Daily Archives: December 19, 2011

Why Not a Bachelor’s in Library Science?

Why isn’t that a good idea? Seems as though it is a very good idea in some librarians’ minds – at least those in Connecticut, Kentucky and Maine.

ALA has a webpage promoted by the Council On Library/Media Technicians (COLT) which lists institutions, by state, that offer training and education programs for ‘librarians’. I found three with BS programs, and contacted each.

One program director deferred to the ALA formal position regarding educational programs by writing back;

The American Library Association accredited only the Master of Library and Information Studies level programs. The MLS/MLIS is for the entry level professional librarian and information specialist qualification in the US. Please check the American Library Association’s website, under education and training, or under ALA accreditation.

The B.S. ILS program is for the paraprofessional, such as library technical assistant position in libraries. There is also a minor requirement. You could find more information about the undergraduate programs from our Southern Connecticut State University.

The second response was much more informative, and described the necessity for a BS program in library informatics.

Why create an undergraduate program in Library Science?
1. In Kentucky there is a gap in education for library staff and future MLS librarians. A state law requires all public library employees to be certified. … There was a gap in education between the Associate degree and the Master of Library Science offered at the University of Kentucky.

2. We believe that librarians, especially public librarians, are called upon to do much more than their earlier counterparts. Skills in technology, management, marketing, and finance are needed for the 21st Century Librarian. Can all this be learned in the 36 credit hours of most Master’s programs? The Library Informatics program compliments graduate level studies in Library Science and provides a pathway for library science students.

3. Rural librarianship! In Kentucky, almost one-third of our rural library directors do not have an undergraduate degree. Salaries are low and it is almost impossible to recruit a MLS librarian to these areas. Fortunately, the Institute for Museum and Library Services has agreed with us and funded two major grant proposals. The first project was Bridging the Gap: Supplying the Next Generation of Librarians to the Underserved Counties of Rural Kentucky. With a budget of over $1.3 million, we have given out over 50 scholarships, technology stipends, and provided mentors for students.

These are very good reasons for instituting a BS program to meet the needs of the profession in that state. I’m certain many more states have similar circumstances that warrant similar programs.

I recently spoke with the third respondent Dr. Jodi Williams, Information and Library Service Program Director, University of Maine at Augusta. She runs the Bachelor of Science in Information and Library Service program, and has since 2004 when she joined UMA coming from a faculty position at an institution that offered an undergraduate program in LIS, as well as a MLIS program. UMA offers a certificate, associate and bachelor’s degrees in Information and Library Service, and has since the 1990s. As she said; “Our program found a niche.”

Maine’s library community is like many other states in that it is appreciably rural and geographically dispersed. Many states can identify with that, as well as the pressing need to offer training and education in the librarianship profession. Decades ago the Maine State Librarian went to UMA (which is not a graduate-degree granting institution), and asked about offering librarianship programs for their diverse library community, partly because UMA was exploring distance education. The rest of the evolutionary and revolutionary story is history.

Years ago the program was about 70% Maine residents, but today the LIS program has 250 students, with about 30% Maine residents. The other 70% are from other states and foreign countries. Dr. Williams has traveled to the Pacific Islands to discuss articulation agreements, and plans to work with Salt Lake Community College, UT, next year about a similar associate degree articulation agreement. She also mentioned that she and the UMA BILS program have name recognition in Colorado – a noteworthy achievement by any standard.

One of the most striking features of the BS program is the requirement for each student to complete a practicum, supervised by an MLS “Librarian”. Not only is it an AH-HA experience for the students, even for those who have worked in the library for years and are reticent to do a practicum, but more importantly for the MLS librarians who supervise the BILS students. During our conversation, Dr. Williams told me that she is a change agent by “emissaries”, not activism, and has found repeatedly that this practicum experience for the seasoned MLS librarians has changed their opinion of the value of a BS degree to the individual, their library organization, and the profession.

Dr. Williams has noted an evolving recognition of a “career ladder” within the segments of the librarian profession with which she deals that supports a BS as entry level and MILS for advancement. The BS program is very much oriented toward the practical application of librarianship, compared to the theoretical perspective of an MLS program. It sounds to me like graduates leave the UMA BILS program actually knowing how to do things in their first librarian job, as opposed to MLS graduates who leave that program maybe understanding what needs to be done. How refreshing!

She said her students graduate with a confidence in their ability to be immediately effective in their first library position, which to me seems much more worthwhile than an MLS graduate who has never worked in a library and complains about “What they don’t teach you in library school.” That also sounds to me like the BILS librarian can DO the job, whereas the MLS librarian can TALK about the job! Why isn’t that a good thing for the graduate and the library?

Two examples of UMA BILS students making a difference are below (one a practicum, the other a student being active in the Occupy movement) located at these websites; Revitalization of Maine Media’s Library, and Occupy Movement and the Library.

Again, my question is – “Why not a bachelor in library science?” Can any program that achieves the following goals be a bad thing – for individuals, the library organization, or the profession? UMA’s ILS program website contains the following.

Trained library personnel must respond to the rapid national surge in information technology, and the Information and Library Services program provides relevant courses to assist students in acquiring this evolving knowledge and the skills necessary to become effective and well-informed members of a library team. Associate of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees in Information and Library Services are available at UMA.

This program prepares individuals for immediate entry into positions which support library and information service professionals; to upgrade skills of staff who are presently working in school, public, academic, and special libraries and in other information intensive positions and organizations. The program will prepare students for a career as a library and information services assistant. Students will examine policies and issues related to libraries, library careers, and the library profession.

Dr. Williams clarified the advantages of the UMA BILS program even further by stating in an email that;

Our degree very much promotes that there is a place for everyone at the table, but that we need a stronger understanding of those places and how people can move through the channels with both experience and different levels of education. This is about learning across a spectrum and understanding that some want the Masters while other students who come through our program are happily situated in their current jobs and glad to have the practical skills to better serve their patrons.

Based on that astute summary of a BS in ILS program, what can be so wrong with a profession that has the normal hierarchy of educational requirements for advancement – associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate? Nothing! That old argument about library technicians do a more technical and specific job, while “Librarians” (meaning MLS degreed) are generalists and management candidates that can do everything DOES NOT HOLD WATER! It’s simply RHETORIC to justify the arbitrary distinctions between “professional” and “para-professional”! We all know that there are virtually no authorities (i.e., governments, librarian unions, etc.) that dictate who can and cannot do certain librarianship tasks within a library organization.

“OK, since you don’t have an MLS, you can only do these limited tasks within the library organization, and since you do have an MLS, you can do all the rest of the tasks that “Librarians” do.” IT DOESN’T HAPPEN! All “librarians” do everything!

Most states don’t even require school librarians to have an MLS, just a library media specialist certificate, and these people are actually in a position that really teaches their customers. Most have degrees in education! Public libraries don’t really have a mission to educate – inform – not educate – big difference. So, is the current system claiming that a master’s degree is more important for public librarians than for public school librarians? If that’s the case, maybe all any public “Librarian” needs is just a bachelor degree with a library media specialist certificate.

There is something drastically wrong with this picture! Why is the MLS entry level for this profession? Just read the over 40 comments to Annoyed Librarian at LibraryJournal.com, and you’ll see – IT SHOULD NOT BE!

All three of the states cited above recognized a need within their states for bachelor’s degree in library science programs. The program found a demand, which is always the first indicator of a need for more wide scale change.

I would sincerely like for any one to give me good reasons for this situation, if there is more to it than just a holdover from 19th Century elitist thinking.


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