The Degree

Degree or Not Degree, That Is the Question. Of all of the new crop of posts I’ve seen today about library education, Josh Neff’s has the best comment thread. This is an extremely touchy subject. It’s a sensitive subject for me.

It’s fascinating to me how so many librarians feel their educations were useless and they didn’t learn anything in library school. I’ve only been to one library school, but I am a completely different person than I was two years ago. Maybe my school is extraordinary (well, I’m partial to it), but it has changed me. The program balances theory and practice very well. Students coordinate internships at libraries that interest them. Even though we don’t have a health sciences program, we have a health sciences library where students can get experience. We don’t have an archives program, but we have archives where students can work. In the school library program, students have to have 10-11 semester hours of practical experience, focusing on certain aspects, with reflection and guidance.

I find the comments made by Mr. Neff’s coworkers to be a bit passive-aggressive… “Bet they didn’t teach you this in library school.” They don’t and can’t teach you everything in library school. My view of library school is that it builds a theoretical base of knowledge about libraries and librarianship, gives structured and guided practice at specific aspects of librarianship, and grounds students in the intellectual history of the profession. It doesn’t teach how to clear a printer jam, how to clean up patron vomit, how to handle an 11-year-old asking to learn how to French kiss. It doesn’t teach you how to deal with a library board (or how to craftily stack that board when you get the opportunity.) Perhaps there is an assumption that there are things that are appropriate to learn on the job.

Bloggers often seem frustrated at the lack of classes on things like blogs and wikis. Perhaps my school is unique, but in many of my classes, we had choices of assignments, including electronic formats. In at least one class, starting a blog was a required practice. (This was the genesis of my Tween Lit site.) I would prefer to see technology worked into classes in that way, rather than requiring a specific class on just learning html/blogs/wikis/exciting new social software of the future. A specific class on current software would always be in danger of being behind. There is a danger, though, of being too far on the cutting edge. One of my classmates is working in a library that has no OPAC– just a card catalog. A conference I hope to present at is asking presenters to bring their own presentation gear or go without because of the cost of the equipment. Schools can have such aggressive filters and firewalls that starting a wiki can be an impossible dream. Students need to know how to do things the lo-tech way as well.

I am continuing my education because I believe in the MLS (or, in my school, the MAISLT). I like that people come into the field with a variety of undergraduate degrees (and other graduate degrees) and a variety of backgrounds. That adds a richness to our profession.

I think library school professors/ researchers bring great value to the profession. They have much to teach to those willing to learn.

Last week, we had a visit from Thomas Mann, a Library of Congress reference librarian. It was an excellent visit, about which I will post another incredibly long post (actually, two parts), but a key thought is that library “evolution” is a myth. When librarianship changes, it’s not “evolution,” it’s a result of decisions– conscious or unconscious. At least some of the people making those decisions need to be people with an awareness and understanding of library history, library sociology, library psychology, library culture. You don’t need a degree to be one of those people, but library school is (should be) a safe place to get that kind of knowledge.

One more interesting point from Mann’s lecture: people are defending “library as place” in a way that makes them not libraries any more. We have to think about the implications of what we are doing and the history of what has been done. That’s true in librarianship and it’s true in library education. How is this movement for reform different from the other movements for reform in the last century?

Disclaimer: My words here represent only my own beliefs. No agreement or endorsement by my school or my professors is implied or stated. My interpretation of the words of Thomas Mann are only my interpretation.

One thought on “The Degree

  1. I have found what people are more upset about is not being prepared with the particular skills, and not being able to understand that not having skills doesn’t mean that no knowledge was required.

    As I recently said in an interview, no they didn’t teach me that in library school, and I’m glad they didn’t. It wasn’t their job. It is my job to learn skills that apply to my situation. The theoretical underpinnings of skills are the basis.

    If we are only going to school to learn skills, we’re not professionals, we’re paraprofessionals.

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