As a library school student or a recent graduate, it is all of our hopes that we’re not getting this degree in vain. The job market however, cannot support all of us and we have to wonder how to keep the balance. Many people point to the library school programs and say that is where the change needs to happen. A couple months ago, Will Manley wrote a post about the growing divide between libraries and library schools and he asked his readers some very good questions, the main ones being “what value does the MLIS have? Is it just a union card?” Through reading the comments, it started to sound like some people just see the graduate degree is nothing more than a stepping stone to their dream library job. In some ways, I can see how this is true, most librarian positions do require that you have an MLS/MLIS. However, the bigger problem is not the “union card” idea, it’s the current state of LIS education. This is an issue very dear to us at HackLibSchool. No library school program is perfect, but that is why this blog exists, to try and change what we don’t like, to add to our curriculum.
It’s hard to ignore this idea of the MLIS as just a union card for the job. Generally, we all have identified a few problems that seem to have de-valued this degree, and none of these should come as surprise. First issue being, lax acceptance rules; after all, higher education is also a business (read more about the numbers on Lauren’s blog). The second point of contention is that library school is seen as too easy, but I personally believe there are plenty of things students can do if they feel this way. In the end, what we all see is a flooded market of graduates to fill the few jobs out there. These are hard times for everyone and libraries have been especially hit hard, but this is also a good time for things to change for the better. It’s good that we identify problems in our field and especially in our education system. We should ask whose responsibility is it to address these issues? Should the American Library Association step in? It’s hard to say, but by identifying what we think isn’t working, we can start the process of changing what we don’t like.
Let’s take a step back for just a moment though. Library Research Service did a survey last May asking librarians, staff and students about the value of the MLIS to them. The results showed that 76% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed that their degree was worth the investment. This should really tell us that a good number of librarians out there see much value in their degree, that it can be more than just a “union card”. There are many ways that we all can add value to our own education and what we walk away with in our job search. Joe Hardenbrook, who writes on Mr. Library Dude really summed it up well when he said “Library school is what you make of it.” It doesn’t matter really where you go to school, what really matters is how you use your time in school. That’s where the value is. I have gotten so much from my degree so far, not only from the courses but from the extra curricular activities that I’ve become involved in.
The MLIS can be more than just a union card, but it’s going to depend on the student to take it to the next level. If you are passionate about this field, then the activities that you take on while in school will eventually translate into things that can go on your resume. Even still, there are many questions and conversations that we as professionals should be consistently having. We need to be asking ourselves about the future of librarianship. We need to wonder if LIS education is headed in the right direction, or if it’s truly preparing students for what libraries will need.
What changes do you want to see in library school education? Do you think think that your degree is valuable? How do we become the change that we want to see?