ASSOCIATES (vol. 1, no. 1, July 1994) -

Table of Contents

		  Is It The Right Thing To Do?
		      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
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
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.
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.