Tuesday, May 23, 2006

mls, mlis, certification

|UPDATE, Sep 07|

My thinking on this continues to evolve. What I wrote below was in part motivated by long years of observing dedicated library employees with very professional attitudes and great knowledge of sources and technique being treated sub-professionally. But the degree itself needs to be worth something and it should mean something -- it should be a qualifier without disqualifying those who work hard without it.


The graduate "library science" or "information and library science" degree is a funny thing. I worked in libraries for almost 10 years before I got the MLIS, and I think my experience taught me far more about how libraries should operate than the degree did.

The degree is a kind of initiation into "professionalism", and for all the great instruction (and independent research and practicums -- and I mean in no way to deny the value of what gets taught), the culture of the title "librarian" seems often to be more important than the practice to too many of my peers, these days.

The degree, too, is a period of intense thinking about and writing about libraries -- and that was utterly useful to me. It changed my life. But it's not the only way to go.

See, I hate this word "paraprofessional". It's demeaning. It means something to the effect of "on the side of" or "with" in the old Greek. The non-degreed librarians that I know (and have known) daily take the lead on matters of policy and customer service, and in the operational smoothness of our libraries -- while the "professionals" are in the background shaking hands with deans or city council members, brainstorming on programs, ordering books and doing other (very essential but usually less immediate) work. In reality, it's librarians who are alongside them, and not the other way round.

I think there should be a certification program for librarians, to grant "librarianship" after a period of practical experience, a few short (short!) courses, and test of some kind. A full-on "postgraduate degree" isn't necessary, especially when you consider the fact that this really is a sort of professional (as in more-professional-than-academic, as in more focused on the career or the profession of librarianship than it is on advancing the general body of knowledge related to information science... c'mon) and beuracratic hurtle. The degree is in most cases just a gate guard for administrators.

Librarians and libraries shouldn't be about that. 15 years of practical know-how should be worth far more than 4 semesters of online classes, a couple of field trips, and a piece of parchment. "Librarianship" shouldn't be so zealously guarded by the bean-counters when there are so many bright and able people who deserve advancement and would be considerable boons to our libraries. Some kind of certification program would solve these problems and get more people in the gate.

This "librarian" thing isn't a Sunday garden club, you know. Let's look at our assets -- at our dedicated "paraprofessionals", and let's train them up and certify them and put them where so many of them belong -- in leadership roles. Librarians could stand a bit of a de-high-horsing, and "paraprofessionals" could really stand to be looked at anew for what they are: professional.


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Surfing: UFO crash: Aurora, TX, 1897

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