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Librarians need an MLIS: True or false? (Round III)

So our conversation finishes with this third panel convened to address the question of whether librarians need an MLIS (or not).

Our second panel also went well. Helen, Anne Marie, and Jennifer spoke to the importance of mentoring, the tension between learning in a classroom vs on the job, and alternative models of education for library professionals.

This month, Brianna, Dayna, Diana, Ben and Christine take up the challenge. And they too come from different perspectives: Librarian and library tech, new grads to mid-career, employed and yet-to-be employed.

How will the panel work?

We have asked each panellist to prepare an opening statement in answer to the following question:

“A master’s degree in library science should be required for anyone wanting to be a librarian. True or false? And why?”

  1. We have posted those statements for this first panel below.
  2. On an announced date and time, all the panellists on a given panel will “meet” in the discussion space located below the post. I will moderate an initial conversation in which the panellists will respond to one another and to a follow-up question from me.
  3. After 20–30 minutes of discussion, I will open the “floor” to any readers who are following along and would like to ask a question of their own and/or to respond to what has already been said.
  4. After an additional 20 minutes, we will close the panel. However, any reader who wishes to post a comment and/or to ask further questions is welcome to do so. We will monitor the discussion for a couple of days, and panellists will respond as needed.

Martha Attridge Bufton
Open Shelf

Panel III
Online for moderated “live” discussion and Q & A: Wednesday, June 10, 2020 at 12 p.m. EST

Brianna Allen, Library Technician
Service Associate
Milton Public Library

Early-career library technician

I always knew I wanted to work in a library, ever since I was a senior in high school. Originally, I aimed for the MLIS, since I knew it would give me the most flexibility in terms of employment and give opportunities for upward movement that are not available to diploma holders. However, after five years of being in and out of university, and constantly changing my major, I realized the university route was not for me. This was because all I wanted to do was learn about library work, but in order to learn about libraries at a university level, I was forced to first complete four years of schooling in a different field. Finally, I chose to pursue and complete the library technician diploma through Seneca College, where I learned practical skills in the library field straight away. 

Now that I am employed in the library field, I have started thinking about what I will do as time moves on, since I am limited in terms of career progression with just a diploma. It can be disheartening for me to think that in order for me, or anyone in my position, to move up, I will have to go back to school either full-time for four years or part-time for upwards of 10 years. 

It has been suggested in previous panels that the MLIS makes the librarian career less accessible to people who may otherwise pursue it, and based on my own experiences, I would have to agree. As a result, I believe it would be beneficial to consider making the requirement to be a librarian a bachelor’s degree instead of a master’s, and for that bachelor’s degree to include a mandatory co-op component. The co-op aspect would help students apply the theory in practical scenarios within the field, giving them additional experience to then take back with them to the classroom, and on top of this, co-op would help these students finance their degree. I am also in favour of an apprenticeship model that would help those, like library technicians, currently in the field pursue higher certification. 

Dayna DeBenedet, BA, MLIS
Chief Executive Officer
Dryden Public Library

Almost a mid-career librarian

As a professional librarian in northwestern Ontario, I am one of a small number of MLIS-qualified librarians working in our small-to-medium-sized public libraries. Most of the colleagues I speak to on a regular basis, to trade ideas with, or to look to for advice and moral support, have Excel qualifications or no formal training in librarianship at all.  

When I look at my colleagues across northern Ontario’s small and rural libraries, I see a wealth of talent, innovation, and creativity—but I don’t see a lot of MLIS degrees. It is obvious that an MLIS degree is not “required” to provide responsive and modern community-oriented public library service in their communities. In fact, in many ways, my conversations with co-workers and colleagues across the North have done more to prepare me for working in a small-town northern library than my MLIS studies ever did.

So why is this? I believe it is because the current MLIS system is a degree without an identity. The MLIS is trying to serve a dual purpose as both a professional and an academic degree and, over the years, has come to functionally fulfill neither role. The MLIS does not offer enough practical experience to enable librarians to enter the field with an adequate level of understanding or skill to manage the complexities of public library service, nor does it offer enough academic rigour to contend with graduate programs in other fields of study.  

Furthermore, in recent years, I have presented extensively on the topic of burnout and low morale in libraries. Librarians from libraries of every type and size repeat the same chorus of poor leadership, negative workplace culture, and increasing rates of burnout. While there are certainly other factors at play here, the fact that so many future librarians are leaving their MLIS programs without learning effective management, budgeting, policy development, advocacy, and human resources skills is leading us toward a crisis of leadership and burnout within our profession. 

I do not know if the current MLIS can adequately prepare prospective public librarians for the skill set needed by and the realities of contemporary public libraries. But I do know that if we want the degree to remain a vital and relevant part of librarianship, we need to re-evaluate the purpose and identity of the MLIS as a degree. 

Diana Krawczyk, Hons. BA, MISt
Manager, Children, Youth, and Popular Collections
Central Library, Mississauga Library System

Mid-career librarian

A librarian still needs a master’s degree in library science and information studies. To me, good-quality library services include well-developed collections, knowledgeable information services and relevant program development. A good librarian is good at all of these equally and knows how to leverage one service to promote another and to serve the actual needs of the community.  

My concern about recent graduates is that they have focused on some minor aspect of the profession and lack insight into the interconnectedness of all aspects of library service, from cataloguing to community development. My goal in coaching new grads is to deepen their understanding of the professional principles to ensure that they don’t have tunnel vision and that they appreciate the professional responsibility of librarianship. My deepest fear about the profession is that we have focused too much on one service, such as programming, and have failed to support all services equally.  

In this time of fake news and social disintegration, I think it is critically important for libraries to hire and to develop the full range of competencies in professional staff for selection, bibliographic description, reference and readers’ advisory service, relevant programming, and supportive-technology initiatives.

Ben Mitchell, MA, MI, PhD
Academic, author, librarian and poet

Early-career librarian

I feel it is important to think of the structural issues affecting the MLIS, as many of them are common to what other programs are facing right now in higher education. Government support continues to recede. Universities accommodate by raising tuition while trying to attract more students to programs that promise to be everything to everyone while getting you a stable job in a time when almost no one I know has a stable job. 

In this context many MLIS programs now find themselves situated within iSchools or faculties of information. These institutions present themselves as “more than” library schools. Yet I feel that the library content of MLIS programs becomes sidelined in favour of the broader and often vaguer brand of “information.” Programs that may have been better placed in business, design, or computer science departments start to become reproduced in what was once a library space, pushing out the old content in favour of a replication of other degrees. One physical example of this was when the University of Toronto’s faculty of information recently decided to remove its own in-house library, redistributing the collection to the larger university system because it was not seen to be relevant to the needs of the other non-library streams within the program.  

For myself, I have learned the most about librarianship from practicing librarians, especially through the OLA’s mentorship program, from following librarians online, and volunteering in library spaces, and feel that for many a much cheaper college degree would make them better prepared for entry into librarianship than an MLIS. 

All that said, I think that the academic orientation of an MLIS degree means that it is still relevant for those seeking to enter academic librarianship, and may help those who are already working in public libraries and wish to climb the administrative ladder to a position of higher pay and greater responsibility. 

Christine Moffatt, MLIS

Early-career librarian: April 2020 MLIS graduate

I am of two minds over this question. On one hand, MLIS programs expose students to a range of theoretical and practical skills that offer a broad introduction to librarianship, which helps us form an early professional identity; on the other hand, the degree itself is only one piece of our ongoing education and does not make us immediately employable on graduation. Instead, the MLIS program provides access to the resources, opportunities, and dedicated time that students need to boost their current skills and to explore their career options in a safe (albeit expensive!) setting.

I am a second-career librarian, and while I did have a number of transferable skills from previous non-library jobs (e.g., collection development, community outreach, customer service), I learned how to do all of these things better in classes, from co-op, and in paid or volunteer roles. The MLIS program also let me test out library settings before committing to a specific field, which put me on an entirely new career trajectory than the one I had planned at the start of my degree.

I do believe that our current MLIS programs need to evolve to meet current job prerequisites, but I agree that some basic training benefits our profession.






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