I’ve been disturbed for some time about the vehemence with which we emphasize the divide between MLS librarians and everyone else working in libraries. Dean Giustini’s recent (and recently removed) post decrying LJ’s decision to honor “paraprofessionals” with Movers & Shakers awards and asserting they don’t have the “right” to call themselves librarians simply reinforced what I hear when talking to groups of paraprofessionals or when surveying people for my books: many non-MLS library workers are unappreciated, undervalued, and ignored.
It’s one thing to value the MLS. It’s another thing entirely to condescend to non-MLS librarians (yes, I said librarians), paraprofessionals, and other non-degreed library workers, to discount their opinions, and to ignore their contributions to their libraries and to librarianship as a whole. We don’t need to be infighting; we have better things to do. We don’t need to be putting up barriers; we need everyone’s contributions and input.
What is it they say about academia — that the politics are so fierce because the stakes are so low? All this talk about “erosion of professional standards” boils down to this: we’re terrified because the outside world doesn’t tend to value librarians, and we’re worried people will pounce on any excuse to fire us, lower our salaries, or otherwise devalue us further.
Well, guess what. The outside world doesn’t know — or care — that librarians have an MLS. They don’t care what LJ decides to print. They just care about the service they receive and whether someone can do the job she was hired to do.
We’re not doctors, we’re not lawyers, and we can’t compare library school with law or medical school. We don’t have a monopoly on intellectual freedom or finding information. In some cases, sure, a MLS adds value. In some cases, sure, there are paraprofessionals who never assimilate the principles of librarianship. In some cases, there are also MLS librarians who spend their days reading the newspaper and ignoring their patrons. Yes, librarians like to categorize things, but people aren’t so easily catalogable, folks. An MLS doesn’t automatically make someone a good librarian, just as the lack of an MLS doesn’t automatically make someone a bad — or non — librarian. There are occasions where a degree OR relevant experience can do us just fine. There are occasions where another degree (MPA springs to mind) + experience might be more useful than an MLS.
If you’re running a corporate library solo without an MLS, guess what: you’re their librarian! If you’re running a rural library sans MLS, taking every opportunity to read the literature and grab CE opportunities and try new ways of better serving your patrons, guess what: you’re a better librarian than some degreed “professionals” who figure that earning the MLS was enough already.
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. People who have contributed to this profession deserve recognition, whether by LJ or otherwise. People who have opinions about this profession should be taken seriously and engaged on the basis of their arguments, rather than dismissed on the basis of their degree status.
The librarian who inspired me to enter this field never earned her MLS. And yes, I think her official title was something like “YA Specialist” — but anyone who says Nancy wasn’t a real librarian has to answer to me.