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Inside Annoyed Librarian

So Much Resentment, So Little Reward

Because that’s what I keep finding when I survey the folks out in libraryland, I’m going to make this the week of resentments.

Earlier in the week, someone was resentful that anyone without an MLS isn’t considered a librarian and recommended instead a nonexistent 12-week bootcamp course in librarianship.

Here’s someone who’s resentful that everyone who works in a library can’t be considered a librarian, regardless of how many non-MLS degrees he or she or they or ze might have.

The resenter has “been a library assistant for about 12 years now in the reference department of the San Antonio library and [reports that] the statement that ‘a librarian is someone with a master’s degree in library or information science’ continues to rankle.”

One might think that after twelve years of the obvious staring them in the face, people might get used to it, but I guess that’s not the way it works.

No, he complains, “whatever academic credentials one may have acquired, he can never be considered a librarian without having completed library school.”

Yep. Just the way you’re never going to be considered a lawyer without a law degree. It’s the way the world works.

Why is this so hard for some people to grasp? And where does this resentment come from?

That’s indicated in the very next sentence. “No matter that I brought to the job a doctorate and two master’s degrees.” If someone is getting two master’s degrees, how hard would it be to make one of them a library degree? I suggest, not hard.

And if you have a doctorate, why aren’t you a professor somewhere? We get that question answered as well, or at least an implied answer: “My 500-page dissertation could be on the shelf of a library where my duties would be limited to weeding it.”

500 pages? Probably not a science PhD. History, maybe? Some other barely employable field in the arts or humanities? Is it even a PhD? What kind of doctorate is it? Is it one of those “doctorate of business administration” degrees people can get online?

I think we’re starting to get to the source of the resentment. If someone has a doctorate and two master’s degrees, neither of which is an MLS, and is working as a library assistant in a public library, obviously some previous career plans went off track.

That happens to plenty of worthwhile people, but it’s not an excuse to resent those people who made different life choices, such as getting an MLS to become a librarian when they and everyone else knows that’s the professional degree for librarians instead of just ending up working in a library and then complaining that your previous degrees aren’t relevant.

But just resenting one’s own bad life choices isn’t enough for some people. They have to attack others. “Unfortunately, librarians have placed all their professional eggs in one education basket, without accepting that expertise might be acquired elsewhere, especially considering the academic weakness of a degree that is acquired almost universally online.”

My goodness! How unbearable it must be to have three graduate degrees, none related to the field in which one is working, and yet have to defer to the professionally degreed librarians who got their shoddy degrees online. The humiliation!

If the library degree is so easy to get, and we all know it is, then why not just get it and be done with it? That would make more sense than complaining about it so much.

Especially when the complaints don’t make much sense, like this one: “Allowing librarians to possess other degrees would have the immediate benefit of improving the academic vigor of the library schools through increased competition.”


First of all, plenty of librarians do possess other graduate degrees. Library school students often have other degrees, and academic libraries are overflowing with graduate degrees that aren’t in library science.

The argument seems to be that if libraries hired people with degrees unrelated to librarianship, then library schools would have to become as academically rigorous as those other programs allegedly are, but that makes no sense.

If libraries started hiring people with history PhDs, library schools wouldn’t change to become as academic as history PhD programs, because they’re doing two completely different things.

Also, libraries already hire people with other degrees than library degrees. It’s just that these jobs are usually in academic libraries.

The average public library, or even the above average public library, has no use for people with “a doctorate and two master’s degrees” if none of them are in library science. They don’t even have that much use anymore for people with library degrees.

Academic libraries might, especially if any of those degrees are in fields that aren’t already overrepresented in academic libraries, which would leave out most humanities fields.

But then there’s the added competition, one that some people with only an MLS already complain about, because then you’re competing with people who have an MLS and at least one other graduate degree, so they know something about libraries plus they’ve completed a more academically rigorous program.

It almost seems like the system is rigged so that people who have the relevant professional degree for librarianship have an advantage over those who don’t, like pretty much every other profession in the country that has a relevant professional degree. That’s so unfair!

Then again, life isn’t fair. Even the exalted and extremely privileged people who get MLS degrees and become librarians have to deal with that. And they must be exalted and extremely privileged, or else so many people wouldn’t resent not being considered one.



  1. Rooibos Honeybush says:

    I’ve seen the opposite happen: full-time jobs being split into part-time jobs only requiring a high school level education. These are for reference desk/adult services positions as well as youth. If it were as easy a solution as “get rid of MLS’s and there would be more opportunity” that would be one thing. Instead we’re seeing degreed librarians in administration consciously choose to lower education standards to flood the labor pool with limited skill workers.

    But to the other point about higher education: if the solution for MLS holders is to get another degree, please let me know when education costs go down. No way am I taking out more loans to maybe get $20 more an hour.

    • This is my issue. I can’t afford to get my MLS but I’ve been working at my library for nearly 4 years now. I love it. All I want is a full time librarian position. Nothing fancy like the director or children’s librarian, just a librarian. And I know I can get that somewhere without a degree. I consider myself a librarian and that’s what I tell people when they ask what I do. It pains and angers me when people say so haughtily that I’m not a librarian because I have no slip of paper backing it up. If I can’t judge someone for going the route of getting their MLIS, then they shouldn’t judge me, either. I’m a proud librarian. And no one will take that from me.

    • Megs, does the library where you work offer tuition assistance? Maybe they could help with some of the cost. I’m a library technician and like what I do too, but the pay is not good. Even full time, I’d be living paycheck to paycheck if I were single. I’m thinking of just biting the bullet and going to library school if for no other reason than for the potential to make more money. Notice the word potential because I know there is no guarantee that I’d even find a full time librarian job after graduating. The thing that worries me about not requiring the MLS is that librarians already don’t make a lot for the amount of education required. Removing the MLS requirement could lower salaries even more. What are you doing at your library? Is it that you’re basically doing the job of a librarian full out, but can’t have the title and pay of one because you don’t have the MLS? Would you have gotten it if money wasn’t the issue?

    • $20 more an hour? Where is that magical place? When I finally finished my MLS I was at first offered $1 more an hour. I was so tired and grouchy I actually threw caution to wind and managed to talk up to $3/hour….

    • Where is the magical place where you can automatically move up to being a librarian upon completion of your MLIS? If I wanted to stay where I currently I work, I could get my MLIS, but that doesn’t mean I’d then become a librarian. I’d still be an assistant/technician with the same salary and would have to wait for a librarian position to open, apply for it, and go through the same procedures as all applicants. They also wouldn’t create a librarian position for me if it wasn’t needed. There have been budgets cut the last several years so they’re not going to go adding to the library’s expenses. No, I would have to apply to other libraries like all the other new MLIS graduates.

  2. Another example of how the college industry has perverted advanced academic degrees. Everybody and anybody can find a school to get one. Why? Because of the tired-out notion that investing in a college degree will get one a really great job and a wonderful life. Not true, was never true, not even for some of us who have an MLS.

  3. I see a lot of theses in the area of the academic library where I work. Most of the ones that are 500+ pages are for creative writing. The theses is a novel the student has written as their final project. Very few theses in other subject areas are that long.

    If the person could pay for two master’s degrees and a PhD why not throw in one more and get a MLS? I would venture that this person originally planned on an academic career (and maybe put all their career eggs in one academic basket) and languished in adjunct limbo and now works at a library because they needed something full time with benefits. Even so, twelve years is a long time to stay in a position where you’re not happy. Even if this person got the MLS that’s no guarantee there would be a full time job as a librarian waiting. Sounds like the person should have been reading this blog

  4. unemployed librarian says:

    Ok, so this person as a doctorate and two master’s degrees and is working as a library assistant. The hypocrisy of librarianship. How they don’t even practice what they’re suppose to preach. Let’s just think about this situation for a few minutes:

    To say this person is completely underutilized is an understatement. What kind of leader doesn’t want to understand and utilize the full skills of their staff? Completely stupid, but typical librarians. With this amount of education, why would a library degree make such a huge difference? I’m not denigrating the MLIS : some MLIS programs actually do offer some academically rigorous courses should one choose to take them, but most don’t because the MLIS is just seen as a credential, some bureaucratic checkbox to get a job. The complete underutilization and inability to provide a path forward for this person is a complete failure of leadership at his/her library.

    This person’s dilemma could be resolved by offering him a “vocational track” to become a full-fledged librarian. Most of it could consist of a reading list of important books and articles. Then perhaps a few written assignments. Then perhaps a few intense oral examinations. The capstone can be some kind of written report that offers a description and analysis of a new project he started in his library/district as well as including reflections on his 12 years of library experience (particularly how it relates to his readings and project).

    Anyway, this is a complete failure of leadership at his library. He already possesses the academic rigor to be more useful than most of his library colleagues. All that is needed is for the leadership to work with him to come up with some kind of self-directed study “curriculum” for his particular situation that helps him orient and relate his academic background and library experience to the values, goals, and practices of librarianship. All this can be achieved without an MLIS degree. Because librarians are so bureaucratic and unimaginative, they are unable to think outside the box and confuse schooling and credentials with real education. C’mon, you are librarians. Supposedly you are suppose to have books and other resources so people can self-educate? So, libraries exist to enable people to achieve some kind of independence, self-reliance, and autonomy? Or do we just have to rely on “the system” by going to school and getting more and more degrees? At what point are people suppose to be able to know how to learn so they can learn on their own or create an informal curriculum? C’mon folks, wake up and start practicing what you preach!

    • anonymous coward says:

      Let us not equate education level with competence.

    • I have to wonder, though, why the person stayed in the assistant job for twelve years? If I felt that I was being so underutilized and unappreciated and I was unhappy, I’d have been out of there years ago. Why would someone continue to put themselves through that? Look for something else, even if it’s outside of a library. They could probably make more outside anyway. I don’t think the person ever said what their original career goals had been, but given they have two master’s and a PhD, I figured it had been professorship and they discovered that adjuncthood awaits. Perhaps being in a library was the closest they could get to their original career path and still feel semi connected to it, but still, know when to move on and stop deferring happiness.

    • What anonymous coward says.

  5. carl jacobs says:

    Unemployed Librarian

    You are essentially asserting that Library Science is profession without a professional body of knowledge. That is the undeniable implication of developing a “Vocational track” to become a librarian. And you seem to desire this so that those without a formal library education can still lay claim to the professional status of Librarian. It’s a curious argument.

    I could begin with your premise and just as easily conclude that a candidate with a PhD is ridiculously over-qualified. Why should I not place everyone on the vocational track and reduce my educational requirements in order to lower my labor costs? There would be no inherent reason for me to favor those with unrelated education over those with minimal education. The educated would simply demand higher pay on the basis of an educational background that I do not need. The vocational track would obviate a multitude of expenses.

    • unemployed librarian says:

      Carl Jacobs

      Some good points. Let me start with this one: “The vocational track would obviate a multitude of expenses.” Yes, you are sort of on the right track. I always ask myself, “why is education so expensive?” Part of the reason is because of all the schooling that is required. My belief is that we need to rethink how much schooling is necessary before one can become an independent learner and just pick up new skills and advance their intellectual capacities. I mean, how expensive are books, especially if you can check them out from the library? If after a bachelor’s you can’t engage in self-directed learning and move to the next level, then perhaps your bachelor’s wasn’t worth very much (of course this would still involve a faculty member and a few discussion leaders, and it would help to have a group of others interested in studying the same topic). The total costs of obtaining an education would drop significantly, probably by 80% at least.

      Next: “why should I not just . . . reduce my educational requirements in order to lower my labor costs?” I think this is a problematic conclusion. I intended to make the distinction between “schooling” and “education.” Expertise is still needed; it’s just a matter of how best to acquire that expertise. So, the job is worth what the job is worth regardless of the actual “credential” (i.e. schooling) required. I don’t think that just because someone has an MLIS or a PhD, that they are necessarily more qualified. One would hope that would be the case, but in our decadent society, nothing works like it’s suppose to, but that is a different story.

      Next: “You seem to desire this so that those without a formal library education can still lay claim to the professional status of librarian.” I think in some cases this could be true, particularly for the example of this person with 12 years experience, two master’s and one doctorate. This person certainly has the potential and capacity to do well in the LIS field. They already have a strong enough academic background that they could just familiarize themselves with the seminal publications in the LIS field, write up a few things to demonstrate their understanding, get evaluated by academically qualified practitioners, and complete a project. Their doctorate should also have familiarized them enough with research methods that they could perhaps utilize for the final project.
      Next: “you are essentially asserting that Library Science . . . does not have a professional body of knowledge.” Actually, I don’t assert that. That is why I said in consultation with his supervisor or other librarians, he could develop a syllabus or bibliography of readings to acquaint himself with the seminal publications in the field.

      Finally, I do not think the MLIS should be strictly “vocational,” but that it does have a serious academic component that is not well-respected among practitioners. However, I think what’s more important is that they have a firm grasp on the methods and practices of library practitioners and that they are familiar with and can think and communicate intelligently about the values of our field.

      I hope that I have provided more clarification.

  6. Academic libraries will often hire those with Masters/PhD in other fields even if they don’t have a library degree. I worked at University of Michigan graduate library when this practice was just coming in to vogue. In academic libraries, subject expertise and knowledge of research methods trumps the MSI or MLIS – because those are the qualities most valued by those library systems. Public librarianship doesn’t value subject expertise or even research methodologies because those things aren’t valuable (for the most part) to the patron base.

    I wonder that no one told this guy to pursue academic library work or even community college library work? He’d make a better case for himself in those arenas.

  7. It is intellectually true that the library staff member could have gotten an MLIS degree during the past twelve years, but are any of us really able to say that this was something that he could have actually done in his case? Being in a public library myself, the work environment and the job requirements have changed a great deal from the time when I was first hired. For a mid-sized to large library system back then, reference work was a lot more research intensive, with little emphasis on scheduling everyone to work at the circulation desk, programming, etc. An MLIS was not always needed for a positoin in this area, particularly if the researcher did not interact directly with the public. In time, this changed.

    In other words,being a generalist for many things instead of specializing on a few things became the new order of the day. Such a change happened with a “like it or leave it” presentation from upper managemen, with no discussion or input from staff. It is entirely possible that a similar situation or environment existed for the man. Were there issues with the terms of an existing labor union contract that would have made it difficult to move from a paraprofessional to a professional position? More to the point, what was the man originially hired to do, and what was the understanding of promotional opportunities at the time? This would explain why someone would wait so long, attempting to gain experience and earn seniority, especially if in a civil service position. Even if not perfect, a civil service job does offer a steady paycheck.

    In the years following the Great Recession, in my library system for example, more attentiion has been placed on providing digital services, from the wifi available in library locations to electronic databases and books. With new hires over the past ten years or so, people with information technology backgrounds have been largely favored oved applicants with library training and experience. What made an internal applicant attactive and competitive against external candidates in the past, even to the point of being “overqualified,” is not always the case these days. Annoucements of open positions are not as frequent as they used to be, and when they are, as noted by others, they are often not full-time. This is a reality in many academic and public libraries.

  8. Well, I could go the other way and say perhaps there may be resentment that a person without a library degree is holding this job. Obviously they are full time, possibly with benefits and are hogging a job that someone with an MLS would fight to get. Unfortunately there are too many people holding too many degrees that are not in jobs with plentiful or full time jobs. At my community library there is a trend to hire teachers to be children librarians not an MLS. I have seen quite an assortment of Male librarians come and go. At one point human resources seemed to hire anyone with facial piercings of the nose, eyebrows and and lips. No I am not kidding. Good to know the job qualifications however.

    • unemployed librarian says:

      “At one point human resources seemed to hire anyone with facial piercings of the nose, eyebrows, and lips.”

      That’s because they wanted trendy or hipster librarians, and obviously, piercings (and tattoos) are proof of this. Just like the trend to hire a millennial librarian because they must be tech savvy. All this shows a superficiality that underlies intellectual laziness.

    • Stephen Johnson says:

      Yes, that’s it! Piercings and tattoos are proof of hipster-ness, and that’s what libraries want over all else! Deep thinking and intellectual rigor demonstrated!

  9. The thing is a person can’t practice law without a JD so they can’t be called a lawyer. However, a person without an MSL can AND DOES (In many libraries) the exact same things their MLS holding peers do. That’s the big difference. We hire low paid library assistants, park em at the reference desk, of in the children’s area, or in cataloging and let them work for years building skills that punks out of the latest mls paper factory don’t have, YET they can’t be called librarians because they don’t have the degree. That’s BS.

    • Part of what makes me hesitate in getting the MLS is that sometimes the main difference between library assistants and librarians (besides salary)is stuff like having the authority to sign off on invoices, dealing with vendors, handling disputes, conducting information literacy classes. Not things I’m all that jazzed about to be honest. Personally, I’d like to see salaries for all levels of library jobs raised then those in paraprofessional jobs could make a decent salary and afford to stay in those roles if they so wish. A sizable chunk of those in library school are library paraprofessionals who are honestly happy with most of their job and like working as paraprofessionals but the salary isn’t doable. They figure getting an MLS is their only option if they want to stay working in libraries but need to make more money. I don’t see this likely to happen, though, as a lot of libaries’ have budgets that keep getting cut so the goal has to be to save money.

  10. Stephen Johnson says:

    As weak as the MLS degree is, without one you’re not a librarian. Someone with a PhD and two master’s degrees looking for a job in libraryland clearly has some professional deficiencies, and there’s no reason to assume they would be a good librarian. A good research librarian with critical thinking and communication skills has lots to offer that a non-librarian with subject expertise almost always will not. This is why doctoral students, post-docs, MD’s and many other highly educated professionals greatly value the expertise and services of a more modestly educated librarian with advanced knowledge of how to approach the literature and efficiently extract value from it. Public libraries may not need librarians in most positions, but when you need a librarian, accept no substitute!

  11. Library Observer says:

    Over 40 years ago ( before education became BIG BUSINESS ), at the university I went to get my Business Administration degree — almost ANY course would let you write a challenge exam in Arts, Commerce, Economics, Engineering and so on.

    About 30 years ago my Alma Mater started discontinuing the challenge exams because too many people with practical experience were showing up, plopping down a few hundred bucks, writing the challenge exams, passing them ( sometimes with flying colors ) — and walking out the door with their degree without having paid any money towards or putting years in towards same.

    Since it made the University look bad — they discontinued them.

    Never believe that the ” Higher Education ” Industry isn’t in it for the buck.

  12. I am surprised that someone with two Master’s degrees *and* a PhD doesn’t understand the difference between an ACADEMIC degree and a PROFESSIONAL degree.

    Crudely oversimplifying, but academic degrees are credentials for knowing something. Professional degrees are credentials for knowing *how to do* something.

    Like, for example, how to use Mr. Google:

  13. There are two different issues in this case: one is the necessity of an MLS degree and the value (or lack thereof) it provides; the other is why an individual with a Ph.D. and two Masters degrees is working as a library assistant after 12 years. These may be connected but they are not one and the same. I would wonder, in particular, about personality issues the individual might have, because his background certainly would be more welcome in an academic library — so why didn’t an academic library hire him?

    I’ve done hiring in an academic library, and I’ve come across quite a few of a certain type (with MLS/MLIS among their degrees, they don’t get an interview without one). This type has a Ph.D. and looks down their nose at anyone who doesn’t — including the hiring committee. Many are blowhards who like to hear themselves talk. Others are noticeably angry and bitter (even in an interview!), probably because they really wanted to be a professor but got stuck in adjunct hell. One of my favorite examples outright admitted in his phone interview that he really just wanted to work for us just so he could get access to our databases for his own research. Unless they are quite young for a Ph.D. holder, it’s obvious that there are attitude, motivation, leadership, or social problems there. I would guess the individual AL mentioned has more holding him back than the lack of an MLS, and rather than pursue a library degree, his efforts and money would be better spent on counseling to figure out what the real problem is and address it.

    As for the MLS, personally I think the coursework could definitely be halved, with more internship experience instead. Most of our actual skills are learned on the job. In this or any other vocational field, on the job training beats textbook any day. It also weeds out the people who have great misconceptions about what the profession actually does. I wouldn’t eliminate the MLS altogether but I would eliminate a lot of the classroom fluff and focus on skill set development.

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