Does the degree make the librarian?

Over on PUBLIB the Dewey question has been supplanted by the Degree question. (Yes, that's capital D, proper noun.) With a lot of talk about "downgrading the profession," the debate turned towards the question of does a person have to have the MLIS degree to do the work of a Librarian?

So, does a degree a librarian make?


I've followed the publib discussion.
It's quite interesting. I really think that there need to be professional credentials for librarians, however the profession is evolving, and as such instead of trying to shoehorn everything into an MLS, it's better to have some people follow an MLS path to become a librarian, and other with other Masters level education can become librarians in certain circumstances.

For example I would not want someone who doesn't understand information organization to redesign cataloguing and classification schemas. Someone with an MLIS that specialized in information organization would fit this bill. At the same token I would mind seeing an MBA as library director in a public library, or an MS in IT/IS for an Academic library, Or someone with a degree in IT for a Library Systems librarian position, Or someone with a degree in childhood education as a children's librarian - just to name a few examples.

I was going to say the exact same thing. For reals! Well, kinda. Our system requires an MLS for 'most anything, including the IT jobs. Come now! Certainly other degrees are as good if not better than the MLS depending upon one's role/position in the library.

I've spent time having to explain things to IT staff that would have been presumed knowledge for people holding the MLS. There are benefits having your IT crew holding the MLS if you are in a library that is transitioning to greater dependence on IT assets to serve your patrons. I can remember moments from my tenure as a second-in-command for an academic library having to explain to college IT our needs and having meetings where we kept having to discuss why whatever was sought was even needed.

You see this pop up in law enforcement. Not everybody in a federal policing agency is a field agent. Everybody still has to be trained in the basic of that so that there is a shared, common base of knowledge. For the lack of better tools and structures, the MLS accomplishes that for libraries.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
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This distinction has been made to me too.
When I was asking a 60-something librarian why people in Systems need an MLS she said that they tried getting non MLS folk in systems, but they ran into the same problems you describe.

My issue with this is that the problem lies with the person, not the degree.

An MBA manager needs to understand the business she is running, otherwise she will fail.

An MS in IS/IT professional needs to understand the people he is serving, otherwise he will fail in his duties.

I think it's important for people to understand their employment environment, the services they provide, to whom and for what cost. This in-and-of-itself does not mean that someone *needs* a degree in library science.

In the theoretical sense, having an MBA to manage may well work out. From my practical experience in the private sector, that leads to an unmitigated disaster. You cannot just manage everything under the sun as there is no one-size-fits-many style of management to cover all situations. I already watched a former boss go out in a blaze of infamy after saying that selling what that store was selling was no different from selling furs or diamond rings.

I recognize that this is a hip, trendy fashion among library land. Just because it is hip and trendy doesn't necessarily mean that it is needed let alone a good idea. This trendy fashion is quite lacking in any historical grounding let alone any consideration of the groundwork that set out why the MLS is what it is. Starting with the Williamson Report would be good to appreciate that much of this territory has already been gone over relatively exhaustively.

The wheel has already been invented. We don't need to re-invent it every six months the way this fashionable trend has been percolating.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

35 years ago when I got my MLS.

It probably went on 150 years ago with doctors.

Does the degree make the surgeon?

Maybe not 150 years ago, but CERTAINLY today.

A hundred years ago, the same argument occured with lawyers.

Does the degree make the attorney.

Maybe not 100 years ago, but certainly today.

There are times when the knowledge and technical expertise in any field reaches a critical threshold that requires some sort of proof that the person working in that field possesses a reasonably acceptable degree of that knowledge and expertise. Simply working for 20 years in a small town 10,000 book, one computer terminal library will never give anyone that knowledge, NOR will working 20 years in a small town's hospital medical library or law library do it either.

What the MLS confers is the ability of the MLS holder to move relatively seamlessly betweem that small town library, that small town medical or law library, and the Library of Congress or even The Reading Room at the London Museum without skipping so much as a heartbeat, or at least, very few of them.

This is the difference between the MLS librarian and the non MLS.

The person who got their library education at any particular library will remain HAMPERED by the particularities and peculiarities learned at that library. The localized adjustments made to standards practices learned in library schools.

I worked with both, and more often than not, the only people I ever heard the words "We didnt do it that way at the last place I worked' was from non MLS Librarians. This always occured when I was applying some library standard practice to a new, different library, from the one THEY last worked in.

First, I would say stop comparing yourselves to doctors and lawyers. The comparison is not valid.

Secondly, even with MLIS people I've heard the "we didn't do this this way where I used to work". As a matter of fact this is a normal response in any profession where you move between organizations. You get used to the new way of things and you move on.

Lastly, I would say that most people here agree that people do need some education. Critical thought is required to be a librarian. Whether one accomplishes this through an MLIS curriculum, or not, shouldn't be the issue. The issue should be "does this person have what it takes". Just basing it on an MLIS is counter productive. You can miss people who are very qualified, and you can hire people who end up weeding valuable materials.

I disagree that you need to pay the toll in form of an MLIS to play in the library field. If you are a related professional (see categories that other people have mentioned above), then you should have a way of proving that you know what's going on in libraries, a test, a certificate, a whatever. Not a 365 day, $30,000 MLIS that may not teach you anything.

The results of this poll, to me are scary. This makes me wonder if I chose the right profession, if persons in it are comfortable with just about anyone with experience being able to hold the title, "Librarian". I cannot think of any teacher I know who would feel it's okay for a teacher's aide to be called a teacher, just because that person has many years of experience or has even mastered some of the teaching techniques. So, why are so many in our field accepting of this?

Many subordinates are probably capable of doing their professional superior's job and in truth, many do it, but the person in the professional position has earned that right because of their commitment to earning a degree in their field. I don't even think such a question would be posed for the majority of professions. Why is this such a common topic in the librarian field? We as librarians need to value our profession more and demand that our credentials be respected.

The is pretty much how I feel about it. Besides my MLIS, I also have teaching certification so I was used to - I guess respect is the word I want. It's certainly missing in the librarian field. It's a shame that the library profession is so willing to let anyone have the title Librarian.

there are always going to be people who want to work less. and then find a way to cheapen the hard work that others do. if you don't like the choices you made in life, don't pick on my choices and call them crap.

but I don't have any problem with someone having an equivalent degree when doing a job. and I don't care if you call everyone in the library a librarian. but don't crap all over my degree and say it's worthless.

we have people in our library who are not required to have the MLS but who make as much as those with it. and that's fair. the MLS opens doors to higher paying positions, but people without one are still paid well.

if you're going to take my MLS away, then give me back the 306 days it took me to earn it...

Start to finish, I went through my MSLS in 355 days.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

... but maybe my math is bad... started in Jan. and graduated in Dec. and took off about 6 weeks for summer... it's probably close.

OK, so I guess I'm in the "give me back my 2 years!" camp, as well as the tens of thousands of dollars spent on the education.

I took the first choice--and I am, notoriously, Not A Librarian.

There are absolutely vital, wholly professional, people in hospitals--people who can prescribe drugs and who regularly save lives--who aren't Doctors. Only those with MDs are Doctors.

There are great, professional people in libraries and the library field who aren't librarians--who don't have the degree. I'm one of them (OK, I may not be great, but I'm not chopped meat either.) So are many others.

My stock phrase is "I'm a library professional but not a professional librarian." And that's OK with me.

This is correct, however in my day-to-day viewings of the library world you have librarians, and you have paraprofessionals. The paraprofessionals being treated as if they don't know anything even if they have MA/MS/MEd degrees in related fields.

There is an inherent classism in the library world that I've personally felt. I am not sure where this classism derives from. I would be happy to be called a library professional (as opposed to a librarian) if my professional status were recognized and it wasn't just paying lip service.

What is the "paraprofessional" diploma in the States called? I'm in Canada and I'm a Library and Information Technician. I'd never even heard the term paraprofessional until a couple of years after I got into the workforce, and then it was in a discussion here. I absolutely hate the word and I'm glad it's one not used in Canada.



You're not even necessarily required to have an academic degree to be a technician in a library in the states. It varies based upon the operating environment. The most common thing I have seen is a degree at the two year level. There is a program at College of Southern Idaho that is relatively close to where I am, but such is not universally available.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
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Huh. I guess I just assumed that the education was equivalent in both countries. That might explain some comments that get jammed in my mental fillers as crazy-talk. (Half kidding, there.) Like when people say that you need an MLS to catalogue.

I took cataloguing for 6 hours a week for four semesters learning from a professional cataloguer using the AACR-2 and I never understood why that wouldn't qualify me for the job. Many of our students got hired during our summer break to work at a company that did cataloguing for public libraries and I took a summer job during that same time to catalogue most of a small Northern Ontario library collection. I didn't like it well enough to do it for a living, though.

My favorite class was indexing, possibly because I read a lot of fantasy novels and I think a lot of them could use a good index at the back... :)


Actually, a quick Google search yields a list of U.S. library technician programs from the Council on Library/Media Technicians, including lots of Associate of Arts programs in community colleges. (I would have sworn our local community college had one, and maybe it does, but it's not on the list.) I'm guessing there are dozens of such programs.

If memory serves, certain jurisdictions allow Nurse Practitioners to prescribe medication. There are also Emergency Medical Technicians who keep patients alive en route to the ER. Other personnel beyond MDs save lives too.

The difference between the medical realm and librarianship is that those differing position titles also have educational tracks that are in fact different from the MD educational track. The education of a Nurse Practitioner, an EMT, a Psychiatric Nurse, and others is structurally different from that of an MD and covers different course content. Each of those is also a career track in and of themselves.

We've got a mushy grey area in library land instead. That paraprofessionals are just referred to as paraprofessionals is a carry-over from the realm of teaching. I was licensed in Ohio as an Education Aide which required background checks. There is no such general thing for library paraprofessionals.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

I have been working in a public library for many years. I have been responsible for collection development of the Mystery, Large Print & entire A.V. collections for more than 15 years....then I started filling in for the children's librarian doing storytime...without a MLIS.

I graduated w/ a MLIS in 2007. I can not say that this degree has made any difference in my job, except for the pay. I'm doing the same job as a librarian as I did as a library assistant. I'm good at what I do....and at this point it doesn't matter too much.

However, I can at times see a difference....I sure do not claim to have IT smarts, I'm not a builder of databases or information retrieval systems....but there are those who can do that without a MLIS as well...

Recently, a new librarian (fresh out of school) weeded our entire non-fiction collection, which was a good thing because the previous "old timer" refused to weed...however without taking a consensus of the other staff librarians, he discarded some very important books because he didn't understand what they were or of what use they were. So, then, what good is his MLIS?

I have to say it all depends on the circumstances and the person.

I got the degree, but have not gotten a "librarian" job.

I'm still a paraprofessional. Even without the title, responsibilities, and pay raise, my years of experience on the job and in the classroom effect my work. Does that mean I am or am not a librarian?

I do have an MLIS, but, I know a few non-degreed librarians who do wonderful work in small community libraries, libraries that could never attract a degreed librarian. And, I also know degreed librarians who believe that the degree means they are qualified for all librarian jobs ... regardless of their work experience, personal suitability, or capabilities. There was an interesting discussion of this same topic a while ago at:

I spent ten years as a paraprofessional with a bachelors degree. At the previous library where I worked, most of the work could have been done by a trained monkey. After I got my MLS and moved to a corporate library, I realized how useful the MLS was. In my current job, I got NO training. I just had to figure it out. It would have been much harder for me to do without that MLS background. I inherited 100 years of company documents, which were only marginally organized. With all due respect, I've never met a paraprofessional who could manage a project of that size, scope and budget without an MLS or at least a Certified Records Manager certificate. As a paraprofessional, I would not have been qualified to do that job.

Why not an LS certification as well as an MLS degree as an option? I do not have 4 years of college, but would be greatly interested in taking a certified Library Information Science course. But I am shut out completely without that 4 years of college and must depend on the generosity of librarians around me for information...who by the way, may not be familiar with or remember much about the particular field I work in. I very much enjoy and work hard at what I do, but I am always hungry for more knowledge and would be the first in line for a certificate. MLS degrees are fine, but why not a choice: Master's degree or a certificate? I want the knowledge more than the money/degree.

Such certifications do exist. Nevada has such out there since we do not have an in-person ALA accredited master's program in this state. Such is not to create an equivalence, though. Details of that program can be found here: . It should be noted that you don't need that certificate if you have the MLS and are in fact ineligible for it if you have the degree. Professional development requirements are made upon those holding the certificate while those folks holding the MLS have no such mandatory state rules unless their library board requires it.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
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I watched my husband do this with his education degree before embarking on my own experience. What a degree does is not so much give you the training. To those who say the training can be on the job you're somewhat right. What the degree process does is allow someone with the drive and the raw skills to hone what they know and what they have learned into something that can be practically applied to the professional environment. It fills in gaps and confirms what people know in what has been self-taught up to that point. It tells an employer more about where you are in the process of learning your chosen trade. Hopefully, a professor will help you understand why something works the way it does in ways that should the process need to be changed it can be.

You can learn this through a kind of apprenticeship as a para under the guidance of a professional, but that is just one professional who has a job to do other then focus on and train the raw recruit. If libraries were to set up their own training programs that work as MLS equivalencies, then maybe the degree will become more of a piece of paper. Already library systems are putting paras more and more into professional roles. It does not serve the para's overall interest though because without some solid proof of training and transferable skills they become stuck at that library that knows them. If they have to move to a new area then the para will have to prove themselves in a new system with possibly new expectations all over again.

So for right now, I'm all for the degree, but I do feel that it can be done away with and become a cheaper more expedient process with some effort.

Where does one find the results of the poll?