Even though I haven’t written about this topic since April, thoughts on it are never too far from my mind, especially when I have comments on the post from readers who just discovered it. That’s what has happened recently, so I wanted to add some more discussion on this topic – Why not a bachelor’s degree in library science?
To date, no one has offered any good educational, managerial, career or workforce related reason why it is not a good idea.
My arguments have included my post from last December – Library Science Ranks #4 in Highest Unemployment, and the job market – as well as the economy – show no signs of improvement any time soon.
The 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!” No one with only an MLS degree and no library experience is a qualified manager. Someone who has earned a BS in librarianship, worked in a library and then earned an MLIS has the prerequisite skills and experience to be a capable manager. That’s the way careers are built!
Everyone knows that there is virtually no authority (i.e., government, librarian union, etc.) that dictates who can and cannot do certain librarianship tasks within a library organization. THIS APPROACH – “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.” – DOES NOT HAPPEN! All “librarians” do everything!
Why is the MLS entry level for this profession when recent college graduates can’t find jobs because they don’t have experience? Just read the over 40 comments to Annoyed Librarian at LibraryJournal.com, and you’ll see this current career system is broken!
History reveals what happened in the librarian profession as it transitioned through academy training to university certification to bachelor’s degree and then master’s, but the WHY is still elusive. Some speculate that it was an ALA effort to legitimize librarian as a true profession in the 1960s. However, as far back as 1923, a bachelor’s degree was still not the standard within the US. The Williamson Report, officially titled “Training for Library Service” A Report Prepared for The Carnegie Corporation of New York by Dr. Charles C. Williamson, (1923) contains disturbing similarity to today’s SLIS situation, as well as endorsement for the bachelor’s degree in library science as the standard.
THE LIBRARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM [Page 23]
Obviously there is no agreement among the schools as to the relative importance of the different subjects in the curriculum. The amount of time given to a subject seems to depend on the personal opinion or desires of the instructor or the principal. While considerable interest has been manifested in discussions as to what should constitute the minimum essential instruction in cataloguing, apparently no effort has been made by the Association of American Library Schools to arrive at minimum standards for the course in cataloguing. Complaint is common that the curriculum is overcrowded, while important new subjects are clamoring for admission. The school that succeeds in giving its students the essentials of cataloguing in thirty-five hours, while others require two or three times that length of time, can take up other subjects that may be more important for the general professional course.
There are many more similarities in the Williamson Report to conditions within the librarian profession in 1923 that have not noticeably changed by 2012, but those are resources for other discussions. On the matter of library science degrees, Williamson reported the following.
CHAPTER VIII – JOINT COURSES, ACADEMIC CREDIT, DEGREES, AND ACADEMIC STATUS.
[Page 69] A considerable proportion of the fifty per cent of library school graduates who have the college degree did not take a four-year college course and then the library school course, but took both in four years, receiving college credit for the library courses. …
Graduates of any accredited library school may be permitted, in individual cases, to offer certain library courses for the bachelor’s degree; but college faculties are not always willing to give full academic credit, particularly for technical courses.
[Page 70] One of the fundamental viewpoints of this report is that professional library work requires a college education or its full equivalent. Three years of college study, however, are better than two, and two are better than none. … The joint course plan as described above, in which three years of college work are followed by one year devoted exclusively to library school study, is to be preferred to the Simmons College plan, in which the library courses are spread throughout the four years.
A committee of the Association of American Library Schools has recently considered the subject of professional degrees for library courses. In its report it is recommended that the B.L.S. degree be recognized as the professional degree to be conferred on the completion of a course of two years of professional and technical study, for admission to which a four-year college course is required.
Even though Williamson’s report indicates that the MLS was emerging as a status degree for the profession at the time, the BLS was considered the necessary “standard” for the profession.
According to John Richardson, Jr. of UCLA, History of American Library Science: Its Origins and Early Development Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Ed. Mary N. Maack and Marcia Bates. Francis and Taylor, 2010., the MLS as the professional standard was adopted in 1951.
• 1930: First PhD in library science: Eleanor Upton at University of Chicago.
• 1949: Twenty-seven of the thirty-two accredited schools adopt the new MLS degree (or in process of doing so); ….
• 1951, July: ALA adopts new Standards of Accreditation making MLS entry level degree. ….
• 1966: ALA establishes Office for Library Education; …
• 1968: ALA’s COA establishes subcommittees on undergraduate and graduate standards for accreditation. ….
Which begs the question – If the MLS was the accredited “entry level degree” in 1951, why in 1968 was ALA still reviewing undergraduate standards for education? My speculation was that many library schools were still offering the undergraduate degree, and ALA felt the need to regulate those out of existence. Which also begs the question – Why?
Today BS programs ALREADY EXIST in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine and North Carolina. Remember Maine’s Information and Library Service Program operating since 2004? 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. Maine has experienced an evolving recognition of a “career ladder” within the segments of their librarian profession that supports a BS as entry level and MILS for advancement, because students graduate with a confidence in their ability to be immediately effective in their first library position. The University of Maine, Augusta BS program is very much oriented toward the practical application of librarianship, compared to the theoretical perspective of an MLS program.
Also, the State of Kentucky has put forth excellent justification FOR a bachelor degree in librarianship.
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?
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.
Also, the prestigious University of North Carolina Chapel Hill SLIS Dual Bachelor’s – Master’s Program could be a model for every SLIS.
The BSIS and Master’s programs prepare students for careers in public, private, and governmental institutions of all kinds as information system analysts, designers and developers, data managers, web designers, librarians, archivists, and similar areas. The SILS curricula offer students a sound foundation of coursework, augmented by projects, internships (field experience), and research opportunities that contribute to making SILS graduates highly sought after by employers.
With this kind of horsepower behind a BS in library science, maybe we’ll see some movement in this direction – eventually.