ASSOCIATES (vol. 1, no. 1, July 1994) - associates.ucr.edu
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AN MLS DEGREE: Is It The Right Thing To Do? by Janet Anderson-Story Library Assistant II Stacks Supervisor University of Kansas It is essential that support staff who are considering pursuing a Master of Library Science degree carefully analyze the motivation for such a decision. It is also important that personal goals and interests match the curriculum of the school that is to be attended. This may be difficult if the school closest to home is the only option. A typical library school student is described in the literature (Fasick, 1986, Heim and Moen, 1989) as white, in the 30s, married with children, and having an undergraduate degree in English, Secondary Education, or History. This describes me pretty well. I have 15 years support staff experience in public and academic libraries. Like many library people, I have loved libraries from the time I was a child. My first work experience was as a student assistant after school in my junior high library. As a college student and afterwards, I worked in the children's departments of two public libraries. I eventually landed my current job as stacks supervisor in the circulation department at the University of Kansas' large main library. I was elated to work in this library and felt a high degree of excitement and enthusiasm for the library as a place, and particularly for the stacks. I likened looking for books in our labyrinthine stacks to going on safari, pith helmet in place, camera at the ready, waiting to discover some magnificent animal scene at the next turn. It was an intellectually stimulating place and I was happy. Two years after my appointment to the stacks position, I decided to start library school. I chose the library school nearest my home so I could continue working and because the school's curriculum is flexible and offers classes in a variety of scheduling formats. This flexibility was essential in my decision-making process. I was motivated to go back to school because, as stacks supervisor, two of my responsibilities are to pull books in need of repair as they move through the circulation department and to monitor the environmental conditions in the stacks. These activities led me to begin to educate myself about preservation of library materials, and I wanted to get credit for my educational activities. Going to library school was continuing education for me, not a career change. I saw it as an opportunity to learn more about preservation so that I could better do the job I loved. I thought that I could direct my paper topics to this end, thereby making up for a lack of formal training in this area. Now I realize that, upon graduation, I still won't have enough knowledge about preservation to have any marketable expertise. Nor will I have fully acquired the school's philosophy, which is very people-oriented. Their curriculum educates people to be very good reference librarians, information brokers, and managers...which are not skills my books-as-artifacts attitude absorbs very easily. On the other hand, I'm also interested in staff development. This interest fits more easily into my school's curriculum and I was able to design, though not implement, some training projects in this area. As it turns out, this may, in the end, be the direction I take after graduation. My passion for my current work stayed with me for five years. But in the last six months, my interest has waned for anything to do with libraries. Maybe my feelings are from burnout after working and doing homework nearly every day for the last four years, or maybe it's related to stress due to Strategic Planning, reorganization, and understaffing in the workplace. I realize now that if I had been able to attend the University of Texas at Austin for their preservation program, I would probably be very happy now. But I attended the wrong school, and only in my next-to-last semester really figured it out. I'm hoping that the opportunities that may come with graduation will rekindle my hope and energy. I don't think my story is unique. Many of us consider an MLS degree because we have a passion for our work and a high degree of dedication to our libraries as institutions. We want the responsibilities and recognition that appear to go with an MLS degree as the current support staff structure does not reward or recognize our dedication. We come to our schools for a wide variety of reasons. Most of us are driven by our geographical and financial constraints. Many of us report that we are not fully satisfied with our schools' curriculums. It's not that our schools are bad. It's that, when schools are chosen for logistical reasons, there may not be a match between student and curriculum, and some of us shouldn't have come for an MLS at all. I conducted an informal survey using the Library Support Staff Listserv (Libsup-L) to ask people why they decided to go to library school. A typical response was "I chose the school because it has the degree program; it was the only place I could get it". No one said, however, 'I want to learn about the diffusion and dissemination of information'. Or even 'I want to be a reference librarian'. Satisfaction with school curriculums varied widely from the very positive to the bleak viewpoint. One concern repeatedly expressed was about the program's usefulness: "For those of us with experience, it is a waste of time and money"; "I think a lot of the information we are receiving is 'theoretical' and has very little to do with the actual 'real life' library setting"; and the curriculum is "far too theoretical and not as practically based as I would like". I can't honestly say "don't go to library school". But I do think the non-degree options available to support staff need to be given very careful consideration. For example, when considering whether or not to pursue an MLS, it is important to evaluate the source of dedication and enthusiasm for library work. Pursuit of the MLS degree should be considered only as one of many options. Many of us choose this path because it seems like "the right thing to do" based on our enthusiasm for the mission of libraries. I think this passion needs to be focused on a specific function in order to make the most of one's educational experience. If there is a high degree of satisfaction with the current job and the desire is to be even better, then staff development workshops and conferences may be a viable option. Even the most repressive administrations can sometimes be persuaded that staff can flourish if given the opportunity. Even if we have to pay for our own self-improvement, if it enhances our work experiences, it may be worth it. And our improved performance and enthusiasm may help convince our administrations that they should be supporting our efforts. If there is an interest in broader issues, state library associations, regional library systems, or in-house committees may provide development opportunities. Support staff organizations on the state level are always in need of energetic participants. We also need to realize that there can be job mobility within our geographic region. If there are other libraries in the vicinity, perhaps a career move is in order. Library school administrators who work with support staff who are considering library school must recognize that talent, enthusiasm, dedication and intelligence are not the only qualities needed in a successful graduate student. There must be a focus and a match between interest and curriculum. The applicant must realize this also. If the correspondence is not there, there must be open discussion between admissions staff and the applicant with the goal of the individual deciding whether or not to attend the school. State libraries, library associations, and library schools need to establish career counseling services. Such services could provide guidance to people interested in library school as they attempt to find the most appropriate school. Financial aid resources could be publicized as well as job placement information on positions available nationally and internationally. Above all, our experience as support staff needs to be given credibility, respect and acceptance in our home libraries, in library schools and, if the decision is made to become a degreed librarian, as we seek our first job after graduation. Sources Fasick, A.K. "Library and Information Science Students". _Library Trends_. Spring, 1986. pp. 607-621. Heim, K.M. & Moen, W.E. _Occupational Entry: Library and Information Science Students' Attitudes, Demographics and Aspirations Survey_. 1989. Chicago: American Library Association Office for Personnel Resources.