What Makes a Librarian

In a post aptly titled Librarian – Just a Title over at Library Stuff, Steven M. Cohen discussed how he learned a lesson that one doesn’t have to have an MLS to be a librarian. In many ways, it doesn’t seem as if this should have been such a revelation. However, it isn’t a sentiment with which everyone who holds an MLS agrees. It is difficult to hold a professional librarian position without an MLS. This I can speak to from experience. Often times, people who hold an MLS find it very difficult to accept ones without an MLS in professional librarian positions. I can certainly understand – and even sympathize – with their point of view. They worked hard to get their degree, many have spent a good deal of money for it and worked hard to get their job. I’m sure there are many other reasons as well. Regardless of being able to understand their point of view, it is an attitude with which it is often very difficult to deal. Often when you meet librarians at conferences, workshops, etc., they ask right away where you work, what you do and inevitably where did you get your MLS. When you mention that you don’t have an MLS, they often ask why, are you thinking of getting it, you should consider going to such and such. There are even some that really do not want to deal with you once they discover that you do not possess the degree. Fortunately, I have only encountered this attitude a couple of times (and really look forward to not ever having to deal with it again when I complete my degree).

Sadly, people with this attitude are missing the fact that the best person for the job is the best person for the job regardless of educational attainment or experience. In my case, somebody (who has an MLS) thought I was the right person for my current job despite my lack of MLS. I can’t or shouldn’t allow others to undermine my belief that I am good at my job or that I deserve it. I try and remind myself of this when I do encounter people that question my abilities or right to my job. I think it is important to note that such questioning can come from both sides of the MLS divide. Library staff members who have paraprofessional jobs (and do not have MLS degrees) can also be critical – sometimes even more so than those with degrees. This can make me fell as if I don’t always fit in on either side of the divide. It is a tremendously difficult position to be in. Do I call myself a librarian or not? My current title is Head of Library Systems rather than Systems Librarian in order to subtlety convey that I do not possess an MLS. When I meet people casually, I tell them that I am a librarian. People outside of libraries don’t care about such idiosyncratic distinctions. However when dealing with people who work in or around libraries, I am careful to note that “No, I am not technically a librarian.” Admittedly, I will be happy when I complete my degree and won’t have to worry about such technicalities anymore.

Having said all that, this is not specifically the reason that I am going to graduate school to get my MLS. I don’t personally believe that the degree itself will make me a better librarian, but I do believe that the process of learning and being engaged about learning will. Something I intend to continue beyond my current stint in graduate school. Ultimately, I am too young to not get my degree. I have found my calling in life and want to continue working in library systems. One never knows what life will bring. I don’t think it would be wise to assume that I will work in my current job for the next 30 odd years until I retire. If I didn’t get my degree, I think I would be doing myself a great disservice. And that is the bottom line, I’m going to graduate school for myself not because the degree will make me a librarian.

7/29/06 Update: Nicole Engard from What I Learned Today chimes in on the issue. I particularly like Nicole’s take because we are in somewhat similar circumstances.

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One Response to What Makes a Librarian

  1. smatthew says:

    All this make sense Jennifer. I’ve never regretted getting my MLS, and I think you’ll find that when you graduate there are a lot of open doors for your skill set (systems/librarianship). Enjoying the experience is extremely important in my books.

    You’ll have to let me know if you change your perspective once you’ve graduated, about how the degree is related to the profession. For me, it was only after I’d been working a few years that I realized how much the degree helped my daily practice.

    Good luck,
    Steve

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