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The future of librarianship

Every now and again I look at the Massachusetts Bay Library Commissioners website to see what new and exciting librarian jobs there are. I don’t have an MLIS (Master’s of Library & Information Science) degree, but that does not deter me, since there are jobs that don’t require the degree.

Many library jobs do require an MLIS degree though, jobs that I would not have thought needed an MLIS degree. I don’t theoretically oppose going to school for an MLIS, but I am opposed to the notion that I can’t pick-my-own curriculum. I already have four Master’s degrees, and the curriculum at Library schools is mostly repetitive (and very costly!).

Also, seems to me that there are three conflicting issues happening that really deter me from even entertaining this costly endeavor:

One: Most MLS holding librarians (that have graduated in the past 6-7 years) view their degree as a union card to get into the profession. Pay your toll kind of thing. Depending on the school that people went to, classes were either a joke or they were able to get through library school without picking up many important lessons about library work. Upon completion of the MLIS, they did not know how to catalog, how to do proper reference work, or anything about information organization. I am amazed that they got to graduate! Why pay $40,000 for a way in when you aren’t learning anything?

Two: I’ve been surfing the library blogs, and I see that the ALA is perpetuating a rumor that there is a shortage of librarians – this encourages people to go into library school, spend their hard earned money for a degree that is essentially a union card. Bah! So no shortage + higher amount of graduates = lower pay! Simple economics! Now I am not looking to become an ‘official’ librarian for the money, but because I like the work and the environment, but I still want to be able to pay my bills! On top of that, library schools are trying to cram everything but the kitchen sinks into the field of ‘librarianship’, and if someone without an MLIS does the work, that individual is not a librarian.
Three: Libraries are closing down! OK, I don’t mean to sound alarmist here, but I’ve been reading about libraries getting lean, closing down branches due to low tax revenues. It’s sad that cultural institutions such as the libraries are shutting down, but it is happening. If they are not closing down, they are cutting back on library hours, or staff. This means somewhat limited job security, depending on your circumstances. On top of all this, most library jobs require some experience on top of the MLIS, so if you are a recent grad, who’s going to be getting that job?
You, with limited experience, or someone who’s been in the field longer than you?

So what is the future of librarianship?

There are two possibilities that I can think of:

One: The title of ‘librarian’ will still only pertain to MLIS holding graduates, but they will only be in fields such as information organization, reference, cataloging and possibly archiving. These are the traditional fields of librarianship, and this may cause a restructuring of library education to make librarian professionals on top of their game. The rest of the library will be staffed by professionals (not para-professionals), working side by side with the librarian-professionals.


Two: Other professionals without an MLIS will be called librarians as well. This is something that has been happening in other professions. An Mxx degree is desirable, but if you can show some equivalence, through work, experience, or other combination of school and work, you have the ability to apply for that job. Perhaps there may be some sort of certification process that you need to pass, depending on your previous knowledge and job position (examples: basic cataloging, reference, library management, collection development) in order to be a cross-functional team member in the library. I can see a variety of professionals working in libraries as librarians without an MLIS: Management grads, information technology, computer science, and Master’s of Education grads – just to name a few.
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