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In defense of MLS for PhDs

Jen_B writes "The Chronicle has an interesting and even-handed piece on why PhDs should pursue an MLS when jumping career tracks.

For example, "The value of the Ph.D. has been degraded indeed. For the library profession to admit Ph.D.'s to our profession without the M.L.I.S. would result in a flooded market and would condemn librarians to experience the same miserable, exploitative conditions so many Ph.D.'s now suffer.

Equally damaging, hiring too many Ph.D.'s who skipped the M.L.I.S. training could create a glass ceiling for librarians who have that degree but no Ph.D. ""


From the article Admittedly, Ph.D.'s who attend library school may or may not acquire such earth-shaking skills and wide-ranging theoretical knowledge as will justify the seemingly unreasonable outlay of time, effort, and expense required of one who has already endured the tribulations of a doctoral program.
I think Library Science programs really need to look at what they are teaching. A Ph.D. that gets an MLS should learn several skill sets and areas of knowledge that they did not have before. If they do not I would say it is a bad library science program.

The MLIS teaches professional skills, and I don't know why we pretend it is a "science." Maybe you learn some social science techniques if you earn a PhD, but the MLIS should be teaching practical skills. Unfortunately, most programs don't even do that well. The lack of technology training (especially programming) is significantly detrimental to the profession. If library schools don't improve soon, the profession will decline in its relevancy.

In thinking about your comment I looked up "library science" using the Google dictionary and it also referenced the Wikipedia article. I think people will find the Wikipedia article for Information Science interesting.

There was mention of a similar issue in an ongoing thread on the AUTOCAT listserve. One particularly interesting response, by Eileen Karsten follows.
Another problem is setting a precedent in your Library. I worked at a Library where they promoted a person without a MLS to a "professional" position. The woman had a subject master and had been working at the Library for 10 years in the department. When she left, they advertised for a MLS. Another employee, without any master, who worked there for about 13 years applied for the position. When she was told she did qualify without the degree, she went to Human Resources and filed a complaint. The Library had to justify their hiring somebody else excluding the degree.

The Wikipedia entry is actually titled "Library and Information Science." This excerpt seems to corroborate what I said:

LIS is distinct from librarianship, which comprises the practical services rendered by librarians in their day-to-day attempts to meet the needs of library patrons. Many practicing librarians do not contribute to LIS scholarship but focus on daily operations of their own library systems. Other practicing librarians, particularly in academic libraries, do perform original scholarly LIS research and contribute to the academic end of the field.

I would contend that much of the "original scholarly LIS research" from practicing librarians doesn't qualify as real science. I once read a peer reviewed article that acutally cited the USA Weekend magazine from the Sunday newspaper.

I practiced law for many years before becoming a librarian.

In law school we had to study a lot of ridiculous stuff. Our professors freely admitted that the subject was not germane to the law as practiced today, however learning the stuff would teach us to think as lawyers. As it turns out, they were right.

The same applies, I think, to an mls. There is a particular mindset a librarian must have: a mindset that years of using a library to get a phd, for example, does not necessarily provide. The mls teaches people how to think like a librarian. It teaches people how to look at things with a mind to organizing them. A phd might be comfortable finding stuff, and may have ideas how things could be done better, but finding stuff is just a small part of what a librarian does.

I agree. The "skills" are outdated very quickly, the concepts stay with you. I was a cataloger in the 1960s and knew how to find things in NUC, place orders for printed cards, file little pink slips in the shelf list to hold a space for removed cards, and type on a cyrillic typewriter. None of this applied when I returned to work in the late 70s. But the basic philosophy helped me the rest of my career, particularly in bibliography and reference service.

The thousands of details I've had to learn over the years dealing with the conversion to digital and computer need to be forgotten almost as soon as the next upgrade appears.