Why Hire Someone with a Master’s Degree in Library and/or Information Science?

Published: 02/04/04

A few days ago, I posted an inquiry from a colleague of mine looking for fodder to convince the mayor of Jacksonville that hiring degreed librarians is better than hiring “smart college grads.” Here are some of my thoughts about why a librarian/information professional who attended library/information science school is better than just a “smart college grad.”

By turning away from hiring degreed librarians, an employer risks opening himself up to hiring people who are not adequately prepared for the work. Some people think that all librarians do is read all day. They don’t realize the intricacies and skills involved in librarianship. Some people go into the field because they enjoy reading and think that’s all they need to do to be a good librarian. Library school teaches those people that librarianship is much more than just books and reading.

I learned a lot about how to deal with people in library school, in the sense of responding to an inquiry at the reference desk and by working on group projects or committees.

The degree program introduced me to numerous professional networks that have become important in my job.

I use things I learned in the courses every day, like searching skills from online reference, different ways to ask someone what she really needs from a reference course, how to add keywords to a database entry to make it retrievable through indexing, or developing a new tool to manage internal knowledge through a course about how people use information.

When I enrolled in library school, I had already worked part-time in three libraries for seven years. I learned a lot on the job–as everyone will–but there are some things I learned in class that I probably wouldn’t have learned on the job–like things that came out of frank discussions in class–and things I learned faster because I learned them during the course of my degree instead of waiting to figure them out on the job, like accessibility requirements for Web sites.

Library school also taught me many different aspects of librarianship because of the required courses. I was exposed to the basic philosophy of librarianship; cataloging; reference; how people find, use, and organize information; and managing a library in core courses. Knowing a little bit about all of these things makes me a better, more versatile librarian. I know how the pieces fit together for an optimal environment. Someone who begins working at a library without having gone to library school first misses some of this exposure and some of the connections. She may not realize that how a book is cataloged is important to the librarian at the reference desk. There’s also a chance someone could get pigeon-holed in a job without a degree and never learn more than what s/he’s doing in a certain position.

I also learned about all different kinds of librarianship in library school. I think it’s important for information professionals to know there are more than public, school, and academic libraries, even if someone is content to work in a public library for the next twenty-five years. Learning how we can all work together to benefit each other is important, too. And knowing that more people than just librarians work in a library is good, too.

Some people learn a lot of seemingly basic, common sense kinds of things in library school. I can’t tell you how many times I was in class with someone who suddenly had an “Aha!” moment over something that to others was common sense, like not everyone organizes material alphabetically or by subject or people won’t always ask for exactly what they want. I can’t imagine the quality of service some of these people would have provided to others had they not learned some of those basics in class.

Library school brought a variety of people with different levels of library experience together in a way I may never quite experience in my life again. I learned things from people who had been working in the field for fifteen years as well as people who only had theoretical concepts of information science with no practical experience and classmates who had no idea what real librarians do. (Several were very shocked to learn that librarianship involves much more than reading books all day.) I never would have had some of those conversations and exposure had I not pursued a library degree.

I had a really difficult time coming up with these reasons. I suppose that says a lot about what I think about my degree. I think I’ve written about my take on degreed librarians before, but I can’t find what I thought I wrote now (knowledge management, yeah yeah yeah). I can find what I wrote about making library school more interesting and a program for people with subject Ph.D.s to enter librarianship, but those aren’t what I thought I wrote … maybe I didn’t write it. And today is not the day for that. Would I do my degree again? Yes. Do I think that everyone who does librarian tasks in a library needs a degree? No. But I don’t think filling libraries with “smart college grads” is the best idea.

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