The controversy over the MLS

January 31, 2012

Lately I have been reading a lot of chatter (on blogs, in articles, and during online program chats) about the value of the MLS.  A LinkedIn group started a conversation recently as well and there are many, many examples on the pros/cons of an actual Master’s degree for Library and Information Science. I would suggest you search for articles on this topic and read about the controversy, as it may have implications for our profession in the future.

I have noticed that many of the comments talk about personal experiences as a person who worked in a library setting, often doing librarian jobs, and feeling that they did not need any specialized training to do the job well and effectively.  Many people mention “busy work” type library courses, and a lack of rigor in their courses.  I am going to mention my personal experience below, and make the case for the continued education that a library degree offers.

I graduated from college in 1991 with a history degree.  In 1994, I began my library science degree.  Having a history degree, I knew how to conduct research and find information.  When I began my MLS, I was also working full-time at a law library.  I tried to take courses in which I had little experience, such as business management, young adult literature, government documents (love that SuDoc system!!!), and statistics. I took additional courses in bibliographic instruction and accounting as well, outside of my degree requirements.  I did not encounter what I considered “busy work”–and as my career moved from law library to academic library to corporate library, I was able to apply various skills from the pursuit of my degree in each position.  From drawing on authority control, to searching DIALOG, to presenting to groups, to cataloguing, I could look back and remember the principles I learned in graduate school.   My research project was tied to my law library experience with print and online resources, and it helped me to understand the attitudes of other librarians in moving toward electronic resources and the need to be more patron-centered.

In my case, the MLS was definitely an asset.  It showed my employers that I had the discipline and passion to work toward a goal.  My MLS wasn’t perhaps as challenging as a Master’s in chemistry, but it did help me to hone my critical thinking and presentation skills. It also helped me to pursue additional learning experiences (and kept the “fire in my belly” for learning new things!) I hope that everyone who is working toward their MLS demands challenging learning experiences from your programs. Seek out additional classes and internships to make your experience all it should be. R ealize that although some of the things you may learn now seem unimportant, you may find them useful in some future position. Much of your experience is up to you.

To me, having an MLS means extra knowledge in both traditional and contemporary library history and processes, being part of a library community where everyone has a goal to furthering knowledge and information to everyone, and being concerned with the issues that effect my profession.  We should not devalue ourselves by thinking that everyone can be a good librarian, just as everyone cannot be a good teacher or accountant.  The MLS helps to ground us in our profession, and connects us.  I hope that the MLS will continue to evolve and change with the needs of its students, and continue to be front and center as the standard training for an important profession.

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