Monday, March 31, 2014

Credentialing and Devaluation: More on 'Who's a Librarian?'

If the Masters of Library and Information Science is in large part a credentialing regime that separates librarians from non-librarians, paraprofessionals, it is a regime based on time and money rather than on proficiency.

If you think the MLIS is primarily a credential for librarianship, and you think, as I do, that MLIS programs are "easy to get into, easy to get out of," then we should reexamine that role of the degree.

The barriers are cost and time, not expertise. I've yet to meet anyone who dropped out of an MLIS program because it was so challenging. If you know of anyone, please let me know (this post from Hack Library School, and its comments, comes close). My place of employment has more or less open enrollment, but it does not have open graduation. The same should be true of MLIS programs.

Rather, I know people who couldn't afford it, and/or couldn't make the time for it. Often, people in this category are paraprofessionals with many years of library experience, trying to level up, gaining access to more jobs in galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. Many of these paraprofessionals are also people of color.
The big tent version of librarianship I espouse does not devalue librarianship so much as it puts the MLIS in its proper context. After all, rare is the hiring manager who lauds MLIS holders with no library experience. The myriad interviews with Hiring Librarians bear this out. Feel free to ignore each of those data points, calling them anecdotal. At some point, a group of trees becomes a forest.

Instead, librarianship is devalued because of institutional sexism; it is viewed as "women's work" based on the history of the profession and current demographics.

It is devalued because of the roles of librarians in popular culture. Your Dewey Decimal System jokes? I've heard them all, please stop!

It is devalued because of the relative ease of MLIS programs.

It is devalued because at least one major political party in the United States, along with many corporate partners of both major parties, is afraid of knowledge, information, and the power of citizens.

It is devalued because of neoliberal policies and budgets that reflect antipathy towards public goods and the public good.

It is devalued because of book-centricity, presently embodied by the "little free libraries" trend, which are collections of books in public areas that are free to use. If I were to put a first aid kit on my corner, first come and first served, nobody would call it a "little free hospital" or even a "little free clinic," would they?

If your analogy is to compare librarianship to medicine, I wish you'd reconsider. Librarianship is not medical school. There is no legal need for a credentialing body. There is no library equivalent of malpractice insurance and there's (mercifully) comparatively little life and death in libraries. The people who leave library school aren't becoming whatever you think are the library version of dentists, podiatrists, nurses, and osteopathic doctors. Instead, they're remaining paraprofessionals.

Further, people's interactions with the health care system, speaking from a United States' perspective, often aren't with doctors. Much more face time for patients comes from nurses and technicians. For the far majority of people, a doctor, or a dentist, comes into a room for a brief period of time, compared to a much longer one with a non-doctor.

These non-doctors are as important to the health care system in the United States as the doctors. In some places more so. And so it is for paraprofessionals working in library and information science.

Again, the MLIS
is a "union card" for many jobs. 
socializes you into the discipline.   
offers you some theory that informs our practices.    
provides a cohort, which might prove useful in many ways.    
helps you get the word "librarian" into your job title.   
signals that you are very interested in librarianship, so interested that you might go into debt for it.  
gives you GLAM career options and helps you narrow them.

Elsewhere on this site, not linked above:
Making Masters of Library and Information Science Programs More Rigorous
Who's a Librarian?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Who's a Librarian?

A librarian is someone who works in a library, provided a library is a collection of information that is organized in some systematic fashion. The collection can be physical. The collection can be digital. Do you teach people how to use that collection, or help them use it? Congratulations! You're a librarian.

"You get a librarian! And you get a librarian!" via Gifsoup.

"Bu bu but," you stammer, "I don't have 'the degree!'" That's okay. Librarianship is a mindset. You work in a library? You help people, either directly or indirectly? You're a librarian. 

You hold a PhD, but no Masters of Library and Information Science, and work in a library? You're a librarian.

Plenty of people with "the degree" consider themselves "alt-ac," too, including the author of this post, who got through comps, defended a prospectus, and took a long, hard look at the job market for political scientists, deciding to go right back into librarianship.

You have the degree? A Masters of Library and Information Science?
And you want to work with information? Even if you are unemployed or under-employed in another field? 
You worked with information, but are in another field now? 
Congrats! Even if you are now a consultant, or work for a vendor. You're also all librarians. (Even if I use that designation reluctantly because you tell me how to run a library even though you haven't worked in one in years.)

You teach librarians, either in MLIS or PhD programs or elsewhere? You are a librarian. 

You have the word "librarian" in your job title? You are a librarian.

Even if you are a journalist friend/political connection of/to the Governor of California who appointed you to be the state librarian because he wanted to reward that relationship. So congrats to Greg Lucas, former reporter and political blogger, the next State Librarian of California.

Per the Los Angeles Times, Lucas will be taking LIS classes at San Jose State University, in part because California requires that the person holding this position “shall be a technically trained librarian.”

Let's welcome Lucas into the fold, fellow librarians, as we've done for Dan Cohen at the Digital Public Library of America, as we've done for Daniel Boorstin at the Library of Congress.* He's going to need a lot of help.

Do you have an MLIS, but don't use it? You might not be a librarian. Why? Because while the MLIS is nice, it's neither sufficient nor necessary to be a librarian. But it does help.
It socializes you into the discipline.  
It offers you some theory that informs our practices.  
It provides a cohort, which might prove useful in many ways.  
It helps you get the word "librarian" into your job title. 
It signals that you are very interested in librarianship, so interested that you might go into debt for it. 
And hey, we employers and hiring managers often ask for it as a requirement as opposed to a preferred qualification.


* Why yes, all these people who don't hold MLISs and are in important positions in librarianship are white males. Isn't that "interesting?" Thanks for noticing.

UPDATE: A follow-up post, Credentialing and Devaluation: More on 'Who's a Librarian?'