Thursday, March 27, 2008


I got linked to from the Liminal Librarian, who must have a Google Alert on her blog (as I do, which is how I found out) as I just wrote that post earlier today. I have also received one comment supporting her. I believe looking at some other peoples' posts that while we are all conflicted on the issue, most people side with Rachel Singer Gordon.

I was a reference assistant to online graduate students for 30 hours per week for the two years I was in grad school. The skills I picked up in that job were much more important than anything I learned in the classroom, but I still considered myself a paraprofessional. I was fortunate in that while most of my professors had Ph.D.'s, most of them had also served as librarians or other types of information professionals before returning to grad school (my favorite professor had worked as a non-MLS librarian for 7 years).

I am defensive in that I spent 2 years of my life working on this degree, graduated with a 3.97 GPA while working at least 30 hours per week in a demanding paraprofessional job, went through my once-significant savings, and am now oppressed by student loans to get that piece of paper. My monthly loan payment is 20% of my take-home salary and will be for another 8 years without my parents' help.

I would not have gotten my current job without the degree and I believe the trend to call non-MLS workers "librarians" is not as much of an issue in academic libraries as it is in public ones. I am sympathetic to people who are doing professional librarian work in public libraries. In academic libraries, I don't want the paraprofessionals looked down upon, but I don't want them called "librarians" either unless they really do librarians' work. As I said in the original post, that involves reference interviews, instruction, database analysis and selection/deselection, collection development and weeding, keeping up with global library trends, applying new technologies to the library, planning budgets and strategic plans. I think working more than an 8-hour day when you don't feel caught-up is an important thing, too. And is the person in a "job" or working it as a "career?"

If they are doing any combination of these things, fine, I will happily call them a "librarian." I don't see reading to children or processing Interlibrary Loan requests as professional librarians' work. I'm not saying these are easy tasks (I don't want anything to do with other peoples' children) but they're not professional-librarian work.

I will admit that almost all of this was learned on the job for me, either as a paraprofessional in school or in my first professional job. But I'm scared of the trends I mentioned previously and the implication that the effort I went through and am proud of to get my degree is worthless....

And I still don't get how no one would let me teach French in high school or college without the proper degree, even if I was perfectly cabable of doing so and had relevant experience, yet people wouldn't mind replacing me with someone who doesn't have the "proper" degree.

Could we at least all agree that those without significant library experience (and preferably an MLS) should not be named as library directors?


Toni said...

What I think is wonderful about our field (and academic libraries in particular) is that there are so many different work environments to choose from. At some institutions, if you have an MLS you're a staff member; at others, you're faculty. In some places, library faculty get tenure; in others, they do not.

The challenge for each of us is to find our place: what institution will we be proud to work for, and what career path will make us happy? How far do we aspire to move up in the field? What kind of people do we want to work for, and with?

It may surprise you to know that there are professional librarians who process Interlibrary Loan requests. I've worked at several libraries, and sometimes that work is done by an MLS and sometimes it's done by a paraprofessional. Same thing with overseeing library reserve operations and phoning in Acquisitions orders: it's in the job descriptions for MLS positions.

I also work with reference librarians who do all of the work you list (in paragraph 4) but do not hold an MLS and are not attending MLS programs. This is at a place where their MLS counterparts are faculty. But at the library where MLS positions were considered staff and an MLS placed ILL orders, and I wasn't allowed to work at the reference desk until I had my MLS. It takes all kinds.

(P.S. I'm very surprised that you were denied a position teaching at a high school because you only had a bachelor's. I thought that was a fairly standard minimum requirement. As I understood it, a master's places a teacher in a higher pay bracket. What's a bachelor's good for anymore?)

supernumerarypa said...

What I meant by not having the right degree to teach high school is that I did not complete a teacher certification program. If I were to want to become a highschool teacher in PA, this would require at least 1.5 years of college. In other states with teacher shortages, I could start tomorrow, but would still be expected to complete the education requirements while working. I was an education major for the first half of my undergraduate program. I nearly went batty with the low-quality professors in that field at that school, and extremely low-quality students who were becoming high school teachers.

sprylibrarian said...

I could not agree with you more in this post. I have been following the comments on Rachel's blog and checking out everyone's responses to the backlash of the Movers and Shakers selection. While I could care less about the selection of paraprofessionals in the final awards (I do think that the term paraprofessional could be changed as you state in another post- and I also feel that the field would fall apart without them) I also second your sentiment about the value of the degree. I realize that every library is different and a large portion of paraprofessionals could be doing professional tasks but generally there is a large gap in those tasks. For the posts (not on this blog) that refer to the ease or "just in case" obtaining of the MLS degree, I can't believe that these posts are coming from MLS graduates. I worked like a dog in my MLIS program, as you working 4 days a week, and found excellent value, stimluation and training in the degree- but that is also what I chose to obtain, by working on as much as I could in the classes and outside. Even if the majority of my experience is obtained from my daily work I would not have had the overall understanding and the foundation I needed to start in the field.

Thank you for your thoughful analysis on this topic, after finding your blog the other day, I will be a weekly reader.