Commenting on “If it quacks like a librarian,” Jess asks: “Just curious, but is this the longest running link of comments on the Liminal Librarian?” Why yes, yes it is — I think the previous longest comment run was under 10, and as of this writing that post is up to 63 comments and trackbacks.
Among those who disagree with the original premise, arguments seem to boil down to five main points:
- I spent a heck of a lot of time and money earning this degree, so everyone else should too, dammit.
- How can you say everyone who works in a library is a librarian? What, do you think my custodian is a librarian?
- Librarianship is a profession akin to medicine or law. You don’t see people without law degrees calling themselves lawyers; you don’t see people without MDs calling themselves doctors; people without the MLS shouldn’t be able to call themselves librarians.
- Working in a library provides only practical skills; library school gives you the theoretical underpinnings necessary to be a true member of this profession; it allows us to work from a joint understanding of who we are and where we are going.
- Calling people without degrees librarians leads to deprofessionalization. It lends credibility to the decisions of library boards and other entities that devalue the MLS and hire nonqualified individuals for less money, or give jobs to friends or relatives instead of to qualified librarians.
Let’s talk about each of these, just for kicks:
I spent a heck of a lot of time and money earning this degree, so everyone else should too, dammit.
I’m a mom, so I do spend a lot of time reiterating the “life isn’t fair” response. It isn’t fair that I spent ungodly sums on my MLS degree when others who were smart enough not to go to an overpriced little Catholic school didn’t, but that doesn’t make my degree better than yours (not by a long shot!). Nor does it mean that you should shell out more money so that you can spend on your degree what I spent on mine, all in the name of fairness.
We could also turn this around: “I spent 20 years working in libraries so anyone else who wants a department head position in this library should too, dammit. Why are you hiring someone right out of school with no library experience?”
Or, we could just say: This isn’t necessarily about you.
This argument also basically boils down to: “An MLS is the way we’ve always done it.” Well, if there were ever a time to question “the way we’ve always done it” in libraries, now is it.
How can you say everyone who works in a library is a librarian? What, do you think my custodian is a librarian?
Well, actually, I don’t say that. Here’s a hint — it’s in the part where I say: “No, I’m not saying that everyone who works in a library is a librarian. I’m saying that people who are doing the work of a professional librarian, who contribute to our profession, who keep up with the profession, and who are committed to the principles of the field, deserve the title of librarian — regardless of their degree status.”
No, I don’t think your custodian is a librarian. Nor do I think that the circulation clerk at my local large public library is a librarian. I do think that, say, David Rothman is a librarian, whether he chooses to call himself one or not. You run a hospital library? You cocreated LibWorm? Yes, you qualify. Tim Spalding, OK, not a librarian — but I’m darn pleased he’s on our side.
Librarianship is a profession akin to medicine or law. You don’t see people without law degrees calling themselves lawyers; you don’t see people without MDs calling themselves doctors; people without the MLS shouldn’t be able to call themselves librarians.
This comparison is ludicrous. Go ahead: compare your year or two of library school to law school + the bar, or medical school + a residency. Do it with a straight face. I’ll wait for you to compose yourself…
Working in a library provides only practical skills; library school gives you the theoretical underpinnings necessary to be a true member of this profession.
Most of the people making this argument seem to base it on some paraprofessional they knew once who did something godawful. Generalizing in this way gets us into trouble — tell me true: do you know a single degreed librarian who has perhaps on occasion acted contrary to what you perceive to be the theoretical underpinnings of this profession? Does this mean degreed librarians tend as a group to lack the moral and philosophical compass necessary to act as true professionals?
Further, as many folks have pointed out (and as is a topic for a whole other post!), library schools vary so wildly in quality and coursework that it’s difficult to say they provide graduates with the same base of either theory or practical skills. I’ll tell you something about my own program (which I do gather has changed considerably since the mid-90s): I was taught largely by professors on the verge of retirement, some of whom hadn’t changed their syllabi in 20 years, one of whom was fond of peppering lectures with racist and sexist remarks, and at least one of whom was fond of multiple choice tests. (Multiple. Choice. Tests. In graduate school!) Did I come out of that experience inculcated in the principles of our profession? No I did not. Perhaps your program was better — I do hope that it was — but I don’t think we can say either that library school consistently provides graduates with those underpinnings or those who lack the degree consistently lack the theory.
Calling people without degrees librarians leads to deprofessionalization. It lends credibility to the decisions of library boards and other entities that devalue the MLS and hire nonqualified individuals for less money, or give jobs to friends or relatives instead of to qualified librarians.
On the face of it, this argument is the one I have the most sympathy for. I’d have more sympathy if I thought that library boards or other external decision-makers really cared about our internal professional arguments about who gets to be called what.
Again, where I’m dissenting is about where to draw the line in the sand. Let’s not draw it between MLS and non-MLS, let’s draw it between qualified and unqualified.
A couple of people brought up the recent situation in Marathon County. What’s interesting here is this: they didn’t replace MLS librarians with non-MLS hires; they changed the job titles and salaries and invited the MLS librarians to reapply for their own jobs. This is less a devaluing of the MLS per se than a devaluing of the work that librarians do — which I do think is where we should draw the line and work harder at demonstrating our value and organizations’ ROI in hiring qualified library personnel.
If I had one wish for what people would take away from this discussion, it’s that the way some MLS librarians treat those without the degree is downright shameful. When we use the lack of an MLS to automatically discredit someone’s opinions and abilities, we’re engaging in an unwarranted elitism that goes contrary to the principles of librarianship. We can’t talk about libraries as people’s universities and then denigrate those who are self-taught or who have learned on the job. We can’t espouse the principles of participatory management or Library 2.0 while on the other hand disallowing true collaboration or discounting people’s input due solely to their degree status. Reading comments like these makes me feel a little bit ashamed of our profession:
- “My entree into the world of library work made me want to turn tail and run, not become a librarian: the issue of who is ‘real’ and who is not is way too reoccurring on list serves like lm_net.” – Sarah Zoe
- “Having been on the ‘them’ side of an us vs. them argument for a while now, I also feel apprehensive about joining the degreed population. The condescension with which some people refer to those in my position is enough to make me feel ill. I joined publib for a few months last year and ended my subscription after I had a nightmare that degreed librarians were attacking a fellow technician and me while we hid in a car. The librarians smashed themselves up against the windows of the car, clawing at the glass to get at us.” – Jamie
- “As someone with a college degree but not a MLS, I am not treated with the same degree of respect by other ‘true librarians’ although I perform many of the same jobs.” – Judy Tsujioka
- “In terms of treatment on the job, it is intimidating to be in this position, be specifically called an LTA because it’s blasphemous to call me a librarian (!) and not be valued for my ideas. Certain tasks aren’t given to me because I don’t have a degree, though I certainly could do them and have the time to do them. It’s unfair and I’m tired of these two spheres in the library world never crossing over. It does nothing for the profession as a whole. I’m not asking to be put on reference alone or anything, but simply to be respected for what I do despite my lack of a degree. Furthermore, I hate being reminded that I am ‘not there’ yet. I’m doing the best I can, with the finances and time that I have.” – JP
- “In the olden days, whenever I expressed an opinion in front of a ‘librarian,’ I would be asked, ‘Where did you get your MLS?’ This was code for, ‘Do you have permission to speak?’ I would answer that I was a mere school librarian, so all I had were bachelor’s degrees in math and English, a teaching credential, and a library credential — all obtained in the early 1970s. When I got around to enrolling in the MLS program, in the 1990s, I discovered that my articles were on the required reading list. I asked the professor, ‘Is this guy any good?’ After a few moments of praise, he paused (quick fellow) and asked, ‘What did you say your name was?’ And then, ‘Why are you taking this class? You could teach it.’ I replied that I was taking the class so that degreed folks would take me seriously.” – Richard Moore
- “I was astounded when, a few months back, I discovered that I couldn’t get class credit for completing a real-life project at my own library because…. dum-de-DUM… my professor did not consider my director a real librarian. This instructor required all projects to be conducted with the partnership of an MLS-degreed librarian” – what’s in a name?
When MLS vs. non-MLS condescension drives people away from wanting to earn the degree, we have a problem. When we fail to credit valuable input because of its source, we have a problem. Librarianship is inherently an interdisciplinary profession — we overlap with so many other fields, and our strength lies in our ability to assimilate the best of each. Let’s extend that ability to the people that work in our libraries, as well.