InfoLit Learning Community: To MLS or Not to MLS, That Is the Question

Posted by InfoLit Learning Community on 7/10/18 9:00 AM

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Every now and then the conversation about the necessity for librarians to have an MLS restarts. This year, it was hotly debated during the search for a new Executive Director for ALA. Whether the person should be required to hold an MLS (or equivalent, such as MLIS) was the subject of many articles and blogs, including at Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and, last week, at Meredith Farkas’s blog, Information Wants to be Free.

On one side are those who say that our hard-earned Masters Degrees must count for something, and that the Executive Director of ALA must be someone who understands library and librarians’ perspectives on the issues facing our profession and our workplaces. Those on the other side agree that such experience is needed but note that many people with years of work in libraries lack an MLS and should not be cut from the running just because they can’t check that box. Proponents of opening the Executive Director position to non-MLS-holders also note that a more diverse population of candidates is made possible by dropping the MLS requirement. The financial wherewithal to get a Masters in preparation for a profession that isn’t highly paid, and in which full-time, permanent jobs are now hard to find, is a problem we can’t ignore. For example, when I attended library school at Queens College, NYC, beginning in 1997, a three-credit class cost $555 and I got a full-time job in a library before graduation. Those days are gone.

There are barriers, then, to entering school for many. But what of those who do attend? Apart from an ability to list an MLS on their resume, what have they learned in library school that will be of benefit to their library work? If they reach that point down the road, what can today’s graduates offer to a leadership position at ALA? Too often skipped in discussion regarding the MLS is what library school offers now. So before entering, or re-entering, the MLS-or-Not debate, take a look at some library school syllabi and at schools’ listings of the research being done in Library Science departments. With an open mind, look especially at final projects that showcase not only what students are interested in today, but how well they can research, write, and use data to make an argument.

A few examples of student research:

After looking at these, please comment in Credo’s InfoLit Learning Community on what you think—are graduates of today’s programs uniquely qualified to lead libraries and ALA in the future? Or is on-the-ground experience without an MLS the same or better than this theoretical background? We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

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