Degree or Not Degree, That Is the Question

I was asked not too long ago to give my rant about having an MLS (or whatever your local library graduate program is calling its degree). I don’t usually do requests, but that’s mostly because I don’t usually get requests. Since this particular request came from a friend of mine, and since this is a topic I think is important in the big scheme of librarianship, I will now ramble on about the library Master’s degree.

Being fresh out of library school, my degreed coworkers will often throw a line my way, whenever some minor or major crisis has sprung up at MPOW. The line, delivered with tongue in cheek (but with a certain level of seriousness, as all jokes have), is this, “I’ll bet you didn’t learn about this in library school.” The honest response is almost certainly, “No, I didn’t.”

Does this mean I didn’t learn anything useful in library school? Does this mean my time and money were wasted? Of course not. I learned some interesting theory, got some practical experience, and met other librarians I may not have otherwise met. Most importantly, going through the graduate program was personally significant.

But let me come clean: I have never been impressed by degrees. Got yourself a Bachelor’s degree? A Master’s? A Doctorate? That’s nice, but it doesn’t knock my socks off. The fact that someone got a graduate degree in Library Studies in 1975 or 1985 or 1995 or 2005 means little to me. Unless you can actively demonstrate skills and knowledge that are useful right this second, I don’t think past education is worth all that much, and pieces of paper regarding that education are worth even less.

It looks to me like there is often a divide in the library world. People with degrees are generally paid more than people without. People with degrees are given duties that people without degrees aren’t. At MPOW, only degreed librarians are allowed to do collection development. When I proposed setting up a subject guide wiki, I was told that only degreed staff would be allowed to select resources to go on the wiki, even though our Library Assistants and Associates are knowledgeable people with time on their hands to do this sort of thing, and even though few of our degreed selectors ever learned how to distinguish a reputable site from a disreputable site in library school. Which begs the question: if you didn’t learn about this in library school, why do you need a degree to do it?

It’s been suggested to me that pursuing and obtaining the degree shows a certain dedication to the profession. And I can buy that. Except…doesn’t working at the library for 5 or 10 or 20 years show dedication as well? If you work at a car assembly plant for 20 years, are you less dedicated to building cars than someone who gets an Engineering degree? Are nurses less dedicated than doctors? Is a self-taught blues guitarist less dedicated than a conservatory-trained classical guitarist?

I’ve been working in academic and public libraries, off and on, since 1990, and I got my degree a year and a half ago, and I’m hardpressed to think of anything that’s shown me that having a degree in-and-of-itself makes a person more knowledge about libraries or more qualified for certain library positions. I’ve seen non-degreed library staff display a certain lack of confidence in their own abilities and knowledge, a lack of confidence that degreed staff haven’t shown, but I think that has more to do with the atmosphere of degree-reverence than it does any real lack of confidence. If libraries didn’t make a big deal about degrees, if libraries didn’t make non-degreed staff feel they weren’t qualified for certain duties or levels of responsibility, I don’t think I’d see that lack of confidence.

So, if having a degree doesn’t make someone more qualified for certain levels of library work, what does? How would a library determine if someone were qualified for a certain job, if not looking at least in part at whether the person in question had a library degree or not? And I’ll be damned, that’s a really good question.

A Cornucopia of Upgrades

This is the week for upgrades, apparently. I seem to have mixed luck with upgrades, and this weekend was no different.

While I was at Internet Librarian, Firefox 2 was officially released. But since I’m using IceWeasel on my laptop, I didn’t pay much mind to it. Last night, though, I decided to download it and install it on the family desktop. And, of course, it was ever-so-slightly borked: the bookmarks disappeared, and the address and search bars didn’t work right. I was steamed, and so was my wife (who rightfully chided me for installing a newly released upgrade on the family’s computer without first investigating for possible problems). A quick search online found a solution, and I quickly got it fixed. Phew!

The latest Ubuntu release, Edgy Eft, was also released this week, and I decided to upgrade my laptop at the same time I was upgrading the family computer. Yes, I do have a tendency to leap before I look, why do you ask? Luckily, this was the easiest, smoothest Ubuntu upgrade yet. There have been a few quirks, but nothing to keep me from doing what I normally do on my laptop. Double phew! Plus, I’ve added some nifty bits like checkgmail and Gaim Guifications.

The latest version of WordPress was released, too. I should upgrade my blog, but…I think I need a bit of a breather before I jump into yet another upgrade situation. I’m upgraded-out!

Enquiring Minds

Some scruffy-looking nerf-herder (who is definitely not half-witted or stuck-up) has thrown down the gauntlet regarding domain names. Recently, it seems like I’ve gotten the question more than I ever have in the past: why “goblin-cartoons.com”?

The answer isn’t a long story, but it’s not a particularly interesting one either. Basically, it goes like this: 5 years ago, I was going to start a blog and I wanted my own domain name. I didn’t want it to be “joshuaneff.com” or some variation on that theme. The phrase “goblin cartoons” popped into my head and seemed to sum up the kind of prose and poetry writing I was doing at the time. So, I went with it. Beyond that, there’s no real significance to it. I still like the name, and I’ll probably never have to deal with anyone else using it.

And there you have it.

Internet Librarian: The Wrap-Up

Ah, good ol’ Kansas! It’s cold, gray and rainy, just like October should be. The perfect weather to reflect upon my first professional, out of state, big-time conference.

Not counting the keynote speech from J.A. Jance (which was interesting, funny and surreal), I started the conference off listening to Paul Miller from Talis talk about Library 2.0. This was one of the best sessions I went to. Not only does Paul have a great sense of humor (or “humour” as he would no doubt spell it), his talk got me absolutely feverish with ideas about where libraries could go and where they should go. Paul inspired me right out of the gate, and I’m still inspired.

Sarah Houghton-Jan‘s session on reaching patrons online was another one of the best. She gave 20 free, easy ways for libraries to reach out to patrons online. (She also gave a caveat: if you do this, you’ll be reaching out to more than just your local patrons; you’ll be reaching out to the world. If you don’t want everyone’s patrons becoming your patrons, don’t reach out online.) Solid, practical tips that I could take back to my library.

Meredith Farkas and Paul Pival presented another of my favorite sessions, “The RSS and JavaScript Cookbook.” They skipped the typical Powerpoint slides in favor of using a wiki as slides. Brilliant! And they gave specific tools I could show my coworkers, including live demonstrations of how to use the tools. Great stuff.

Steven M. Cohen gave a funny and informative presentation, perfect for the last afternoon of the conference (when everyone was getting tired and brain-numb…or maybe that was just me): “What’s Hot and New With Social Software.” Steven sauntered through a list of social software tools, from A-Z. Sadly, I didn’t win one of the Starbucks cards he was handing out as prizes (for guessing what social software tool he was going to talk about next). But I did learn about some websites and Firefox extensions I wasn’t all that familiar with before.

Michael Porter and Michael Sauers presented on “Flickr and Libraries” and gave an entertaining, informative and eye-opening session. I was astounded and awed to learn about PictureAustralia: the National Library of Australia is using Flickr (mashing it up with Dublin Core) to create a massive collection of pictures of Australia. (And I just learned this morning that Michael Sauers has been offered real money for one of his pictures on Flickr!)

Other really good sessions I attended: “Web-Based Experience Planning: Creating User-Centered Experience” with David Lee King, “Cultivating Tech-Savvy Library Staff: Competencies & Tips” with David King and Sarah Houghton-Jan, “MySpace & Facebook” with Aaron Schmidt and Cliff Landis, “Podcasting & Videocasting” with Greg Schwartz, Sean Cordes, Jeff Humphrey, David Free and David King, “Wikis for Libraries” with Nicole Engard, Darren Chase, Marianne Kruppa and Chad Boeninger, and “Blogging Update: Applications & Tips” with Walter Nelson, Karen Coombs and Aaron Schmidt.

There were really only two sessions that I didn’t get much out of. The session of the Second Life Library was interesting (and hilarious when Lori Bell repeatedly brought up “sex and gambling in Second Life,” and fellow panelist Michael Sauers banged his head on the table each time she did), but there wasn’t much information I can put to use in my career. (I was really excited to get involved with the Second Life Library when it was first getting set up, but I have enough going on in my first life that I just don’t have time to commit to Second Life.) The session on “Bottom-Up Web Redesign” was interesting (and we got candy!), but it was entirely focused on academic libraries, and there wasn’t as much useful content as I was hoping for (although I like the idea of “affinity mapping,” where you get staff and patrons to make a visual map of the subjects and categories they think should be on a website).

Overall, it was a great conference to attend and a great experience. I finally got to hang out with people I’ve previously only admired (and talked with) from afar.

And what general ideas have I come away with?

All library users are becoming increasingly wired, and libraries need to reach out to where the users are. We should push the library everywhere, engage people with real (and potential) services, get information to the users (not get users to the information). We should promote the library as an experience that users want to have. And we need to empower both library staff and library users. Now, I knew all of this before I went to IL, but it’s good to get hot under the collar about it all over again, with some practical ways to implement it to boot. This was time and money well-spent, and I really really hope I get to go again next year.

Stumbling Towards Growth

The wiki taskforce we assembled to get our subject guide wiki up and running is made up of Library Assistants and Associates with little or no knowledge of HTML, wiki syntax or web design (except for one LA who is currently taking a class on web design). So, this has been a learning process for all of us.

One of the LAs has been enthusiastic and relentless in teaching herself wiki syntax and design, and she’s come up with some great stuff. While I was in sunny California, she was fine-tuning some tables on a page and coming up a color scheme for the wiki’s border. It all looks great! I loved being at the conference, but boy, am I happy to be back at work!