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Monday, August 18, 2008

Of Alphabet Soups

Today the topic is: the pretentiousness of advertising your degrees. Discuss.


One of the hotter topics on Friendfeed lately, sparked by Christa Burns, was the discussion of whether or not to include the MLS in your signature line or on business cards. I found this very interesting, for a number of reasons. Working in academia, there is a certain overwhelming snobbery that happens when academics get together and discuss themselves (as they inevitably do). People toss out their pedigrees and are measured and judged to be found wanting (or not) depending on those academic family ties. it's the way the world works, and from what I've seen, many librarians simply don't engage when other faculty do this, or they join good-naturedly into the fray. Most librarians I've seen in these scenarios do the former. Because I firmly believe in the value of having librarians as full faculty (okay, and because despite my lack of a PhD, I likely have far more hours of graduate school under my belt than they do) I often do the latter.


The MLS is different than many other degrees. I have never engaged in a pissing contest with other MLS-holders over who went to the better school - that just doesn't seem to matter much to us, since we primarily judge each other on the work we do. I find this attitude to be similar among teachers, who I've rarely noticed comparing M.Ed. degrees and battling it out. We share a camaraderie without much acrimony or competition. On the other hand, in my former life as a polisci graduate student, there was (and remains) a very rigid pecking order of schools and institutions, and God help you if you were the one from an inferior institution, because it was like a stain on your soul, or the smell of dog poo on your shoes - everyone else just wrinkled their nose at you as you were shuffled aside.


What this brings me to is a discussion of *my* opinion on the subject of alphabet soupage. In the interests of full disclosure, I do not use "MLS" in my sig line or on my business cards. To me, the MLS is a requirement to even apply for the job of being a librarian, so referring to myself as a reference & instruction librarian (which is in both my signature line and on my business cards) is, I assume, enough to put forth my credentials as a professional librarian. I understand that the MLS is not *always* a requirement for the title of 'librarian,' especially once you move out of academic leagues, but in my environment it just seems redundant.


Another reason I don't use the MLS is that touting a master's degree when I work primarily with PhD holders seems a bit silly to me, and (as those of you who know me can attest) I am not one to readily admit to being inferior. You can tell me until you're blue in the face than an MLS is not inferior to a PhD - and I understand they qualify you for fundamentally different things - but a doctorate trumps a master's every time (given that we're talking accredited degrees and not the shady ones). I do note in my email signature that I'm an assistant professor, since faculty I speak with - including those semi-familiar with using the library and librarians - seem to still think we're staff. There's nothing wrong with being staff - I was there for a long time. But I am very proud of my faculty status - I worked hard for it, and want it recognized.


Which brings me to this: if you feel the need to put "MLS" in your tag (wherever that may be), then DO it. No one begrudges a PhD his/her ability to put their earned degree on whatever they wish, and if you earned the MLS, I say wield it as you wish. I tend to agree with Steven Bell's ACRL blog post where he writes "But when we’re amongst our own, let’s drop that stuff." If you're presenting at ALA, or your local or state library association, tossing "MLS" after your name just seems like overkill. You're at a library conference - it doesn't distinguish you. But, I would argue, in other venues where those presenting are *not* all librarians - in those instances where you hit an interdisciplinary conference or one where those from private industry may also be on the docket - I say use it, since it denotes that you possess the qualifications of your particular profession.


All this said, it's a personal decision, and I, for one, don't think it is pretentious or snooty to advertise that you are proud of your professional qualifications. I know a bevy of lawyers who use the "J.D." or "Esq." in their regular correspondence. (If librarians had a cool tag like "Esquire" or something similar that we could use, I'd be all for it.) I fully plan to utilize my alphabet soup once it is impressive enough, and I don't begrudge those who do.


Mainly, though, I think this is a silly argument. Don't we have much larger issues to worry about? With budgets the way they are, who cares if you have an MLS if you don't have a job? There are tons of Philosophy MAs out there working at Starbucks (I know this because I worked in graduate admissions processing PhD apps.) Your degree isn't terribly impressive to me if you're not actively using it and augmenting your knowledge base past when you received your diploma. What we should be focusing on is bettering the position of the profession.


So yes, in essence, this is the long way of saying "Who cares?"

1 comment:

Allison said...

Well, I have a master's degree that is highly pertinent to my job. (Degree = MA in Public Communication. Job= public relations at a university). So I'm often tempted to toss it onto my email sig. Not least of all because I deal with a lot of faculty members who are pretty sure that I'm 21 and just thought it would be OMG FUN to be in PR. I like to let them know I'm way closer to 30 than graduation and that I actually know the theory and practice of my profession.

But I realize that to all other staff, it would look a little douchey.