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.