Using your Ph.D. in an Academic Library

Todd Gilman follows up his Chronicle of Higher Education essay on becoming a librarian with an essay on making use of a Ph.D. in a library. I've been hearing grumblings from some MLS academic librarians who are both concerned for their jobs and the profession if it becomes more common for Ph.D.s to fill academic library positions. Mr. Gilman indicates that in the next column he will address the need for obtaining a MLS degree. That should make some folks happy, since one of the concerns is that library administrators will begin wholesale hiring of Ph.D.s, regardless of whether or not they have any library experience, much less a degree from an ALA accredited institution.


Something about this just bugs me. I think it's the unspoken attitude of "Can't hack it in academia? Work at the library!" My alma mater, U of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, just installed a library school dean with no MLS, which troubles me. He is an enthusiastic supporter of libraries and has great insight on academic publishing, but I don't like the fact that he is the head of something he has never participated in. Also, UIUC is starting up a pilot project to take PhDs and turn them into librarians through working in the library and taking classes at the library school. They say it's helping out those who can't find jobs in their academic field while helping fill those academic library jobs that supposedly aren't attracting applicants. It just seems to me as though a number of people (mostly outside the profession, but a few inside it too) are saying that the MLS is not worth much any more. I would say that there are some problems that need to be addressed but I also think that it's a valuable common ground for librarians that shouldn't be passed over in favor of retraining PhDs. Maybe the PhDs are the ones with the problem! :-)

While I am all for people with PhDs to be trained as librarians, I know that the PhD was sometimes a hindrance to candidates for librarian positions at the academic library where I worked--even when they also had an MLS/MLIS.Why?- the undergraduate students with whom we were dealing were not exactly Harvard undergraduates, and had problems with very basic concepts. Many of the teaching faculty had a very hard time, and admitted their jobs could be done by someone with a Master's degree (or less!), since they were really teaching high school. (This was a masters degree granting public university.)- the paraprofessional staff usually was not impressed, and always protested when it looked like we might recommend someone with a PhD for a position. I wondered if it was because of the way they were treated by the PhD teaching faculty sometimes?

For academic reference positions?! And, is that in addition to the MLS?

I know that the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is starting out that almost no new hires will be accepted with anything less than having at least 18 credit hours towards the PhD and preferably the PhD in hand.

We should probably overhaul immigration policy too, eh Greg? We can see the impact on this issue. Hordes of thugs from the lesser countries, with or without PhDs, much less MLs, taking the jobs and spreading bad ideas.

I've been toying with the idea of a PhD program, but my fear is that I will price myself out of a great many jobs. I would think that it would be detrimental to be applying to most tenure-track academic jobs with a PhD, when your main competition is double masters, and in many cases, only MSLIS candidates.

Having two master's degrees might help you have the competency but might not put you anywhere proper on the tenure track. For a tenure track job a second master's degree can be seen as spinning one's wheels. Getting the PhD is a necessary end to it all based upon the prevailing tenure systems that do not differentiate the work of librarians from that of classroom teaching faculty. From the archives of the Tomorrow's Professor LISTSERV is a discussion from the perspective of Stanford University as to what the tenure track is like with respect to classroom teaching faculty...

I agree that subject specialties are important in academic libraries. Isn't this where someone who has an MLS and a second Masters would come in handy? Academic institutions, researchers, faculty and students would get the best of both worlds - a librarian with subject knowledge and a person who knows their way around a library.

Don't know about "overeducated", as many librarians have education as their primary purpose, or at least their institution's. I'd imagine that many pizza delivery people are overeducated.

But I do think that there is both:
* a stigma to librarianship

* an expectation by phd types that "it ain't all that hard to do" (no matter what the profession...)

* our profession should be in its ascendancy, yet library schools can't seem to close down fast enough.

Yes, I can definitely see where having the advance subject/specialty knowledge that a PhD would provide would be helpful to those who truly want to be librarians. And I think it is good for the library assuming of course that said PhD also obtains the MLS.

However for academics who just can't find a job and think "hey, I'll be a librarian" I think the culture shock will be overwhelming.

The author of these original articles neglects to mention that many academic librarians do not have faculty status. And even for those that do, their peers are not going to view or treat them as equal under the heading of college/university faculty.

I don't know about the humanities and social sciences, but in the hard sciences it's easier to train a PhD holder as a librarian than to turn librarians into quasi-scientists. The same rule of thumb applies to writing computer programs for those fields. Sorry if this offends anyone, but understanding the higher level math is key to subject expertise, and is harder than getting an MLIS degree.

The PhDs probably will have problems. The "from the doctor-where-can-i-find-that-book? dept. " on the article listing says it all. There is such a thing as being overeducated. I remember there was a study once saying when you go to a doctor's office you only have his full undivided attention for about 60 seconds or some absurdly short amount of time. I'm not saying they can't cross-over but I think it will take some personality restructuring.

Yeah. That is what they are requiring. Access Services is not nearly as bad, though...

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