ASSOCIATES (vol. 4, no. 1, July 1997) -

Table of Contents


                  Noel D. Young

(The author attended Library School at Indiana University,
Bloomington, and is a former Library Director who has worked in a
variety of academic and public library settings.)
I recently read the article from the first issue of Associates
entitled "An MLS Degree:  Is It the Right Thing to Do?"  Over the
past several years, not a few people have queried me concerning
this very issue.  My response has been an unmitigated, "No!"  My
reasons for this response, although personal, are based on a more
objective view of the structural position of Librarians within
the total library and information industry than that offered by
the original article.
The author of the above-mentioned article begins by stating that
support staff (or anyone) must carefully analyze his or her
motivation for deciding to pursue a MLS degree.  There are
several critical thinking fallacies to avoid when analyzing one's
motivations.  In addition to this examination of one's
psychological motivations, one must also analyze sociologically
the structural characteristics of the library and information
industry.  It is within these structural dimensions where the
individual acts.
First of all, library schools have a vested interest in keeping
new students moving through their pipelines.  One cannot
logically expect library schools to counsel those bringing
dollars to their place of business not to attend; they too, wish
to keep their jobs.  The closing and drastic reorganization of
several library schools in the 1980s should make us think a bit
more critically about the availability of library positions for
Librarians as well as pay scales and the mobility of the degree.
It is really quite absurd to have a Master's degree (and, more
often than not, two), language skills in one or more foreign
language, and get paid somewhere in the 20s.  This ghettoization
(or feminization) of the library degree is usually maintained
structurally by the addition of a spouse who has at least a
similar-type job in status and pay.  This arrangement amounts to
nothing less than a subsidy of the library "profession".
A second crucial aspect to keep in mind of this structural
dimension is the degree program itself.  The MLS is not a liberal
arts degree; rarely does one work with ideas for their own sake.
Rather, the MLS is a poly-technical degree and we learn how to
manage and organize things.  Although there is much discussion
about upgrading the status of academic librarians to that of
faculty, or faculty equivalent, there is little, if any,
discussion concerning the downgrading of the MLS to an
undergraduate degree.  (This might even make more sense for
public librarians.)
Most Librarian positions in academic and public libraries can be
handled well by a college graduate (or less) with some library
training.  Further, as paraprofessionals are well aware, this
training also can take place on the job.  This is not to say that
Master's (or even higher) degrees do not have an important place
in the library.  It is beyond the scope of this brief article,
but I submit that the British model of librarian education (where
Library Science is an undergraduate degree) has some important
features that we Americans might find useful.
There are good, well-meaning, and socially responsible reasons
for pursuing a MLS degree and becoming a Librarian with an upper
case "L."  It is unfortunate that most of these reasons are
easily negated by the office politics of the corporate culture,
especially that found in academic libraries.  We all know persons
whom we believe to have been promoted to a more powerful position
with more money, not through their innovative solutions or
principled stances to certain organizational and personnel
problems, but through their Machiavellian actions; actions
ranging from yes-saying to the boss to undermining one's
colleagues' work to sleeping one's way into favor.
Public and academic libraries are not generally places where
innovative perspectives are greeted with open arms and embraced.
Indeed, more often than not, persons with alternative
perspectives are viewed as "impudent young upstarts from
wherever".  The "wherever" is often a place recognized as
"better" than that where the accuser attended library school.
The accuser feels threatened and immediately defends his or her
position in the hierarchy by lashing out.
Again, one cannot logically expect the old guard to support
changes that might negatively effect their status position, thus
exposing their inadequacies and incompetencies.  The old adage,
"If you can't do, teach." needs to be amended:  "If you can't
teach, be a librarian."  This can also be extended:  "If you
can't be a librarian, get promoted to Head of the Department."  A
further extension is also necessary:  "If you can't be a
successful Head of the Department, become the Dean of the
A third structural consideration in the personal motivation to
pursue a library degree has directly to do with pay scale and
other conditions of employment.  The chances of earning a
middle-class standard of living as a Librarian are not great.
Geographic mobility is limited and your employment in the
community is tenuous.  I submit that improving one's own status
in a particular library will not help to improve the status of
the profession as a whole since it is closely linked to that of
the entire library and information industry.  When viewed from
this perspective, organization of library workers for collective
action might bear more fruit than individual and essentially
random acts.  Union workers in all industries have better working
conditions than their non-union counterparts.
The purpose of this article was not to refute the original
article, but rather to add a sociological dimension to it.  There
are good reasons to pursue a MLS, but they should be tempered by
the above structural considerations.  It is within this social
structure where individual actions are heavily influenced, often
in ways that are not easily apparent.  If your motivations are
still pure of heart, then go for it, but you still need to be
able to pay rent -- or the mortgage.  As for myself, my library
training has provided me with valuable and important research and
organizational skills, but I would not do it again, nor would I
recommend it to anyone else.