It seems almost every year we in the library science field torture ourselves about the glut of graduates emerging from our programs and the shortage of jobs that exist within the profession. One thing I continually hear from people is that library schools should make admissions harder. The argument is that if we let less people in with higher qualification our degrees will matter more. Here I take umbrage.
I wouldn’t be in a library program if the standards were extremely high. I had a bad GPA. I was a passable undergraduate; smart, but with a minor writing disability and no work ethic, which left my papers a mess. It took me three years of under employment at dead-end-bottom-of-the-economy jobs to find my calling in library science. It’s not a background prestigious graduate programs look at. In short I wasn’t the best candidate for admissions.
I’ve made up for that poor performance as an undergraduate by upping my game as a MLIS candidate. I’ve challenged myself and gone above and beyond what’s expected in library school. Crossing over that bar, combined with my lack luster performance as an undergrad, and my lack of confidence still in my own productivity may be why I feel like more of a bench mark and less of a pinnacle. It leads me to make the following argument: Library schools should admit more people and graduate less of them.
Library school should be tough; it should be a rocky marriage between the theoretical and the practical. Something like art school where we learn the theory behind design and the skills to bring those designs to life. Internships and externships should be required. You should not be able to graduate with an MLIS in a year. I think we should have comprehensive exams as well as a marketable portfolio in order to graduate from library school. Graduate better people but don’t discriminate on who we let in because there are great librarians out there that choosy programs didn’t admit.
This sort of a paradigm shift would solve two problems. First, it would create a clear distinction between paras and librarians. Our degrees should mean something. We should have leadership, planning, creativity, and research skills when we graduate. These are the roles that are open; we can’t expect to sit around and catalog books or work the same shift at the reference desk day in and day out. There is no reason why a Librarian needs to do that work. It makes sense to have them do that work to maximize labor efficiencies, but even high end research libraries have paraprofessionals and graduate students working the reference desk, cataloging, and other roles that fall into what we think typically constitutes “librarian work.” Librarians need to be the makers of information systems. If our profession is to survive, it requires us to be more than just a friendly face at the reference desk or the cataloger shut in the back room; it requires us to be active in shaping our future. Otherwise the library will become a few tech guys, a couple paras, and a few managers working in a place with books and not a vibrant institution dedicated to the principle – Information for all.
Second, and this argument is brutally cynical, library schools cannot afford to decrease admissions in this economic climate. Library schools were already under intense threat before the financial crisis with several prominent schools going off line. Now, schools are being cut, merged, and moved increasingly towards a focus solely on commercial information systems. A library program dedicated to information access increasingly has to justify itself not in terms of providing a necessary good but in terms of revenue to the university. Cutting off the revenue source for these programs now seems both harming to the programs and something that’s not likely to happen. Letting in someone to give them an opportunity doesn’t devalue our degree. Why not let people in and give them a chance? Especially if it saves programs under threat.
In short, it’s not letting too many in that is hurting our degree, it’s letting people out who aren’t qualified or simply lack the drive to do a good job. It’s why we need to value our education, take advantage of the opportunities while in library school, and make sure that when we graduate, we have the skills we need not just to work in a library, but to lead in a library. Our programs should start by making sure we are ready to graduate and not by putting more requirements at the starting gates.