ALA Fails the MLS programs...and Students

I am in love with the Annoyed Librarian. Why, you ask? "She's cranky!", you say. "An absolute anarchist and one who pees on the parade of librarianship!" you shout.

Nope, I respectfully disagree. While I have the good fortune of now loving (lurving, even) my position, I worked in one of those hellacious bureaucratic academic libraries that couldn't give two hoots about treatment of the librarians, staff or patrons so long as admin fatcats were kept happy. In fact, I worked full time at the major library on the very campus where I worked on my MLS degree, and I have to wonder if those made uncomfortable by the AL don't feel that way because she hits the nail squarely on the head.

For instance, the post on library science education. Alas! I read the post and comments with much laughter, because it's true. Library science education as it stands in many schools (probably not the ones up on the latest and greatest tech and programming stuff) could be a vocational program instead of a professional one. I was one of the younger folks in my class (a bright, shiny 26 at the time), and one of the few gung-ho about doing anything related to librarianship. I was one of a very few who had actually worked in a library before. (This, IMHO, should be a requirement of any MLS program.) I was mortified to hear complaints about 5 page papers. (Seriously. Five pages. In what is supposedly a master's degree level program!)

Having been through other graduate programs in other fields, I'd like to list the reasons why the MLS isn't getting any respect. First, many programs eschew a vigorous methods course. Oh, we had a focused on surveys, and not a dang person who took it (it was elective) could have told you what a regression was, or what longitudinal data means. Tracks are poorly planned - students have to pick and choose from scanty course offerings in order to become things as diverse as public librarians, academic librarians (expected to publish, natch), and library systems folk. And this is just the beginning. Online courses only exacerbate the issue of the lazy students sliding through for the degree, thus devaluing it, and schools that do manage to make money on tuition never increase faculty to deal with larger incoming classes because that would take away from their cash-cow status at the university - leading to ridiculously overlarge intro classes. Cap it off with MLS grads who have never worked in a library - a profession where learning office political maneuverings is just as important as being able to read a MARC record (if not more so) - and you have to wonder why people find it surprising MLS grads have a hard time finding jobs.

ALA has some nerve stating that there's no at-large issue with the MLS programs. institutions doing the hiring apparently think so, and so do some of the students, who spend time complaining about what they get for their tuition dollars. It's a shame ALA is blind to anything but it's own agenda, which is to remain an accrediting agency that has to expend little effort on accreditation, since it doesn't much care what's actually being taught, and whether grads are actually prepared for the work ahead of them.

Happily, there are the MLS students who take graduate school seriously, as well as entering the profession. (You have to cull them from the scads of teachers who think that librarianship will be easier, because they don't want to work with children anymore, and the MLS seemed like the place to go.) These are the folks who get the jobs, and go the extra mile in their coursework. These are the folks who stay updated on the latest developments in their fields, and force their programs to allow them to take appropriate courses outside the program when necessary. These are the people who come at the job search with dedication and custom written resumes and cover letters for each position.

Hopefully, these folks are the future of the profession. Hopefully, these folks won't be lured away by other industries and leave our libraries destitute of imagination and dedication. And these are the folks who will succeed despite the failings of the ALA to regulate the quality of MLS programs, as they are supposed to do.

ALA has failed MLS students - and MLS programs that should be held to a better standard than that they provide. And what will they do about it? Nothing, unless you let them know how you feel about it, folks...


griffey said…
I think I'm inured to the complaints of the "OMGWTFBBQ! The MLS IS WORTHLESS" camp just because I went to Chapel Hill, and it was _amazing_. But just like not all BA degrees are equal, not all MLS's are either.

Pick your schools well, kids, or you'll be sorry when it's over....
I do think most programs have their good and poorer points, and some programs are really amazing. (I think librarians as a bred are pretty amazing, but I may be biased there.) However, I do find it disheartening that ALA as the accrediting body doesn't do much to ensure that the quality is more even across the board...
KG said…
I've been reading some of your recent posts and I've enjoyed what you have to say. I'm currently a senior in college and applying for several grad schools for library science. Do you have, by any chance, some tips that could help me? I have a blog (thanks to a class project) that you could visit if you have the time. The URL is Thanks!

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