Friday, March 7, 2008

Why an MLS?

It's been a few days since I posted. Nothing has inspired me in the past two days, and I was insanely busy with meetings, workshop classes, advising, etc... I do enjoy the advising, esp. since this time around I did my homework before the student arrived so I was more prepared on what their requirements are. It is difficult to be an advisor for many different areas, none of which are my own.

I was approached earlier this morning by the human resources professor. He invited me to his class next week and I'm going to answer students' questions about what I do. Their assignment then will be to write a job description for me. He wants it to go beyond what a job description normally looks like and give an accurate view of what I really do. At the end, we talked about the degree requirements. He is often trying to talk his students out of an MBA because it usually doesn't really pay off. I wanted to have a good answer ready for why a professional librarian needs a MLS. I had answers to what a person learns, but needed help from a more experienced librarian for the heart of the answer.

The first reason a person would need an MLS is the obvious: every real librarian job requires it. You may find some people with the librarian job title who don't have one, esp. in public libraries, but they're not real librarians (that's a topic for another post). So what does a person learn in an MLS program? How to use databases and how they work (including the grueling DIALOG- a database without a graphical user interface (GUI)), collection development, assessment techniques, organizational theory or cataloging, and many hours of reference techniques. All of these are the practical things a person learns, the "professional" side of a "professional" degree. However, most of this could be learned on the job or as an undergraduate degree.

The most important reason is a formal way for librarians to gather knowledge of the professional theory behind librarianship. Well-trained paraprofessionals can do a good job at the reference desk and teaching courses. But a solid knowledge of the theory behind librarianship drives a hundred decisions each day. A paraprofessional would be told we cannot tell someone who has a book checked out, or what books a particular person has ever checked out, but only a professional librarian could possibly understand why this is an important, universal policy. And a huge part of librarianship is working towards the future, making constant changes, keeping up with trends, trying to set your own trends, using new technologies in new ways, taking innovations in other areas and applying them to libraries... these are all things a person absolutely could not do competently if they did not understand the theory that drives the direction libraries are going in.

I went to lunch with this same mentor librarian last week and we discussed the differences between a top-rate library schools and second-rate schools. She felt that those she has worked with coming from the second-rate schools have the same skills with databases and have been competent instructors, but lack the global vision of librarianship unless they have developed this on their own. I got that from my education... whether it was worth all of the extra money I paid, I guess that will take time to tell.

1 comment:

Toni said...

I was surprised to read your comment that "only a professional librarian could possibly understand why" it's important to keep borrowing information private.

I believe that any competent librarian employee (degreed or not) would be able to understand the importance of a concept like this, as well as trends in technology and the future of libraries.

I was surprised again by your mentor's comment that graduates of "second-rate" MLS programs "lack the global vision of librarianship". Wouldn't that have more to do with second-rate students than second-rate programs?

Yes, an MLS program is important because it puts new librarians on common ground. We all learned the same important theories (whether our alma mater was first- or second-rate) but one needs the practice, experience, and interest in order for it to sink in and become what you do, not just what you learned. Some people do pretty well in this job with degrees in philosophy and religion.

I hope this will be the start of a discussion. I enjoy following your blog, and I'm interested to hear more of your ideas from this post.