February 24, 2009

MLS programs...barriers to entry?

I attended two parties this past weekend, with two different groups of people and a lot of different ages. Interestingly, someone from both groups posed the same question: Is 'library school' really necessary? Not in the sense of securing a job, but for preparing for that job?

My friend Laura, who recently got her masters degree in Economics from UDel and whose mother is a librarian suggested that the MLS requirement seems more like a barrier to entry rather than an indespensible education for future librarians.

From Money Terms: Barriers to entry are anything that makes it difficult for a new entrant to break into a market. They make companies already in the market more valuable as they reduce the risk of new competition.

As we continued in the conversation, I listed some of my course topics and she argued that most of the skills I've been trained in could easily be taught through on the job training or professional development. Laura felt that the MLS is required mostly to limit the number of applicants to librarian positions... to filter all those interested down to just those who are very interested (and i should add those with the means to begin an MLS program). I had to agree somewhat. However, I do believe in the importance of librarian indoctrination that should be taking place while getting an MLS. The reiteration that libraries are to be user-centered, supplying free and easy access to all is critical.

Web design, systems design..these things are probably best taught in a classroom setting...but does it have to be through a masters program? For collection development, young adult services, cataloging... a hands-on experience seems to me to be of infinite more value than a paper or lecture.

Thoughts? Do you strongly agree or disagree? Besides fulfilling requirements on job postings, what makes an MLS essential?


Miranda said...

I agree that there is much that could be learned in on-the-job training, but I also value further education. I think that in artistic fields it is easy to dismiss academic study, but you can't ignore the value of learning the history, theory, *and* practice of your art.

Great post Emily!

Lisa said...

Emily, I have spoke to people who enjoy working in libraries and has decided not to go for the MLS because of many factors, including time commitment, cost of MLS, and salary level after MLS. I've also spoke to people who went for the MLS so that they can get the job, but don't participate in any professional development. To them, being a librarian is just a job. I think that MLS programs should be more consistent across the board. Also, since the MLS is a master's degree, the MLS programs should be comparable to other master's degree programs. Otherwise, maybe it shouldn't be a master's degree. I think it's important that all MLS programs have a hands-on experience/internship/practicum requirement. You could read about reference, write a paper on it, do a presentation on it, have discussions about it, but none of those things can replace actually doing reference regardless if it's at the desk, roving, virtual, etc. This is not to say that taking a reference course is not important or useful. When I took Donna Fleming's Urban Public Library Service class, she mentioned that in the Caribbean/West Indies (I think it was) that all library science students were required to do a 6-month or 1-year fellowship/residency before graduating. Also, on a related note, I think that professional development should be required for librarians. I know that there is a NYLA proposal to require professional development of NYS public librarians starting in 2010 (http://www.nyla.org/index.php?page_id=1574). Basically, I think the MLS could be essential if crucial components were in place. Of course, this is not to say that I don't like my library school experience. I just think there is potential for changes and improvement. Good post!

Lisa said...

Just came across this while searching for something else. It's a blog posting titled "The future of libraries - No MLS Needed?" from July 2008. http://lisnews.org/node/30540

odile said...

For my master's degree I did a concentration in archives. The reality was that no jobs were available, so I took a job at the public library. I had absolutely no training in anything public library related (collection development, program development, leadership training) and have learned it all on the job. Though I do believe the classroom part of it is relevant, I agree that it doesn't need to be a master's degree, perhaps a bachelor's to start? There is not even a thesis required at Pratt, that should say something. I had to write a thesis for my history B.A. degree.

Emily said...

Lisa - I really like the idea of having a mandatory fellowship/practicum/internship, and meeting once every week or so to discuss issues that come up. I feel very to lucky to have secured a position to learn from as I go through school. Everyone should get the chance!

Lisa said...

Maybe as a future project, we could work on creating a library school that has that component.

Melissa said...

I do tend to feel (especially as I consider my student loans) that most of what I learned in my library science program I could've learned on the job, although I might have only learned it in bits and pieces over a long period of time. The problem, though, is that, in my experience, employers don't actually want to spend time training their new hires. I think I've gotten maybe an hour, total, of training on how to do my job, and that was after I'd already been doing my job for more than a week. Had I not had what I learned in my library science program and part-time library employment as a student worker, I would've failed at my job. Also, I think one of the things the library science programs teach you is what questions you need to be thinking about and asking. If you've got a good mentor, you might learn this on the job, but finding a good mentor might be as likely as actually getting training.