1 May 2014

MLS is neither a necessary nor sufficient indicator of "librarian-ness".

This post on 'librarian-ness' is essentially a series of questions around the topic of the role of the MLS in relation to 'librarian-ness'. It is a series of questions to which I don't have any definitive answers to. I'm hoping some of you reading this might.

Last month Chris Bourg, started a brief discussion on Twitter about the importance of the MLS to the Library profession. The tweet that started it was:
Though the discussion didn't last very long and didn't go as far I would have liked it did raise familiar feelings, thoughts and questions I have any time the issue or the importance of the MLS comes up in conversation. It brought on Confusion & Conflict - for me it raises plenty of questions. And never provides very many clearly defined answers.

I cannot decide whether the MLS and its importance to the Library Profession is a good thing.
Or is it a bad thing?
Or is it both?
Is it a necessary thing for you to be a librarian?
Is having it sufficient for you to be a librarian?
Does it damage our profession?
Or without it would our profession be damaged?

I ask myself and cannot definitively answer - do you really need a library qualification 'to be' a librarian?
Why not?
And why do we put so much store in this qualification if it, as Bourg bluntly states, is neither a necessity or sufficient indicator of 'librarian-ness'?
Or is Chris Bourg wrong?
Is MLS indeed a necessary and sufficient indicator of "librarian-ness"?

I also ask myself am I actually a better librarian for having my library qualification?
Are my hard working colleagues who do not have a qualification, some who have years of experience over me, any less a 'librarian' than me?
Why should they, as is the practice in many if not all libraries, be disqualified from applying for 'professional' posts when they arise?
Or should anybody be able to apply for professional library posts?
Should a person with years of managerial experience, but no library experience, be able to apply for a professional library post safe in the knowledge that they have a chance of being hired?

Does the MLS create and perpetuate a glass ceiling? A financial glass ceiling. Is it a creator of an Us and a Them?
Does it create a glass ceiling based on money and not on merit? [If such a glass ceiling can exist? Or are we in oxymoron territory?]

Objectively, does a piece of paper I gained after three years of distance learning elevate me above people who don't have this piece of paper?
How? Why?
Does this piece of paper confer librarian-ness on you?
On me?
Are librarians who qualified, say 25 or 30 years ago, necessarily better qualified to run a library of today: a library most likely very different to that in which they qualified all those years ago?
Does somebody who has just completed their MLS but never worked in a library have the indicators of 'librarian-ness'?

Would somebody who doesn't have an MLS and hasn't worked in a library before be able to manage a library team and run a library well?
If yes, what does this say about our profession?

And further:
What are those necessary indicators of 'librarian-ness' that Chris mentions?
Do we all know in the abstract what they are?
And do library schools teach these?
And can they be taught?
Those of you recently qualified - were you thought these traits?
Or did you have them in you before you did your course?

In the eyes of many the MLS does matter - very much. I saw this at a discussion after this paper by Elaine Bean at the 2011 INULS conference. I found it interesting to see so many 'professional' qualified librarians get very uncomfortable listening to the paper and the comments and questions and discussion after it.
Why should we get so uncomfortable?

And with that I should perhaps stop asking questions but before then I ask just a few more:
Any answers?
You agree?
You disagree?
Any comment?


  1. So many questions! Personally I think that we can be too precious about our qualifications. While they are valid and indicative of an accumulation of knowledge in the field, a lot of learning and development is done on the job. I worked for Camden Council Public Libraries in London some years ago and it was possible for a non-qualified person to take on a professsional role there if they could demonstrate experience and knowledge. Some of these appointments were excellent in their roles.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jane. And yep, I do love asking the questions. I agree, I think we are too precious about our qualifications and I have seen so many good colleagues, unqualified, do great jobs and totally fulfill the requirements of their role, and above. And likewise, I have seen qualified people underperform. I do question the need for an MLS qualification to perform a professional role.