Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

What a PhD Plus an MLS Gets You These Days

A kind reader sent me this job ad with the following comment: “Two entry-level jobs in what they admit is a very small library out in the middle of rural Redneckville, applicants must take on all duties, work nights & weekends, PHD PREFERRED. What are they smoking???”

What, indeed.

Unfortunately, the ad doesn’t use the all caps, which would have made it much funnier. It merely states that the “Minimum qualifications include a Masters of Library Science degree (although a Ph.D. is desirable) from an ALA accredited graduate program.”

I guess a PhD is always “desirable,” except maybe to those people who have spent years earning one so they can work as an assistant librarian at a tiny library.

The wording isn’t completely clear, since it implies that they want someone with a PhD from an ALA-accredited graduate program. If that’s really the case, they don’t get how LIS PhDs work. People go get PhDs in library science so they can escape working in libraries, not go back into them.

Probably, they mean a PhD in any subject, though, in which case they still don’t understand the usefulness of PhDs in libraries.

I understand why some academic libraries would want to hire PhDs. Big research libraries want specialists in various disciplines to build big research collections and provide specialized help to advanced students and faculty. If you have a big collection in Asian studies or Middle Eastern studies, then you pretty much need people who read the relevant languages and understand the fields to buy your books for you. In research libraries, PhDs are specialists.

But the University of South Carolina – Lancaster isn’t a research university. It’s not even really a university. Seriously, take a look at their degree programs. They offer four associates degrees, in such specializations as “arts,” “science,” “business,” and “criminal justice.” Okay, I guess those last two are sort of specialties, but not the sort people tend to get PhDs in.

They also offer some bachelor’s degrees, sort of, by using “two-way interactive video and other technology-assisted delivery to teach students at multiple sites simultaneously.” That is, students sit at USC-L and watch videos of people teaching on other campuses and earn degrees that way. The education of tomorrow…today!

With this advanced technology, they can offer specialized degrees like the “Bachelor of Liberal Studies.” which I’m assuming means you can earn a degree taking classes where you study liberals. I was surprised to see such a curriculum in South Carolina, where they still fly the Confederate Flag in front of the state capitol. Some of the representative course titles are “Why Liberals Hate Decent God Fearing People Like Us” and “How Liberals Kill Puppies with their Socialized Medicine.”

There’s also a “Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership,” whatever that is, and a BS in Nursing.

Basically, it’s your typical lower level community college offering business and nursing classes and a handful of vague associate’s degrees, useful for transfer to a university where they have specialized subjects. For most of the classes, even the faculty don’t need a PhD. Sure, they call themselves a “university,” but they don’t offer any graduate degrees, including in such non-academic fields as business, so their nomenclature is misleading, like all tiny branch campuses of real universities.

So what would a tiny library need with the specialized knowledge a PhD brings to a library? Are they looking for someone with a PhD in nursing or “liberal studies” to build their advanced collections? Hardly.

Due to our library’s small size, the successful applicants will perform duties in multiple library service areas, which may include broad participation in, or management of, circulation, electronic resources, government documents, acquisitions, physical processing, limited technical services, library instruction, collection development, ILL, student personnel supervision, and other duties as assigned.

I’m not sure it’s fair to call someone with a PhD and an MLS who ends up in this job a “successful” applicant, but that’s a post for another time. This person is going to need to be able to catalog, teach library instruction classes, physically process books and such, and pretty much every unpleasant job that comes along. You know why there are libraries where people can do all those things? It’s because none of those things are done at a specialized level.

A small library with few materials supporting primarily lower division introductory classes and they think a “PhD is desirable” for their librarians. Desirable for what? So their librarians can wonder why they spent years earning a PhD plus an MLS so they could end up copy cataloging, teaching BIs to bored students in 100-level classes, and checking out the books they had to physically process themselves in a community college library? This seems like a recipe for professional misery.

Then again, maybe they’re doing it because they think they can, or because they think the market is so tight that people with PhDs and MLSs will be dying to work at this tiny college. Or maybe they have a couple of candidates in mind, faculty spouses who have PhDs.

Or maybe – and here is the depressing part – librarian jobs in academic libraries will eventually start requiring more degrees than it takes to be a professor at the same institution, even when that degree would be utterly wasted and useless.

If so, I pity the future generations of librarians who have need a PhD plus an MLS to do low level library work, especially because I know it’ll really be PhDs who couldn’t get jobs so they got an MLS as well so they could at least make a living. It’s really not worth it. If it was, the salary wouldn’t say “not specified.”



  1. Jennifer says:

    in my experience, “other duties as assigned” translates as “you’re scrubbing the bathrooms”

  2. My browser locked up when I tried to send this, so I’ll try again.

    I wonder if the supposed “ever-growing reserve army of unemployed or marginally employed PhDs who are available to staff courses in almost every conceivable field for far less than the minimum wage” has anything to do with it? (Not sure if I’m allowed to leave a URL here, but here’s the source for that quote: )

    If we’re truly churning out more PhDs than we need, I guess it’s remotely conceivable job recruiters are taking advantage of this, for even the tiniest of libraries out there. I guess the next logical question is “how big of a surplus of PhDs in library science is there?”

  3. Can I just call you Dr. AL?

  4. John Maruskin says:

    What a lot of arrogant hogwash. You know you really ought to change the past participle, “annoyed,” in your byline to the adjective, “annoying,” just to make the purpose of your columns clear. Even if (you think) you are the “most successful, respected, and desirable librarian” of your generation (which makes me wonder what you’ve been smoking), what gives you the right to denigrate and mock the state of South Carolina, a community college, and a group of fellow librarians? Make my last phrase in the first sentence,”arrogant, bigoted hogwash.” Yes, librarians at small, rural libraries must be able to handle both intellectual and physical tasks. But why should that make us objects of scorn? We need to be pitied that we don’t have the leisure to spend our time composing self-aggrandizing delusions instead of actually educating and helping our community members so that they can hope to make it some day like big shots, like the Annoying Librarian and Will Manley, two Wheels whose words the world awaits. Yeah! While you two are on your thrones why don’t you consider the fact that some PhD’s and MLS recipients might actually find fulfillment in helping people. Since I’ll never read your column again, I guess this is my last chance to advise both you and Mr. Manley: GET OVER YOURSELVES!

    • LibraryRose says:

      Most of my profs when I got my MLS didn’t have a PHD…why should someone in an entry level Libray job have one?

      Reading through the job posting makes me wonder if they merged two jobs…entry level library assistant and manager. The fact that these positions report to the director of the library seems strange.

  5. Marcita says:

    On top of the points mentioned by AL, what strikes me is that this is a tenured position. So you are a generalist in having to do the day-to-day in circ, processing, ILL, etc. But you also have to go for tenure which wants you to focus your research and writing. A PhD holder might be good at this part, but not so much at the generalist part. That’s why I no longer work in an academic library. They always want it both ways.

  6. MightyKasey says:

    Gosh, I just love job ads like this one that tell us everything that is wanted and nothing that is given. No mention of salary or benefits. Yes, there is a link for benefits that takes me to Career Network. There, I get to fill out an application form just to find out more info. Is it too much to ask employers to be upfront in their ads? Just asking and glad that I’m retired!

  7. barbara says:

    I worked at one of these smaller rural academic libraries which “preferred” a PHD or second masters degree. Mostly because the librarians were “tenured” faculty and certain librarians (typically managers) really thought this would add “street cred” with the faculty. Ha! Good luck with that. There was no need for a phd, obviously, and it has just made me vow never to work in an library with tenure again!

  8. Dakota Grrl says:

    I suspect they may have an insider they want to hire and have crafted the job posting to fit the desired candidate. It may also be a form of spousal accommodation where they have crafted the job posting to match the skills and education of a trailing spouse. It’s also possible that because this is very much a buyers’ market, the search committee may have chosen to “swing for the fences.”

  9. Annoyed Librarian says:

    “Annoying Librarian.”

    Very clever. I haven’t heard that one before!

  10. KatyBee says:

    The reason I avoided academic librarianship in the first place was because I was told (in library school) that I would NEED (capitals used to denote strong emphasis) a second masters or a PhD. Now, after graduating and networking in the field a bit more, I’ve discovered there are librarians out there in academic research libraries who don’t have a PhD and even a few that don’t have a second masters, and some even work at law school libraries. I think it would be a good idea to get more education if 1) You already work in an academic library but want to better your future employment prospects or become a subject specialist, or 2) have lots of money to spend and have no life beyond work and school.

  11. elena schneider says:

    I hope Dakota Grrl is right. Cuz I really hope that tiny, backwoods library will find someone to do ALL of that and publish and teach and work 2 nights a week and weekends.

    I also agree with MightyKasey….seriously, want want want. No give give give. I hope they are asking for at least..50 grand? probably not though.

  12. umm PhD? says:

    “Due to our library’s small size, the successful applicants will perform duties in multiple library service areas, which may include broad participation in, or management of, circulation (check), electronic resources (check), government documents (check), acquisitions (check), physical processing (check), limited technical services (check), library instruction (check), collection development (check), ILL (check), student personnel supervision (check), and other duties as assigned (check).”

    Not to bring up yet again the conundrum that is library services and employment, but in regard to this article, what the heck do I need an MLIS or PhD for? As a page or aide most of these were already completed and the rest were taken care of via the assistant positions I have maintained over the past 11 years.

  13. Bewildered looks from your friends in engineering, medicine and business?

  14. I see these kind of ads ALL the time, although I have yet to see one that also asks for the PhD. Mostly the ads I see are for library directors of very small, semi-rural or rural libraries that want an MLS with several years of exp, including managerial exp, plus work all hours, do every duty imaginable etc. Usually there is one other staff member and then 50-100 volunteers to “help”. All this and more for $22K p.a.!

  15. gatoloco says:

    The preferred candidate will have a Nobel prize, and janitorial experience.

  16. Tired Librarian says:

    John Maruskin had his irony and sense of humour glands removed at any early age – must be a library administrator!

  17. Sheryl Kron Rhodes says:

    Reminds me of the job posting I saw back in 1995, when I was working as an editor…a small publishing company specializing in mathematical books was seeking an editor. Said person must have a PhD in mathematics & four-five years of experience as an editor for a mathematics journal or in editing math materials. To obtain this person the proprietors of the publishing company were offering the munificent salary of $9.75/hr. Yeah!

    • gatoloco says:

      I would be critical of this position in any setting, rural or urban. What I believe many are taking issue with, is that the position as written provides little chance for professional success, asking for too much in all areas. This happens in urban areas too, and some people posting here have learned the hard way, taking a position that was doomed from the get go. It’s a tough lesson to learn, and after learning it, one reads position descriptions in a whole new light.

  18. Ashley H. says:

    Wow. It is no wonder people think librarians are snobs. Your entire article insinuates that rural community colleges and the students that utilize their services are undeserving of diverse, well-educated faculty members. I am appalled that you have taken it upon yourself to decide which American students are worthy of strong faculty and which are not. No surprise that you took a stab at rural America, since it is an easy target and one that you probably have very little understanding of.

    Your negativity hurled towards “low level library work” does nothing to improve my perception that you are arrogant and out of touch with your profession. Without those low level jobs that you deem so menial libraries wouldn’t be operational. A librarian, no matter what their education level, will not wilt like a fragile flower if he or she has to cover a book or catalog something. Really, no one will die as a result.

    I’m really frustrated to see negative trash like this being supported by Library Journal.

    • gatoloco says:

      Pardon me. I meant the response to go here.
      I would be critical of this position in any setting, rural or urban. What I believe many are taking issue with, is that the position as written provides little chance for professional success, asking for too much in all areas. This happens in urban areas too, and some people posting here have learned the hard way, taking a position that was doomed from the get go. It’s a tough lesson to learn, and after learning it, one reads position descriptions in a whole new light.

  19. Techserving You says:

    When I graduated from library school and was looking for a job, I saw a posting for a job in rural Virginia, pay of $29,000 per year for a full-time position, which required a PhD, MLIS, AND knowledge of at least two foreign languages.

    Um…. sure.

    • I once saw a position being advertised at a museum in London that required a Masters of Fine Arts, a PhD in Dutch paintings, a Masters in conversation, and for the applicant to be fluent in reading seventeenth century Dutch. Oh, and it paid £17,000 per year. You can’t even live in London for less than £20,000…

      I desperately want to know how many applicants they had!

  20. Techserving You says:

    Oh yes, this was in 2007.

  21. Maureen Perry says:

    On top of my MLS I have a subject master’s and a certificate of advanced study. While it is sad that higher degrees do not always mean higher salaries, I dislike the implication–intended or not–that work in small libraries in beneath us.

    I work in a small Maine library. While the school may not be the most affluent, I am proud to serve our students. I am proud to offer them the benefit of my learning. These students teach me something new every day and inspire me to learn more.

  22. As a MLIS student, this is somewhat disheartening. Especially with a background in museum curation, where you find people with a PhD in ANYTHING getting given a job over people with years of experience! It seems like the reasoning is very similar though – so that the institution in question can say “Have you met our staff member, DOCTOR Blah?”

    Hopefully this is a one off, and not a sign of things to come in the industry…

  23. Ivy League PhD says:

    My PhD gains me absolutely nothing extra in this job. It was touted to other people as a selling point by my administration until I found out and made them stop. It’s just one of the ironies that people who don’t have one think doctorate = $$$. If you are pursuing one for the big bucks, you’re an idiot. Education does pay…to a certain extent. Once you’ve crossed the master’s level, that rule no longer applies. No one can ever take my degrees, my knowledge, my book, and my experience from me, but no one’s paying me for them, either.

    • “It was touted to other people as a selling point by my administration until I found out and made them stop.”

      So says the person whose web handle is “Ivy League PhD”.

      …maybe you’re being ironic?

  24. Annoyed Librarian says:

    Ashley H., you seem confused about the nature and purpose of the PhD, whose purpose is to train people to be researchers. Since when is pointing out that people don’t need PhDs to teach introductory courses or process library books “hurling negativity”? It’s a statement of fact about the world. You’re obviously uncomfortable with stating such facts, but that says more about you than it does about this blog post.

  25. This ad is honest. They want someone highly educated, but not “entitled.” They are looking for someone who will come in when called for emergencies and not complain if they have to fill in at the circulation desk. I am sick of working with people who think the MLS degree automatically entitles them to never have to be on call, never work weekends, and never check out books. Guess what–public librarians, even managers–do that stuff all the time.

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