t a teacher if they aren’t in the classroom teaching!

  59. Just what is the job of a librarian?

  60. Somehow, anywhere, vacation, grocery story, people stop and ask you how to find something.
    Its an aura one exudes.

  61. That’s o.k. dork, I don’t really care either. Tempest in a teapot.

  62. Mr. Kat says:

    A library is nothing more than a collection of materials organized in some way. If you work with a collection of works, you are a librarian.

    You need no education whatsoever to become a librarian. All you need is a colleciton and time to become familiar with that colelction so you can guide others to specific pieces when they want to find it.

  63. What about the theory aspect of library schooling that I’ve heard about?

  64. Mr. Kat says:

    Think of the theory aspect as Theology, and the people in the library school system as ordained Ministers and the head of ALA as the Pope. Obviously, in order to be a member of their clergy, you have to have their degree. But they hardly own the Field, though they wish they did and no doubt proclaim they do.

    You can ask the same question in ministry: What makes one a porveyor of religion? Turns out, all you need to distribute religion is a religion [your persoanl system of organization] and an audience[a “collection,” if you will], and if you have that, you can preach!!

  65. >>>I like books said: “But a librarian? Come on. Let me tell you, I went to a public library and asked the reference librarian where the image of the pointed witch’s hat came from– was it the general fashion of a place and time, did it get assigned to witches somehow, or what? The librarian couldn’t find the answer. Now then, who thinks I should be able to sue the librarian? Who thinks the librarian is criminally negligent and should do time in jail? Who even gives a rat’s ass whether I got my question answered? Questions of expertise and subject matter aside, librarians don’t have that kind of professional responsibility.”<<<< I actually know the answer to this one! There are various theories ( about as many as the origin of OK) but one of the biggest is that there were already negitive connotations attached to that particular shape of hat and it was added to the overall negitive steryotype of the witch. I shall assume the majority of people here are referring to the American system, because in the UK we have a certification system. you can work as a librarian and even be one without the certification, but you won’t get any of the really good jobs.

  66. So, if librarians do whatever in libraries, then I say it is time to cut salaries across the board down to para-professional levels. I mean, if anyone can do the job, why should we pay more than a minimum for the service?

  67. Techserving You says:

    As someone who does advocate for letting some people be called ‘librarians’ even if they don’t have the degree, I still don’t agree that anyone can do the job. By that, though, all I mean is that for many areas of library work, some random person could not walk in off the street and hit the ground running. I’m not trying to claim that the work takes some sort of special intelligence or high-level training. But, as with most jobs, it requires some training and experience to be done well. When I say that, please remember that there are many aspects of library work… most people – even most people who work in libraries – tend to think of the visible work like reference, but there are all sorts of other things that have to happen in order for a library to run. So, I don’t advocate a ‘pay everyone nothing because anyone can do the job’ approach. But, I do advocate consistent payment for work done. If a paraprofessional has a lot of experience and because of that knows more than some of the librarians do, and is given the same sort of responsibility that librarians are, then pay them accordingly. And we have talked about librarianship not being the same as other professions because it lacks the element of responsibility. I definitely think that’s true – no one is going to die, no building is going to collapse, no one is going to go to jail or wrongly pay a settlement is I mess up… and I’m not going to be held criminally responsible for my negligence. But, there are types of responsibility that librarians have, depending on their role – in financial matters, personnel, systems, other decision-making, etc.. I think if that sort of responsibility is given to someone without the degree, they should be paid accordingly. There are also many librarians who do NOT have real responsibility, and they should probably be paid less, and any paraprofessional who does the work of that sort of librarian should be paid accordingly. The argument ‘I had to pay for my degree so I deserve to make more than someone who didn’t pay for a degree, even if we’re doing the same work’ doesn’t hold much water. Of course that’s the way it is in the current system. But I wouldn’t say that I DESERVE to make more than someone without the degree. In the current system, I would expect to (at least when it comes to another paraprofessional with the same level of experience that I have) simply because the current system requires you to get the degree in order to get a professional job, so I played by the rules, and did so, and a paraprofessional could choose to do so, too, if they want to make more money. But is this FAIR if we’re doing the same work and have the same level of responsibility? Do I DESERVE to make more just because I shelled out time and money? I don’t think so. I’ll also point out that while I make a typical salary for a new academic librarian, I would be making almost as much now had I stayed as a paraprofessional and worked through the years that I went to library school. Many paraprofessionals – many of whom do NOT do the same work – actually make more than I do, because they have been in their positions a long time. Our administrative assistant (who does not do library work) here makes more than I do and has more vacation time than I do.

  68. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I haven’t seen this yet, so let me throw it out: It’s a calling. ;)

    Too which any number of doofi, idiots and morons have answered. Plus a lot of people who really did know what they were doing, MLIS or no MLIS.

  69. A calling?

    So you can either be a celibate nun (doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman) or a librarian.

    god works in mysterious ways.

  70. Rachel Storm says:

    I haven’t read all the comments so I may be repeating what others have said. But let’s face it, the only people that title matters to are library-people. The public calls everyone in the library a librarian. That said, I personally have only considered myself a librarian when my official title has been librarian. But I don’t put much stock or care into what my title is and don’t get philosophical about it. It seems pretty simple: you are what you’re titled. Anyone who doesn’t have the title of librarian but thinks they deserve it based on their duties obviously puts too much weight into what it means to be called a librarian.

  71. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille says:

    My first instinct – more like an auto-response similar to vomiting – is to say that if the person in question wants the position, title and pay as a librarian, the path to an MLIS is readily available. But when push comes to shove, only few people bother.

    Look at nurses. Plenty of nurse assistants probably have the knowledge and skills to be better than their “superior” RN counterparts, but they complain the same way. And the public, just like the patrons in our libraries, refers to them all as “nurses,” but boy are some quick to correct you.

    Who really cares, though? It’s not a big deal that I get free ice-cream from the Häagen-Dazs vendor while everyone else has to pay (I wish). At the end of the day, the librarian title is nothing but window dressing that some insecure people cling to as a way to demonstrate their superiority. It’s the same librarians who at parties introduce themselves as such to people, even if they are not asked. Honestly, this argument was dumb the first time I heard it in library school and still hasn’t gotten any better.

  72. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille says:

    Heh… this is an amusing addendum, but I was just informed that one of our volunteers at my library has started referring to herself as “librarian” to the public. She hasn’t been here for more than a month. Now, I am not sure whether I should correct her….

  73. Techserving You says:

    Oh my God. I had to laugh at your first (and second, really) comment, Jean-Baptiste. I try to avoid telling anyone that I am a librarian, even when asked outright what I do for a living. Anyway, I’ve already explained my position on this in great detail, and although I think that an experienced paraprofessional can (not technically, but practically) be a librarian, it’s pretty ridiculous for a new volunteer to call him or herself a librarian. But at the same time, I kind of feel that if someone is so desperate to do so, then they probably have the nerdiness and other deeply ingrained weirdo traits that many librarians have, so whatever….

  74. Dr. Pepper says:

    lol – this came to mind “librarian? Son! Don’t you call me a librarian! I work for a living” ;-)

  75. Mister Dewey says:

    A Librarain:

    wears their hair in a bun

    says “shhhhhh” all the time

    wears glasses

    has at least five cats

    is very prim and proper until the library closes and the martinis start flowing

    is two years behind in technology

    and loves to read books.

    I know that this is true ’cause I saw it at the movies.

  76. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I’ll bet you’ve heard the same comments I have, Techserving You. “It must be so nice to work all day in a nice quiet place and read!” I want THAT job!! Unless you work in a library or are a dedicated library user, I don’t believe most folks have any idea how we earn our not-nearly-enough salaries.

  77. librarian says:

    There is a difference.
    a librarian is one thing, a Librarian is another. Anyone with an MLS/MLIS no matter what they DO is a librarian.
    A Librarian, on the other hand, requires the correct professional pedigree for the position they hold, which has to be been defined as requiring a minimum set of standards and expectations.
    If your title at work is Library Assistant, and you have an MLS, you’re a librarian. If you run a business library and have an MBA, but the library has a set of requirement and expectations, you MAY be a Librarian, you may not.
    The odd part with this discussion is that so many people are worried about hurting people’s feelings if they’re NOT called librarians/Librarians. In my career, I’ve done both parapro work and pro work. Back then, I wasn’t a librarian OR a Librarian. Now, I’m both.

  78. Library Technician says:

    As a new graduate from a 2 year Library and Information Technology Diploma program – this discussion is very important to me. I received training in Cataloguing (I DO know the difference between LC, Dewey, and Marc), management, computer software and databases, network technology, communications, records management, collection development/weeding, aquisitions, circulation, web design, etc at a technical school/college.

    Some of my classmates had undergraduate degrees – does their 4 years of undergrade with 2 years of library specific education not qualify them to be a librarian in an academic library? I would suggest that our education better qualifies us to hold the position of librarian, especially in public, corporate and school libraries. Academic libraries definitely need subject experts but is an MLIS really necessary to call these subject experts librarians?

    I would argue that an MLIS degree prepares graduates to ADMINISTRATE a library. They have the global/theory education to oversee the library, I (and my classmates) have the hands on/work related education to RUN the library.

    As for calling yourself a librarian – you need to have a combination of training(MLIS, Library Technology, on the job), passion and work as a librarian. For the person with library training who is no longer working in libraries – you are a former librarian currently doing _______.

  79. I Like Books says:

    LL– on the pointy hat thing, I found a book, A History of Witchcraft by Russell and Alexander, which shows a painting by Goya, “Brujos” (1794-5), showing levitating witches wearing pointy hats. The authors say that conical hats were used to designate heretics in the Middle Ages. And (in the Renaissance and Reformation) witchcraft was considered a crime of heresy, but I don’t know if convicted heretics were expected to go about their daily chores wearing pointy hats, or what.

  80. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    After that search and comment I would say your a librarian at least at heart :) Good work!

  81. bibliolyn says:

    If you self-identify as a librarian, that makes you a librarian.

  82. Scottie Baugh says:

    I work in a small library in south Texas. I never finished college. But to the patrons who walk in the door, I am a librarian, because I work in a library. I find books for them, I suggest books they might like to read, I fix their computer problems, I catalog the books, I work at the circulation desk, I order books. Just last week, I supervised the movers who were installing the shelves in our new building, because the plans we had were wrong.

    But I’m probably not a librarian, since I don’t have a BA, much less an MLS. Just don’t tell our Patrons!

  83. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Scottie, you’re a Librarian.

  84. Shernett Bennett says:

    It is funny to read all this discussion about who is a Librarian and what is a librarian. In the context of the Caribbean and in particular Jamaica, in the public libraries, a Librarian is an individual who has attained a batchelor of Arts Degree in Library and Information studies and one who has gained experience by working in the field. There are also persons who have earned a batchelors degree in another field but completes the MLIS or MLS is also reffered to as Librarian in the public libraries.

  85. shushie says:

    “My position is that if it look like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a librarian.”
    Agreed. I have worked in one academic library and several rural libraries where some of the librarians did not have an MLIS and I did not think that made them any less of a librarian. As a more recent graduate with an MLIS I can say experience, for me, has been so much more valuable than even one of those theory classes.

  86. Daffy Duck says:

    “My position is that if it look like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a librarian.”

    So librarians are ducks?

    Explains the bags of corn and the slippery $hit that fills the break room here.

  87. Sorry to dredge up an old post, but I just came across this and have had a lot of fun discussing this with my co-workers in the past.

    The OED definition of librarian doesn’t mention any degree whatsoever (or even qualifications. In comparison, physician mentions that one has to be qualified to practice medicine which leaves open room for governing bodies, etc).

    If Librarians want to co-opt this 300+ year old word, that’s fine… but maybe send a note to the OED letting them know.

  88. Librarian? says:

    Certainly a journalist that happens to work for a library journal (not a library) shouldn’t call themselves a librarian; annoyed or not.

  89. shhhhh

    You were not supposed to see that.

  90. Alwayswantedtobe says:

    They make it too darn hard to get in a GSLIS program. They only want straight A students.

  91. Kaleidobrarian says:

    I’m okay with any library employees telling their friends & family they’re a “librarian”–as a longtime staffer that’s what I always did, no need to belabor the staff/professional distinction to the layfolk who really don’t care. But if you want to call yourself a capital-L “Librarian” to others in the field, it should say so on your paystub. What’s your title at work? That’s what you are. Have an MLS but no job? Your a degree-holder–and kudos to you–but not a Librarian.

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