Thoughts on An “Ideal” MLS

As a hacker for HLS, I am challenged to consider some of the biggest ideas in the field of library and information science. Furthermore, one of the primary questions for the website is “If we had a voice in the development of curriculum, what would that degree entail?. As an academic advisor in my 8 to 5 life, I think I am uniquely qualified to provide some perspective on the question.

As I thought about what an “ideal” MLS degree might look like, I kept coming back to the most core parts of the degree – the classes offered. I reflected on the classes I have taken thus far, the classes I am currently enrolled in, as well as what my program at Emporia State University looks like versus other information science programs. For example, while my program is fairly prescribed, there are other programs out there – like the University of Texas – where the curriculum is far more open and flexible. While there are valid arguments for both a prescribed and an “open” curriculum, I wanted to reflect on what I think would be three excellent additions to any curriculum.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Given the increasingly multifaceted world in which we live, in addition to how rich the existing conversations about DEI are in our field, it shocks me that a class covering these topics is not required in more MLS programs. I think the absence of required DEI classes from the curriculum casts a light on several assumptions that are made about MLS degrees and those who pursue. One such assumption is that we (as students) already know about diversity and how to best address it. I think this is a faulty assumption to say the least. While I understand there are many competing demands placed on the curriculum, I fail to see how knowing more about, say, structural racism or privilege in a course dedicated to those topics is any less worthy of inclusion than a class on collection development, for example. I think both are topics that important for future information science professionals and, if a program believes both are important, they should both have their place in the curriculum.

#critlib

While I might be showing some personal bias with this selection, I think the development of a course on critical librarianship would be an excellent addition to any MLS curriculum. While I can’t imagine it being a required class (nor would I advocate for it to be), I think it would help expand many of the conversations that are currently happening in our field. Now, what is critical librarianship, you ask? Great question. Plainly stated, critical librarianship “supports the belief that, in our work as librarians, we should examine and fight attempts at social oppression. While there are obvious tie-in to the DEI class mentioned above, I think a class in critical librarianship (or #critlib, as you might see it on Twitter) could help show librarians that ideas of neutrality have shifted in the 21st century and that being “neutral” in a changing, charged world perhaps isn’t the best choice. Critical librarianship has the potential to inform how we work with patrons and ways in which we can ensure that libraries remain relevant and important to the communities they serve.

Ethics

I think a lack of ethic-specific courses stem from many of the same assumption that undergird the lack of DEI courses – namely, that “of course” librarians and information science professionals will be ethical in their work. But I think it would be ideal to explore what “ethical” even means in our field. Indeed, as laid out by the ALA, ethics form a core part of our profession. And, much like critical librarianship has challenged the concept of “neutrality”, so many of the issues facing 21st century librarians are challenging our ethics. What best to do in serving homeless populations? What to do when faced with a request to provide space for hate speech? How to respond when a patron’s privacy is at risk? While a basic grounding in professional ethics might be covered in foundational courses, have a semester-long analysis of the most pressing issues would no doubt help the next generation of librarians.

Like any field, library and information science is a field that is evolving and the curriculum of our graduate-level programs is always in flux in an attempt to reflect that. What we learn as MLS students is, indeed, a reflection of what our schools and our professional bodies, like the ALA, deem important and vital. But I think we should also be critical of these curriculum decisions. Always be aware that there is more to learn out there and never be afraid to push the boundaries in pursuit of making our field better and more informed.


Cover image by Zackary Drucker from The Gender Spectrum Collection.


Nick Dean is a first-year master’s student in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University. Nick currently works as an academic advisor at a medical school in Kansas City.

3 replies

  1. Hi Zackary, I totally agree with you on all 3 points. I think #critlib in particular was something wish I would have gotten more of during my time during my MLS. I was lucky enough to stumble upon it on my own but I only had one class that directly addressed what engaging with race/religion/LGBTQIA+/class would look like from a library perspective. I think so much of our curriculum is based on not challenging the status quo. “We do this this way and thats how its done. Now remember that and move on.” I hope critical librarianship can become a core part of every MLS curriculum.

    The day I learned that I could work towards social change and engage in activism as a Librarian was the most empowered I have ever felt!

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  2. I appreciated you care and attention to the necessity for learning and being advocates and change makes in the realm of equity, diversity and inclusion. Library students need to understand how we have a significant role in building a more just world. From our power in purchasing books to understanding implicit bias with the customers (and colleagues) we serve.

    I’ve researched many MLIS programs and I’ve only found one that has a class specific to this topic: University of Denver’s MLIS LIS 4700: Privilege & Equity.
    University of Denver is amazing and ahead of many higher educational institutions in regards to their commitment. Their MLIS application requires the standard statement of professional goals as well as a 2-3 page diversity statement: “The statement should outline your views of equality, diversity and social justice and what they mean to you as a future professional in the library and information field.” I applaud them for being a leader.

    MLIS curriculum is going to need to quickly adapt just as libraries adapt to their community needs. I personally would love to see a more interdisciplinary approach with the ability to take relevant courses from other departments. Libraries are the heart of learning!

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