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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39 responses to “Why Not a Bachelor’s in Library Science?

  1. You are absolutely correct that there are ridiculous, arbitrary, and rhetorical distinctions made between jobs in this profession. As a cataloger, for years I worked within a hierarchy that prohibited anyone other than an MLS librarian from creating an original catalog record or doing any authority control work. I have two things to say about that: 1) Now that I have my MLS, I can say that I learned 10 times more about cataloging on the job than in my cataloging class. My MLS cataloging class gave me some foundation and theory for why I was doing what I was doing, but you cannot learn cataloging from a class–you learn by doing it. 2) The hierarchy that I had to work within has been largely disbanded and at my suggestion one of our cataloging “assistants” is now doing the authority control work despite the fact that I have the MLS and she doesn’t. The degree doesn’t matter when it comes to tasks. What matters is who is better suited to that task. My strengths lie elsewhere–not in database maintenance. So why should I take on a task just because of a technicality when someone else can do it better and wants to do it?

    I’m very glad I got my MLS for many reasons; however, I agree with you–the MLS should not be the entry level requirement for a librarian. There are so many people who have been working in libraries for years, many with just a high school diploma. In order for them to advance, they would have to go through 6 years of higher education! That’s ridiculous! There’s got to be a better way. But right now, people who have spent their time and money getting that golden ticket do not want to hear that it doesn’t count for something and that it doesn’t set them apart from their “paraprofessional” peers. Thanks for a thoughtful post (as always!).

    • A subject degree before a MLS is a plus for a subject librarian. If we take cataloging and classification as the core savvy (knowledge+practice) of librarianship, previous knowledge of a subject and discipline, brings in the necessary service perspective. Librarianship needs to have always an in-depth user perspective as well as a theoretical background beyond that of librarianship practice itself. For example, when is mathematics incorporated into librarianship? This is a pertinent question as all aspects of mathematics (even calculus, geometry) are (like all tools) a must for a professional, at the BS as well as MS level.

      • Thank you, and I agree – in academia and the special library where “subject” is not only relevant but important. But, for public librarians entering the profession, I still think today a BS is the best entry level education. I don’t see anything that warrants only one degree as THE library science degree. A BLIS could be useful where it is useful without detracting from the MLIS that will still be useful where it is useful. The world has long since moved past a one-size-fits-all mentality.

  2. Kay Dee

    Wow….ok…consider me converted. I was very reluctant to embrace even the notion of the BS. However, your comment “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!” sold me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said after some experience (particularlly early on in my career) “And…there is ONE more thing they don’t teach you in library school!”
    So I do support the BS when you paint it in that light – the practical art of Librarianship with the MLS as the advance “philosophical study” of librarianship…
    You make it seem so obvious that I feel idiotic for not having seen the point before now.
    THANK YOU! 😀

    • You’re right – when one looks at it from the perspective of librarianship “skills” vs. “theory”, it seems silly that theory is the entry level and not skills. No one should feel idiotic for being indoctrinated by the ‘party line’ from their first exposure to the profession. I think we all were.
      Thank you.

  3. I was a Library Director with a B. A. degree long before I received my MSLIS. The master’s program taught me the theory but the practical skills I learned on the job. My B.A. was not in library science but in scientific illustration. So I am even naughtier!. I agree with the progression of the library degree with the terminal degree at the doctorate level–especially for those in the profession who want to move into the academic teaching environment (and I don’t mea adjunct).

    Something no one has touched upon is compensation. Certainly, compensation differences between a Librarian with a BSLS versus a librarian with an MSLS must be factored in here somewhere? Yes? No? Hmmmmm?

    • Sounds like a not uncommon scenario.
      1) Do you think a BS in LS would have helped you in your directorship more than a BA, since apparently the organization was inclined to hire you for your potential even without it?
      2) Do you think a BS in LS should get the “entry level” salary more justifiably than an MLS?
      3) Does it make sense to hire an MLS who has to then get a year or so of OJT to be effective?
      4) Would a BS or an MLS be working at the appropriate “entry level” tasks for the profession, and which would be more competent?

      • Hello Dr. Matthews! Well, let me see if I can answer these questions!
        A to #1) In all fairness, I was offered the job as Director for a public library, not because of my degree, but because of my library experience, which at that time, I had 6 six years. Which means, in this case, experience was more important to them then the degree at that time. I worked toward my MSLIS while Directing the library. I remember the Assistant Director questioned my lack of Library Degree and I had to prove to her and the rest of the staff that I was a competent Library Director. I am happy to say I did and it was an amazing, positive experience for all us. I was there from 1994 to 2003.

        A to #2) Do you think a BS in LS should get the “entry level” salary more justifiably than an MSLS? Yes I do. Keep in mind the MSLS person also has a B.A. or B.S. in a concentrated subject. That has to count for something. I feel pretty strongly about this. Why? Ask Sallie Mae who handles my huge school loan. On a side note, can a BS in LS work their way up to the same salary as a MS in LS? Yes, I think they can and should.

        3) Does it make sense to hire an MLS who has to then get a year or so of OJT to be effective? I am going to assume the MLS graduate did an internship. That’s important. On-hands experience helps no matter how you get it. If the MLS did not have any experience including no internship, then no, I will hire that MLS graduate.

        4) Would a BS or an MLS be working at the appropriate “entry level” tasks for the profession, and which would be more competent? Both can be competent. If they can do the job, then it shouldn’t matter if the employee has a B.S.L.S. or an M.S.L.S.

        Don’t know if my answers make sense. The world of librarianship has changed since I got my degree in 1998. I was trained (brain-washed) to believe only a person with a MSLS could be a librarian. I don’t believe that is true anymore. My career has proven that!

        • Thank you for those thoughtful responses.
          My own experience has shown me that virtually every ‘librarian’ does virtually every job/task in the library. It seems to me the ‘librarian’ who has a practical education (the BS), as compared to the theoretical education (the MS) would most likely be the best person for an entry level position. My experience also tells me an internship is of minimal value, if that is the only hands-on library experience a MS graduate has. As far as “a BS in LS work their way up to the same salary as a MS in LS”, I agree, because that’s the way a hierarchical organization is supposed to operate – experience and education determine how high one can progress, and salary is commensurate.

  4. Tess

    Did you get that degree? Brain washed, really? How big was the town you get hired to be the Director of that library in? What were the monthly circulation number’s for that library?

  5. Both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in library science. As I understand it, the University of Missouri offered the ABLS prior to getting its ALA accreditation (in the late 1960’s) for school librarian certification. The SLIS made it very clear that the AMLS was the professional degree. The AB program included a ‘heavy’ minor (6 more credit hours than a usual minor). Because I had advanced credits when I enrolled at MU I had junior standing the second semester of my second year, so I began the SLIS core corses then. Combining the advanced credit and summer school I was able to complete the two degrees in four years, which was all my parents were going to pay for.

    MU no longer offers an ABLS (and the SLIS is now part of the College of Education, which annoys me when I get fund-raising solitications). Library school education is just one factor in a library career. Aptitude, experience, and so much else contribute to professional success and personal satisfaction (as in any field).

    • Thanks. At the risk of seeming dense, what is the “A” in front of the BLS and MLS?
      It’s unfortunate that several good LIS programs have closed in the past decade or so.
      Too bad they couldn’t have hung in a little longer to help out now.

  6. Kristi Harms

    I am one of the converted. I started out working in a library part-time,with just an Associate’s degree. I enrolled in the University of Maine’s program online, to complete my Bachelor’s degree in Library Science. I worked as a library director during the process, and was given a waiver until I graduated. I immediately entered grad school and did my Master’s in Library Science, also while working full-time as a library director. The program at U Maine is exceptional. I felt that, between that 4-year degree and my practical working experience, I was fully qualified to direct my library, and I met the state requirements for that position. I have recommended this program many times to those who are interested in librarianship but may not be ready to contemplate an advanced degree.

  7. Mar

    MLIS vs. BS in LS! Hmmmmm folks! I am an ILS student @ UMaine Augusta. Lets see – 10 classes down the rode I have earned a certificate in library science. Where will that get me? No where! At least not in Downeast Maine. I earned a BS and MS in Counseling Psychology many moons ago. My passion for working in school libraries (7 years and running) is what lead me to start taking classes so that I could better serve the school population. On the job training and taking classes has been a phenomenal experience. I work along side MLIS school librarians and we learn from each other. I am the master cataloger at 2 elementary schools and the MLIS librarians come to me (the one with a certificate) for advice on how to catalog, etc. I volunteer at one of the school libraries and I am responsible for keeping it running (I do everything and I do it well). The problem I am having is firstly UMaine Augusta will not accept all of my former BS credits so that I may complete my BS in LS which was my goal until I saw how many classes I would have to take (non related to library science).

    Not to bash MLIS librarians but a good percentage of them think they are better than you. Particularly school librarians. I try to attend as many workshops and conferences as possible and I always come away feeling like the low man on the totem poll. They truly believe that the MLIS title makes one more knowledgable. Not true! And yes, they are paid more than someone with a BS in LS. Just last year I was beat out of a job at a high school (a library assistant position ($12.00 an hour) by a woman with an MLIS who had worked at some university library.

    Working in a school library is my dream. Volunteering is rewarding, but my desire is to acutally get paid.

    I support an AS or BS in LS and encourage the ALA to look hard at recognizing these programs for certification in school libraries.

  8. Maura O'Toole

    Such a timely blog post for me- I have almost 6 years of work in as a “library paraprofessional” and my goal for 2012 is to return to school to finish my BA so I can then go get my MLIS. I am looking at the program at UMA. I took an unorthodox road to where I am but I am so passionate about my work- and I know in order to rise to the level I want to get to I need to get my MLIS. I would eventually like to be a school library administrator because I know first hand that a vibrant library program makes a difference in children’s education but I have to say that most “real librarians” as well as students in a local MLIS degree program have almost made me not want to get my MLIS.

    I have worked closely with many MLIS students at a local university-one of the best in the country- I was never able to have interns but I could have “volunteers” and I can’t tell you the amount of young people who I had working with me who had no experience in libraries at all who went to school for a MLIS. Most were great- but I had some a couple who were honestly totally disrespectful of me because I didn’t have a degree. But many of them told me that they learned a lot from me that they never learned in their program- skills like covering, reinforcing and repairing books, classroom management of young children, organizing a library program on no budget, working with parent volunteers and the daily schedule of working in a library. I was shocked to find that the MLIS program accepts 92% of it’s applicants for the program and gives little financial aid. Many of my volunteers have graduated now and very few have librarian jobs. They were totally sold their degrees based on the “graying of the profession” but few school systems are hiring young MLIS graduates. How much incentive does someone like me have to get a expensive graduate degree when I might not get a job that will pay back the loans? Why shouldn’t I just get a BA in Library Science- it will move me up a pay grade in my union and I will still keep my job whereas a MLIS might get me no job and loans I can’t afford?

    I find so many “real librarians” and professional organizations to be so totally unsupportive of someone like me- someone who found myself in a position that is a “real” position whether MLISs like it or not (the school system I work at only has MLISs at the high school level). I am someone who not only wants to be the best that I can in my job but I also have real world experience that I could (and do) offer to others? There is little room for mentoring someone like me because MLISs see me as a threat. I wonder what would happen if the ALA and other organizations worked with people like me and empowered me to get my degrees? What would the Library profession look like if it was more inclusive of all who worked for them?

  9. Danny

    As an ambitious librarian hopeful, I have found the undergraduate degree offerings at the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) indispensable in my pursuit of dynamic and engaging career opportunities. The foundations and introductions that serve as curriculum focus throughout the first semester of the program made possible my entry-level employment at one of the most respected cultural institutions in the nation. I can say with certainty that skillful knowledge results from classroom learning that pairs understanding with work experience and practicum. Being better prepared for the challenges and expectations of library professions before embarking on graduate-level studies, I am able to meaningfully orchestrate my undergraduate experience in a fashion tailored to my ultimate goals; allowing me to select computer, business management and grant-writing courses as electives, for example. Also, the premise of the explorative era of undergraduate education fosters extracurricular involvement in experiential roles, such as Occupy Wall Street noted above.

    UMA’s program fully prepares for the duties of an information services professional, which may or may not pose a threat to established systems. At the same time, should one find it appropriate, the program credentials a promising applicant for masters candidacy. At this level, I will already have a resume, relevant transcript, contacts for internship, and a strong idea of where I’m headed professionally; all of which amounts to a well-rounded, knowledgable and seasoned contributor to the science.

    Librarianship could vastly benefit from the American Library Association’s (ALA) embrace of undergraduate programs, which includes the opportunity to positively impact graduate programs in turn. Our considerations need to reflect the changing nature of the libraries for which we’re training practitioners, otherwise our workforce will fail to meet the information needs of the future. At which point — we all lose.

  10. Great post, and discussion.

    I earned a BS in Library Science in 1979, and graduated with a minor in Education and a K-12 Librarian certificate in my state. Ever since my first job in a public school library, I’ve been told that I should get the MLS to be a “real” librarian.

  11. We have librarians with a variety of educational backgrounds. Some have B.A.s or M.A.s (in several fields). Our Branch Manager does not have a “library” degree. Our Library Director does, although it is my understanding that she was hired largely for his “business” skills. I don’t “get” the MLS degrees since like you said, “we all do everything.”

  12. JC

    I too have booth a bachelor’s as well as a master’s in Library Science. I felt the undergraduate program was excellent in every sense–very practical, well-grounded curriculum. The master’s degree program was highly based on theory and was dry and uninspiring. I had to take many courses all over again and basically learned nothing new. The LIS almost didn’t accept me because of my background, saying that they only took me because I had a double major in a foreign language. They totally disrespected the undergraduate program, even though most of the professors were their graduates! The undergraduate program at Illinois State University was discontinued shortly after I graduated, mainly in part because it was said that those with those degrees could not expect to obtain a professional position in libraryland. I would suggest that the BA degree is perfect for school/public/special libraries, and the MLS for academic libraries.

    • The truly unfortunate part of your story is the fact that a LIS master’s program refused to recognize a bachelor’s LIS program. That sounds like institutional snobbery of the highest level, if not professional snobbery in disguise.

      • Honestly? When I was working on my BS in Library Science, we were told that *the* accredited MLS school in our area would not accept candidates who only had a Bachelor’s in LS – you had to have a second subject-area BS or other qualifications (like JC mentions above). Many of my classmates immediately changed their major to English while keeping a Library Science minor (because they’d already done coursework – which apparently the ALA-accredited program had no problem with). Scuttlebutt had it that the Master’s program repeated much of the Bachelor’s curriculum (again, as JC mentions above) – the major difference being that their Cataloging course used LC classification and subject headings rather than DDC and Sears.
        Plus, of course, that the Bachelor’s program was located in the College of Education and planned for a minor in Education with graduates passing the NTE before graduating with a K-12 Librarian’s certificate.

  13. I came to my in my MLS program with a Master’s degree already, albeit in history which obviated the need for another waltz with the GRE’s. What I find to be most useful in progressing through the ranks is my management experience. I cannot emphasize enough how important those years of experience have been, albeit it spent in another environment. By the time you become a director more time will be spent defining your community role, leading people and cultivating support than will be devoted to those roles that are strictly related to librarianship. In retrospect, I would have devoted more time as an undergraduate to management courses and psychology. Of course this is all with the benefit of hindsight! An undergraduate degree in library science with a prudent mix of theory, practical experience, management and yes, business courses would be a wonderful option.

    • Thanks Bob,
      If we can’t provide insight from hindsight, we probably shouldn’t be opening our mouths in this profession.
      In my opinion, that’s exactly what SLIS need, more input from the practitioners and those who can provide real-world experience just like what you wrote – give us a good undergrad experience as a stepping stone in this profession.

  14. Tabitha C.

    Steve, a close reading of Andrew Abbott’s “System of the Professions” would serve as a good place to find some thoughtful answer some of the questions that you pose.
    Having worked as a library tech and a school media center specialist prior to obtaing my MLS, I will say that it is true that a lot of library “skills” can be well honed by OTJT rather academic experience. The idea behind not having a BS-LS degree prior to obtaining an MLS degree was to assure that MLS degree holders would come from a broad background of other disciplines and would bring their subject expertise diversity into the profession. A BS in LS followed by an MLS adds nothing to the profession’s informational needs diversity.
    On the other hand, I personally never understood why a five year degree was needed to be an “educator” or to be what used to be called a teacher. The critical thinking skills demonstrated by graduates of one room school houses of the past centuries, with teenagers over seeing the educational process, would argue that the advance education required of modern educators has only served to raise the demand for more pay with reduced learning amongst children. Testing scores being produced by homeschooled students likewise suggests that learning is not routinely best facilitated by advanced degree holders; in fact parents with eight grade degrees are successfully instructing their children to become able learners.
    The ever increasing numbers of Phd holders within the field of education
    has not resulted in a rise in learning; perhaps it would be useful to consider Educator Technicians as a new Bachelor level degree.

    • Thanks. The Barnes & Noble synopsis of the book sounds very interesting. Apparently he addressed the librarianship profession among others. I wonder what would be his perspective on our profession under 21st Century world conditions?

  15. Frank

    I realize I am jumping in a little late in this discussion, however I am a student at Univ. of Maine and love the program as I am working towards my Bachelors in LS. What I have found since receiving my A.S. degree in LS from my local community college is that the credentialism with state certification is not being followed. In seeking employment as a library technician with my Associates Degree libraries are hiring people with just a high school diploma and then training them or sending them to school while on the job. I can’t even get an interview because I have been told by library techs that if you have a degree the library is afraid you will leave once having gained experience and a little education.
    While working on my A.S. I routinely worked on group projects with Library Directors who were not state certified yet and did not have an MLS or MLIS they only had a Degree in other professions.
    I have done a study looking at the core competencies for ALA certification, state certification, and requirements for a degree and it seems there is not a group of common competencies between the three and will vary between states. You can become a library director for a community under 10,000 in population without an MLS or MLIS and you can have the job while you are in school getting the competencies for simply state certification.
    Every librarian I have talked to has indicated that getting the MLS or MLIS is just taking the courses over again and writing more papers only the technology courses that have been added recently have made any difference. If the state is going to allow people with just high school diplomas get jobs that will shut out the library technicians then the whole hierarchy of library science is meaningless particularly when you can be a library director in a small community without an MLS or MLIS. This sounds like they are more of a political patronage job than a profession. I like this blog it gets your blood flowing. Great topic. I would like to hear what you have to say!

    • Frank, thanks for your comment, and your interest in the profession.
      My thoughts in a word – economics! Smaller communities can not afford to pay the salary that most experienced, degreed librarians would ask to be their director. The same thing is true in every state I’m familiar with. Most have a professional development program that is required attendance for non-degreed library directors, so that is a good alternative approach. Odds are the requirements are controlled by your State Library Agency, so they would be the ones to give you answers about the system in your state.

      I agree with Anonymous, having an MLIS does not make one a better librarian, BUT it does give one a better understanding of the fundamental theory of librarianship. One quote I’ve used for decades is from a Canadian educator J.R. Kidd; “Theory without practice is empty, and practice without theory is blind.” BTW: Every university makes money by making you enroll in courses, not from recognizing your credits from another university to which you did pay tuition. It’s just the way the education system works, so don’t let that deter you from your educational goals.

      Regarding the hierarchy of education within the profession, ALA core competencies, etc., I’m not a fan, as you’ve no doubt figured out. I’ve been advocating that there should be professional recognition of the BS in LIS as entry level into the “profession.” The only other professions that require graduate level education for entry are the health and legal professions. My series of posts since January this year have covered the topic fairly well, so you can rely on them for an expanded discussion on the subject.

      The real bottom line is that ALA wants to keep “librarianship” exclusive and more prestigious by keeping the masters degree as THE professional degree. They are afraid of the tens of thousands of MLIS degreed librarians who would jump their ship IF the BS in LIS was a recognized entry level degree. They don’t know how to transition to that state without offending a bunch of education snobs – TOO BAD. It would be great for the profession, but don’t expect it to happen in the near future.

  16. Anonymous

    Love your post! Frank I was a student in the UMaine Augusta online program. I received a certificate – had aspirations to complete a bachelors, but became disenchanted when the university did not accept all my credits from my previous bachelors (I also have a masters in counseling psychology). On that note I have been volunteering in school libraries for the last 8 years. I can do the job blindfolded!!! Few jobs exist in school libraries in Maine. I find it very confusing as some schools hire MLS’s or MLIS’s and others hire Ed Techs with NO experience. I know that the state requires you to have a MLS in school libraries but not all districts can afford to hire one so they hire an Ed Tech. Apparantly as long you have one MLS in the district that makes it OK to hire Ed Techs. In the public libraries it runs the gamut. I have seen everything from high school graduate to MLS. In all honesty I have seen more MLS’s advertised lately. Especially in southern Maine, colleges, etc. Having an MLS does not make you a better librarian. I agree that the technology classes are the most important these days. I believe that the state of Maine and the ALA needs to change educational requirements for librarians. Lastly, I learned so much from the UMaine LIS program! It is a shame that ALA and most states require you to spend more money and time!

    • Anonymous

      To be clear, the University of Maine at Augusta, accepts credits from regionally accredited Universities from courses earned at a grade of C or better. They have a quite generous policy of accepting up to 90 credits, then it depends upon the general education requirements of the university as to how prior coursework falls out in the program. This is surprising to hear that “the university did not accept all my credits from my previous bachelors.” If you didn’t, I would recommend contacting the coordinator of the program.

  17. Frank

    Just too clarify, I was not speaking of the State of Maine but of the states in the midwest where I see the problems. Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, etc. If you are west of the Ole Miss you can be a director in a small town with a high school diploma. Thank you your views though of which I agree.

  18. Peter F. McNally, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

    One point of clarification should be made concerning the BLS. For McGill University, Montreal, Canada, the BLS was a one year graduate degree – 1930 to 1965 – requiring a Bachelor’s degree as entrance requirement. The two year master’s – MLS – replaced the BLS in 1965 as the accredited professional degree. An undergraduate degree in librarianship is something very different from the BLS. Many graduate programs in librarianship followed similar paths. Most Schools in the USA converted from the graduate BLS to the MLS in the late 1940s.
    The reasons for having a graduate degree – BLS or MLS – as the entrance qualification for a career in librarianship are numerous. The Williams Report from the 1920s, prepared for the Carnegie Corporation remains as convincing today as it did 90 years ago. Many historical studies have investigated the issue, including my article listed below:

    “Fanfares and Celebrations, Anniversaries in Canadian Graduate Education for Library and Information Studies.” The Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, v. 18, no. 1 (April, 1993), p. 6-22. (Reprinted in Readings in Canadian Library History 2, 1996. p.39-56).

    • Professor McNally, thank you for this insight and clarification of the BLS.
      Since I’m unable to access your publication, I settled for your ” One Hundred Years of Canadian Graduate Education for Library and Information Studies” article. [Feliciter. 2004, Vol. 50 Issue 5, p208-211. 4p.] in which you wrote; “… initiated by McGill, which had long noted the limitations of the one-year BLS in meeting the needs of graduates. What was needed, the faculty concluded in the early 1960s, was a two-year degree with one year of required courses and a second of electives: a new four-term, 48-plus credit, two-year MLS program. Launched in 1965, it superseded both the BLS and sixth-year MLS programs, ….”
      Could you offer me and readers a quick synopsis of the limitations you refer to of the one-year BLS degree? I am very curious how the 1923 Williamson Report [which I am also unable to access] could so influence an early-1960s decision to abandon the BLS in favor of a master’s degree.

  19. jennybarrows

    Dr. Matthews, I am very glad I stumbled upon this post today (via my scoop.it feed) as it is a topic I discuss nearly every time I get together with friends from Library School.

    I partially agree with your comments; however, I must detract because I believe the entire Library educational/professional requirement system must be overhauled. I went to the University of Connecticut where I double majored in Political Science and History. After graduating with honors and getting into every library program I applied to, I ended up attending the Southern Connecticut State University to save money. The program at SCSU (MLS, and from what I hear, the BLS) is wretched. I could have yawned my way through graduate school and still received a 4.0. The professors were largely incompetent, and the extremely low entry requirements had created a largely laughable group of students.

    Despite taking extra classes and interning in an academic library, I could not find a job in academic librarianship – the majority of positions required a second subject-specific masters degree. Despite applying to over 60 jobs in 45 states in the country, I only got 1 interview and 1 job offer – a library clerk position in an independent school library. The pay was garbage, and I did the work of a full-time, qualified librarian (I made more money waiting tables part time). However, because I had gotten an “in” with private schools, I was able to get a full-time salaried real-life librarian job at a different independent school (where I now work).

    I do not think an MLS is necessary at all for any job in librarianship. There is plenty of time and credits during a 4-year undergraduate degree to double major in Library Science and another subject (English, Bio, etc.). I could absolutely have learned the theory AND practice of librarianship during my undergraduate days, while still majoring in a second subject. An MLS should only be “strongly recommended” if someone wants to move up in management positions. I firmly believe theory is important – but we kid ourselves acting as if that can only be learned in a graduate program. Entry level tech positions should be readily available for individuals with an Associates degree, full-time SALARIED librarian positions should be available for those with a BLS (teacher-librarians should also have the necessary teaching certification as dictated by the state), and management/director positions should be the only positions that either “strongly recommend” or “require” an MLS. I continue to debate if a subject-specific masters is necessary for academic librarianship. BUT, even with those degree distinctions, the lines should not be set in stone – remaining fluid and ultimately dictated by specific situation.

    I think library schools produces far more bad librarians than good (due to rock bottom grad-school entry requirements), and until the system is overhauled, we will continue to dig our own professional graves.

    • Thank you Jenny. It is regrettable that your SLIS experience failed to meet your expectations. Those things happen, not only in school, but in daily life, so it’s good that you’re in a hopefully fulfilling and career enhancing position.
      I understand your frustration, but part of the situation you faced was simply career shift as I call it. Before I began working on my PhD it seemed that “education” was the most important credential for getting hired. By the time I finished my PhD the criteria had shifted to “specific job related experience” and education was the tie-breaker. Since then I have watched the career pendulum swing back and forth from experience to education, passing through experience AND education, and now the education side is even more education as you experienced.
      The other part of the situation is education creep, in that the education level that was once acceptable is no longer good enough – thus the double major you mention. At the risk of contributing to the education creep, as degreed librarian jobs become less available, it makes complete sense to open BLS programs so that people interested in a library career can begin at a true entry level and work their way up. I agree with you wholeheartedly, that “management/director positions should be the only positions that either “strongly recommend” or “require” an MLS.” All of the technical skills necessary for librarianship can be taught in a comprehensive BLS program that also requires internship. Good luck. Stay involved.

  20. Beverly Jones

    I can’t be the only person who remembers how this all came about. Back in the 70’s professional organizations representing people in low paying professional jobs such as teaching and librarianship thought that if they required graduate work to qualify for the profession they would reap the reward of higher paying jobs more in line with other professions. It was never about becoming qualified for a job. Bring back the B.S. It was always the right way to go.

  21. Pingback: Information and Library Science: A Grad Option for Professional Writing Students – UAB MEMORANDUM

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