Monday, June 18, 2012

‘The Matter of the Master’s’: A response

In “The Matter of the Master’s,”American Libraries columnist Will Manley asks what will happen if the master’s degree in library science (MLS) withers away and dies?
 “The massive budget cuts of the last five years have forced school, academic, and public libraries to learn to function with fewer and fewer MLS holders, and library users don’t seem to know the difference. Can they tell that there are fewer new books to choose from? Absolutely. Do they realize that there are longer and longer waits for popular ebooks? Absolutely. Do they notice when main library hours are slashed and branches are closed? Absolutely. Do they know when a professional librarian has been replaced with a paraprofessional or even a clerical person? Rarely, if ever. To the average American, a librarian is a person who works in a library.”
According to Manley, governing boards are taking notice of this lack of public perception:
 “Yes, people still want libraries. That is precisely the issue. People want libraries so desperately that they are quite willing to sacrifice the cost of professional staff to get full hours and robust book budgets restored.”
 Manley states that an MLS is only as strong as the job market that supports it. The sole purpose of an MLS is to provide the skill set to work in a library.

Which leads me to what I view as another reason why the MLS is in trouble: universities are raising tuition and pricing MLS degrees out of reach. But in this case, I see two viable alternatives in community college education and in volunteer experience.

My certification and associate degree in progress are providing me with the skill set to be employed in a library. But they do not enjoy the status of an MLS degree.

(To cite but one example, the American Library Association does not charter student chapters at community or city colleges; only at four-year institutions with an MLS degree. As an un-chaptered student member I am barred from certain resources that student chapter members enjoy.)

Continuing my discussion of alternatives for acquiring the skill set to work in a library: I put what I learn through my classes to use volunteering as administer of a small church lending library.

I am a librarian not because I have an MLS degree (although I still hope that one day I will earn this degree as well). I am a librarian because I perform the function of a librarian. I consider the needs of library constituents and am guided by a mission statement and policy in developing a library collection.

I additionally spend time each Saturday volunteering at my public library. At the Lakeport main library I pulled hold requests and at the Middletown branch I shelve returns.

At both branches I enjoy steady hands-on experience.

Which  leads me to suggest that if the situation is as Manley states:  that the temptation is great to downgrade the position of a librarian and if -- heaven forbid -- the MLS should indeed wither and die, there are in fact avenues to produce qualified people with the skill set to work in a library.

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