Wednesday, March 7, 2012

investing in ourselves

A story from the iSchool flickered into my Twitter feed today: Is a Master's Degree in Library Science a Poor Investment? A Counter Perspective to Forbes Magazine.

(The Forbes story in question was pretty ignorable; coming from Forbes, of course it's going to focus on the financial benefits of your master's, and of course our degrees aren't going to make us rich. We knew this wasn't a good investment in the traditional meaning of the word "investment," so blah blah whatever, Forbes.)

But then the iSchool student winds up making the exact same point as the Forbes story.

"[I]f your desired profession requires a master’s degree, that’s a good reason to pursue it.”
"An MLIS is often required when applying for professional librarian jobs, especially in regards to the more advanced positions such as director or manager. This is why I am pursuing my Master’s degree: In looking at job postings and talking with people in the field, I quickly discovered that a lack of educational credentials would quickly eliminate me for consideration for the director or manager positions I was seeking."

That's not a real reason.

It's a valid short-term explanation, but it's not a reason. "Because they said so" isn't good enough for toddlers and teenagers, and it shouldn't be good enough for our profession, either.

Why are we all so afraid to ask the real question: What, exactly, do we learn in library school, and do we need it to be librarians? 

I've questioned my Syracuse degree -- and its $40K price tag -- loudly and often, but the further out I get from library school, the more certain I am that I did, in fact, need to go to library school. It wasn't because of anything I learned in classes or from readings or from professors; some of that was helpful and important, and some of it wasn't.

The reason I needed to go to library school was that I needed to meet other people in the same stage of their careers as I am. 

I needed to have daily contact with people who were navigating the same things, figuring out where and how to work in this field -- and, now, having jobs that are similar to what I'm doing or am going to do or might want to do someday. Just in Klub Kat, we have public librarians; academic librarians at schools of all sizes and stripes; archivists; early-career administrators; people working at vendors; people working at "special" libraries; people working in non-MLS staff positions.

All of you push me to think about things way outside my comfort zone (proper spit-cup signage, say, and bugs and rodents in public spaces) and how we're shaping this profession. Our generation isn't shaping it enough yet, but we have to start somewhere. And we're doing things together, too -- brainstorming, venting, helping each other find job posting, presenting together, co-authoring academic papers.

That is what I needed, what I couldn't get on my own. Were there other ways to find these people, ways that didn't take two years and cost every cent that some people make in an entire year? Maybe, but I don't know them, and the more graduation recedes in the distance, the more I value what I did get out of library school: you guys.

P.S. That said, people shaping MLIS curricula? Please keep asking that Big Scary Question: What, exactly do we learn in library school, and do we need it to be librarians? If the answer is no -- and it is, too often -- get rid of it, please, for the sake of our future and our sanity.


  1. Well said, Kats. And if there is anything you think should be taught, let me know and I can always pitch it is a class. That I teach :)

  2. As a school librarian/media specialist for 40 years, I think what Gwen has to say is valid. I have heard another Klub Kat member voice this same sentiment. (OK, we share the same last name.)

    I got my MLS in 1976 and my research paper topic was automation in school libraries. Can you image what that entailed? A couple districts had one terminal at the administrative office that was connected to OCLC to get cataloging records for central processing of materials, e.g. making catalog cards, labels, etc. Just giving you youngins some history.

    My library school foundations class emphasized that the field of library science is a profession because it has a shared mission, body of knowledge, vocabulary, professional association, degree with specific curriculum, albeit mostly invented by Melvil Dewey

    I think what you are describing in regards to your library school education is that it is in the throes of change. During my career, school librarianship has thus always been so. We were changing from a print to multimedia world when I began. Now you are transitioning from the traditional bricks and mortrar library to a digital, always-on world.

    I am very envious of you Klub Kat members who have stayed connected after you MLIS in ways my cohort could not even dream of. You will be the ones creating the 21st century profession of Library and Information Science. Even adding the "information" label is new to many of us old timers. You will create the next generation of professionals which will not resemble the past. I love this quote I heard recently, on Twitter no less. "Are we preparing students for their future or our past?" Keep on creating that future by using your personal learning networks. You will make libraries and librarianship better as you transform them.