I confused some people when I said that I was going to library school, but that I wanted to be an archivist. I developed my passion for archives when I was an undergrad, and that was the specialization I was going to the pursue in library school. I’ll just come right out and say it- I had no interest in becoming a librarian. Man, that feels good to get off my chest.
This doesn’t mean that I’m entirely devoid of librarian skills. Maryland requires 12 credits of core classes (out of 36 total) for all MLS students, so there are plenty of opportunities to intermingle. It’s been fascinating to learn about the different approaches librarians and archivists take to similar issues such as long-term preservation, or the differences in user interactions.
After those 12 credits, though, it’s harder to get that useful cross-specialization interaction. Many of the specializations at Maryland are adding more required courses, and becoming more strictly prescribed. Online cohorts in the general and e-government tracks, as well as the school library track and the archives/digital curation double specialization, are completely or almost completely set programs, with no chance for electives. And there are signs that the other specializations will follow suit. There are fewer and fewer opportunities to take classes with students from other cohorts as you go through the program.
“That’s excellent,” I hear you say. “Having a plan ahead of time takes the stress out of course selection, and you know from day one the sort of topics you’ll be covering. I love it.”
Whoa, Skippy. Let’s stop and think about this for a second. An entirely structured graduate program might be great in a STEM field- a you must learn X, Y, Z in that order kind of thing. But an MLS degree is much more fluid. What happens when you get into the workplace and have to work with say, an archivist, but you can’t understand why they’re more concerned about temperature controls than the serials budget? The ability to work across fields is vital, but gets lost when the student doesn’t get the chance to choose to break down those barriers. Or on a more practical level, what happens when you decide to change specializations- say when you decide you don’t want to be a school librarian anymore and want to pursue the e-government track? Are you willing to start from scratch because you haven’t taken the courses in the prescribed order?
On the other end of the structure spectrum, I’ve talked with colleagues from University of Texas- Austin and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, programs that require just one or two core courses. They enjoyed the ability to shape their own curriculum while still learning their trade. In fact, in the course of writing this article, nearly every student I talked to treasured the idea of being able to shape their own curriculum. Why wouldn’t someone who wants to be a music librarian, for example, want the space to take the courses in the music department that they think are relevant?
So where are these calls for greater standardization coming from? And who do they really benefit? These standardized programs may benefit the professional image of the field, but do they produce a better MLS candidate? Britt and Nicole have both touched on great ways to shape your own curriculum- but what happens when students don’t have that opportunity?
There are a thousand questions to think about in this area, and I could go on all day. But let’s hear from you- what are your experiences with structured curricula? Are you in favor, or would you rather have more choices of topics to pursue?