Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

How to Make Library School Harder

Every once in a while, people complain that library school is too easy, and that because it’s too easy, just about everyone who gets in gets through. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway.

Combine this with the likelihood that just about everyone who wants to go to library school could manage to get in somewhere.

Because of this, the standards for library school graduates are pretty low on average. If everyone who wants to can manage to get into a library school somewhere and graduate, then it couldn’t be otherwise.

You might think the market being swamped would make it easier for good people to get jobs. It probably does, but it also means they’ll get paid less because libraries usually prefer the cheap to the good if they have to make a choice.

Occasionally, librarians suggest that library school should be reformed, to make it more difficult, to make it harder to get into. That’s unlikely to succeed, because a lot of library schools are cash cows for their universities that have absolutely no incentive to raise their standards of admission. Quite the opposite. Plus, they’re just easy.

However, I think I’ve finally figured out how to lower the rate of completion so that only those who are truly dedicated could make it through school. Someone commenting on the correspondence degrees post last week agrees on the dedication. Defending his online degree, he wrote, “online programs require a high degree of self-discipline, independence, and self-reliance; three attributes that are vital in the workforce.”

There’s a way to guarantee even more self-discipline, independence, and self-reliance. Turn library school into a series of MOOCs!

It could even be ALA-accredited. All you would need is about 20 core classes covering various areas of interest, and the majority of student needs would be covered. They could be free, which would allow people to become low-paying librarians without taking out student loans larger than their initial annual salary.

And if the study discussed here (found via Infodocket) is any indication, the completion rate would drop significantly. According to the study, the “average completion rate for massive open online courses is less than 7 per cent.” 6.8%, to be exact.

The highest rate of completion was 19.2%, for “Functional Programming Principles in Scala, from Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.” The lowest was for “A History of the World since 1300 by Princeton University,… which reportedly recruited 83,000 students with just 0.8 per cent reaching the end.”

If less than 20% is the best rate of completion, that’s still a lot lower than the current library school completion rate, which is probably 90% at least.

Okay, you’re thinking, this won’t work for library school. Those people who dropped out of MOOCs were probably bored by the classes. That’s just like library school!

Or they got busy with other things. That happens to library school students!

The main difference is that since the MOOCs were free, students had less incentive to complete them if they got bored or busy.

Thus, the key to making sure people who make it through library school are the most dedicated and driven – and surely those are the kind of people we want – make library school a series of free MOOCs.

Then we’ll know the people who make it through really want to be librarians.



  1. just a thought says:

    In addition to the MLS or MLIS, the library profession could require a comprehensive examination before being “certified.” Lawyers must pass the bar exam. Teachers must pass PRAXIS and/or SSAT exams. Nurses must past the NCLEX exam. It would encourage students to pursue rigorous coursework. If librarians really feel this is an issue, then they should form a licensing board and move forward. But I have a feeling that this “issue” is just librarians doing their second favorite hobby–complaining.

    • Alex Kyrios says:

      Good thought, but how do you make an exam broad enough for the whole profession? Not that those other fields don’t have variation, but when you try to find all the common skills between, say, an academic cataloger and a public children’s librarian, what exactly are you left with?

      My library school had a comprehensive exam, but it wasn’t especially comprehensive and it didn’t feel like an exam. Since all sorts of us were taking it, it was really just an essay responding to a very broad prompt applicable to almost any sort of library. A professional librarian exam could look like that but, well, I doubt that would change the status quo much.

      The med school model seems to have it right. The AMA limits the total number of med students, resulting in a finite pool of skilled, qualified labor to meet, not exceed, demand. The main downside to adopting such a model for libraries is that we’d hurt some feelings along the way.

    • anonymous says:

      Oh, please. Before you can implement a praxis, you need to be able to define, quantitatively and qualitatively, what “librarians” need to know and be able to do.

      Good luck.

    • Kirsten says:

      Licensing: I understand the impulse, but at the same time I have always thought this was a ridiculous idea. “Information should be free to all! Except you need to have a license to access it.” It’s just silly.

    • Angela Edwards says:

      Currently, I am enrolled in an online graduate program to receive my MLS. It takes hard work, dedication, and patience to complete a graduate degree online and work a full time job. My graduate program has done an excellent job preparing me for my new role as media coordinator at my school thus far. The classes are not easy or just a breeze to complete. I know I am being truly prepared for my job. When I finish my MLS, the state of North Carolina requires I take the PRAXIS test to become a licensed media coordinator.

  2. GetAClue says:

    The MOOCs should also be “hidden” so that only those with real research skills could find them to even begin them.

  3. Or, you could re-establish the bachelor’s in LIS as entry level, which would justify the low entry level pay, then make the MLS are real graduate level degree program.

  4. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    Make a thorough knowledge of RDA and cataloging procedures a large part of the exam. That ought to knock out about 80% of applicants. On the other side, those going into the catalog field will have to demonstrate the ability to conduct face to face transactions with library patrons.

    • Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

      Evidently the ability to recognize humor also needs to be added to the exam

    • Evidently common courtesy should also be addressed during our education…

  5. Requiring someone who does not want to go into cataloging to have a thorough knowledge of cataloging procedures is a waste of time. Those people will never use that knowledge, and then you run the risk of turning away potentially good librarians. There are many different qualities that make a good librarian. In addition, what about the applicants who do not know RDA, but know AACR2. Not all libraries have made the switch, and some won’t make that switch, and that would also knock out about half the catalogers that are in most libraries who haven’t learned RDA yet. Like anonymous said, you need to be able to define what librarians need to know. As of this point, we can’t really.

    • Have to disagree with you there. Librarians need to know and respect how their profession organizes information; without that they are useless. The worst librarians I have worked with all had this in common: they never took a cataloging class, dismissed anything associated with technical services as beneath them, yet complained the loudest when they could not find something due to their own ignorance. Knowledge of cataloging is essential to our profession, period.

      Full disclosure: I am not a cataloger, but I respect anyone who is.

    • Seal, you make a great point, and perhaps I should clarify a little better. Understanding how information is organized is essential to the profession, however understanding a complicated set of rules such as AACR2 or RDA would not be very beneficial. You can gain a thorough understanding of how information is organized without being a cataloger. I have taken a cataloging class, and I will say that it has made me better. I will also say that technical services, is not necessarily the same as cataloging. In addition, I have also known many librarians who have never taken a cataloging class, but are some of the best librarians out there. I have also known librarians who have taken cataloging classes and are truly not suited to the field. In addition, not understanding, and not respecting are different and one does not necessarily lead to the other. Requiring cataloging to be a huge portion of a test would not be helpful, some people simply do not understand cataloging. In addition, I did not say that cataloging was not essential to librarianship, obviously the organization of information is important, however there is a difference between understanding how information is organized and having a thorough background of cataloging procedures.

  6. Im sorry but library school is NOT easy. The Masters degree equivalent here in Australia was very challenging and the assignments were intense. I feel I worked hard to get where I am– it certainly was not a walk in the park.

  7. free2read says:

    It would not be difficult to have a licensing procedure that included a General Knowledge exam with certification options in speciality areas such as cataloging/meta data, children’s librarianship, medical librarianship, law librarianship, and archival studies to name a few. Other fields have such requirements and opportunities for add-on certifications. It would help separate the wheat from the chaff and add an element of rigor to the MLS degree that is sadly lacking.

  8. Kathy MLS says:

    I agree with Seal. A librarian understands how information is organized and uses that knowledge to retrieve information more successfully. Library schools should have more rigorous cataloging requirements.

    • One could argue why we should have more rigorous cataloging procedures when most libraries are just doing copy cataloging anyways. I understand and agree with your main point in that librarians need to understand how information is organized, but that does not equate into a thorough understanding of AACR2 and RDA procedures. Besides, I wonder how many catalogers actually know all of the procedures? There are so many, and many small school and public libraries will most likely never have to catalog certain items anyways. A better idea would be a general knowledge test such as having to create a simple cataloging record. If you are not going into cataloging, there is no need to understand all of the cataloging rules.

  9. Any suggestions on a good place to begin a MOOC-based ascent to the MLS for someone who already has an MS in mathematics and some summer-job experience in a library at a major university?

  10. anonymously yours says:

    How about make Library School (especially online) more than just doing essays?
    To me all that proves is that one can write. (disclaimer, I have helped many distance students with said essays, but have not been part of a program myself, so the let criticism of my ignorance commence.) Practicums / Externships anyone?

    All apologies as well, if a person, a library student mind you, doesn’t know how to look something up in a catalog, then another career choice may be in the eh hem, library cards. I find it laughable that a course like that is a graduate level. That was something we taught our students at my University job during orientation WEEK.

    “The worst librarians I have worked with all had this in common: they never took a cataloging class, dismissed anything associated with technical services as beneath them, yet complained the loudest when they could not find something due to their own ignorance.”

    Find what? What does not taking cataloging have to do with that? Examples please? The worst librarians I have ever worked with had one thing in common : laziness and arrogance. Perhaps that falls into your observations as well.

    • Many library schools do require a practicum just so you know… I am currently doing one… in addition to my other 2 library jobs. Although I do agree that a lot of what I was doing was writing essays, although some classes we had projects to complete such as for my collection development class I had to create a small possible collection, and for reference I had to complete a large Pathfinder project as well. Although I agree that the worst librarians I have met are as you put lazy and arrogant.

  11. I am currently enrolled at UTK in the MSIS program. I work full time and do this program part time. The work, while occasionally challenging, is not all that difficult. I think that there does need to be some overhaul of the curriculum. However this may just be my perception since this is my second master’s degree and I already work in a library so the course work is not all that new to me. I will say though that there is really no difference between the online and traditional programs at UTK. A professor will teach the same class twice in a day once on campus and once on line. For some people the distance education program would be difficult for them because there isn’t that face-to-face interaction. As for me I am quite happy to do the distance program. Since their isn’t even a library program in my state I would have to move to attend in person.

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