Friday, February 10, 2006

Is the MLS degree necessary?

This is a topic I've talked about with several of my friends and colleagues and it's also been the subject of discussion in various articles and listserv postings.

My hometown's afternoon newspaper recently ran a column about the Madison Public Library and its hiring of two youth librarians who don't hold master's of library science degrees. (The degree acronym varies depending on the library school you attend; I hold a Master of Arts in Library and Information Studies.)

As expected, the hiring hasn't gone over well with some professional librarians.

"An MLS gives you a theoretical basis and the practical skills you need to be a librarian," says Mary Knapp, head of the professional librarians' union. "Librarians also are big champions of free speech, and you learn about that in library school."

Local librarians are also perplexed by the decision given the fact that the University of Wisconsin's Madison and Milwaukee campuses offer ALA-accredited library school programs and that many graduates wanting to stay in the area are fully qualified for either of the two positions. In fact, the lack of available professional librarian positions in Madison and the state of Wisconsin was the main reason I relocated to Ohio last fall.

"I have a concern because it sends a bad message to my students," says Louise Robbins, director of the UW-Madison School of Library and Information Studies. "We're encouraging them to get their MLS to get hired as librarians. If our students haven't been qualified, I need Barbara" (Barbara Dimick, Madison Public Library director) to tell me what's wrong, so we can add the right courses."

Freelance writer Mary Conroy offers her two viewpoints on the issue and encourages readers to contact her with their opinions.

"I'm of two minds on the issue. On the one hand, I rely heavily on Madison's librarians, not only for my work, but also for locating other information. Our library is one of Madison's most important resources, and we need to strengthen, not diminish it. We need to keep and attract qualified librarians, and not follow Philadelphia, whose mayor turned one-fourth of the city's libraries into express branches. Staffed by high school graduates, these branches are disparagingly referred to as "McBranches."

"On the other hand, our library should reflect the faces and backgrounds of its users. If the library management, which includes MLS-degree holders, is satisfied that the new candidates can perform their jobs well, why should they require the MLS of all candidates?"


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