To Degree or Not to Degree? The Librarian Credentials Debate

I imagine most readers are somewhat familiar with the current debate about credentials needed or preferred for ALA’s executive director (ED) position. ALA members can (and should) cast their votes on this important issue between March 12 and April 4 of this year. This credential question is a huge philosophical thinking point, but it also feels a little like the debate about what makes a librarian–a degree or experience?

According to various opinions online, there are definitely two camps: those who believe you aren’t a librarian without a specific degree and those who feel job experience in a library can legitimize a claim to the librarian title. On the surface, this seems to be an issue only for public librarians, but I think it’s relevant to school librarians as well. Despite research consistently showing the benefits of a having certified school librarians in schools, a belief persists that almost anyone with some training can serve as a librarian. The certified part of the equation is usually overlooked.

If we consider various combinations of job experience and degrees enough to be considered a librarian, then where does that leave school librarian advocacy? Are we just advocating for school libraries to exist with or without school librarians? According to this Book Riot post and this Medium post, the MLS degree shouldn’t be required to advance in the field. Neither post mentions school librarians or CAEP accredited degrees, but as a school librarian, I’m concerned about public perception and the potential ripple effect of this stance.

I may be a Henny Penny here, but I hear “You need a Master’s degree for this job?” on a somewhat regular basis. Will my answer to the question be “not in a public library” and eventually just “no.” If public libraries don’t require certified librarians, why should schools? In much of what I’ve been reading online, school librarians aren’t mentioned nor are potential consequences for school librarians. Why is that? In my experience school librarians face this issue as well, and we have a stake in the outcome of this issue too.

I support inclusive efforts, but I think the problem could be better addressed by providing equitable access to higher education and creating pathways for more minorities to become librarians. I also have to wonder if there’s an underlying link between the perceived value of certified librarians, the fact women make up approximately 80% of the profession, and the perception of women’s work.

Do you think certification requirements to be a librarian should be relaxed in either public, school, or both? Are librarians unfairly excluding people from the field, or placing the appropriate amount of value on library science education and work?

I think the ALA ED issue and the degree v/s experience issues are in the same building, but on different floors. I’m not sure I feel the same about each issue. I’m still reading, talking, and listening, because my decisions on these issues may impact the future of the library profession. 

 

Author: Mica Johnson

I’m a school librarian at Farragut Middle. I like the lib to be loud, messy, and full of student activity. I love tech stuff as much as I love books, and I’m part of an awesome rotating maker space.



Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

Tags: , , ,

18 replies

  1. Speaking as a Library Technician at a District that has no Teacher Librarians or librarians with a Masters in Library Sciences, please push for Librarians with Masters and get that language in laws. I started in Libraries as a parent volunteer in elementary schools with no paid staff at all and it shows in our kids.

  2. In WV schools you no longer need a degree to be a school librarian, while many classrooms teachers have moved into these positions and done a wonderful job, l would still like to see degreed people in the position or people work toward degrees. I didn’t realize the same debate was going on in the public sector. The other side is would we better off with the libraries closed because of a lack of certified people? Most of the librarians I work with without library degrees are passionate and have work hard to become knowledgeable in the field. If my choice is no libraries or people looking at alternatives ways to become trained I will go with – libraries open with alternatives training. I do have a Masters in school library.

  3. I have worked in both public and school libraries and see inconsistencies in both. When I worked in a large public library system, I was hired on the basis of my MSLS (requirement). However, there was another “librarian” in the system with no formal library degree (undergrad or grad), who was awarded “Librarian of the Year.” (And she had no plans of going back to school and get that MSLS). She was actually making more money than me because she had held the position of “librarian” longer than me, causing me to wonder why I wasted my time and money on the MSLS.
    I am currently a school librarian and am required to have not only a teacher license, but one with endorsement in school library/media and a Master’s in Library Science. (This is not a state requirement, but a division one. Actually, right now, state legislators are trying to pass a bill to eliminate school librarian positions, but that’s another issue.) Half of the schools in my district have no librarians, but there are plenty of teachers who would like these jobs and would be willing to work towards the certification, etc. while serving as a school librarian, and I think they would do a good job, but HR says “no.” They will, however, hire anyone with a pulse and a degree in Math or English to teach (without a license).
    I think school librarians should have some sort of endorsement/certification or degree in library/media. I don’t feel it needs to be a master’s degree, though. If I decided to change careers and teach art or French, I would be required to have the necessary certification/endorsement or degree. I also think it is OK to allow people with a bachelor’s or master’s in library science to take on school librarian positions, provided they work toward the licensure/certification requirements. I know some excellent public and college librarians who were interested in this, but they backed off upon learning they would have to quit their current jobs to go back to school to get that education degree/license.
    To sum it up, I feel public library and school systems need to be consistent in deciding what constitutes a “librarian” and compensate them accordingly!

  4. If librarianship is to be considered a profession, then we need to have standards and credentials – regardless of the type of library. Just as with doctors and lawyers, professional ethics should guide us when dealing with issues of patron privacy, resisting censorship – including self-censorship, inclusivity in all its many forms etc. Without a professional framework, all these become individual choices made by people with whatever training or experience, including none, that they may happen to bring to the table. I learned a lot in the process of getting my degree and continue to learn because it is required to keep my certification. My degree means something.

    If professional training is too burdensome for those seeking to work in the field, it is up to the profession to create the pathways that will lead to increasing the number of certified people. We are never going to make more money or get more respect if we keep insisting that anyone of good will who spends enough time in libraries can do our jobs. There are probably plenty of legal secretaries and physician’s assistants out there who know the law or medicine as well as doctors and lawyers but we still make the distinction.

  5. What I’ve found while getting my MLIS is that there was so much I didn’t know before I started this degree. I taught before, so I have some necessary skills already. However, things like collection development and new tech options and storytelling skills and advocating for intellectual freedom and correctly handling challenged or banned books? Nope, no clue. Now I know to whom I ought to turn if I don’t know an answer. Now I understand what’s important as my collection grows/gets weeded. Now I realize the importance of our 1A rights and how this relates to the kids we see.

    Having said that, I fully agree that higher ed options should be easier to attain and an emphasis should be placed on bringing more POC and men into the field.

    Bottom line: Yes to MLIS, and let’s make it an option for anyone who wants to work for it.

  6. In many states, to be a professional in a public library, that “license” to practice is a master’s degree from an ALA accredited program. However, in very sparsely populated states, the requirement to have a “licensed” librarian running the public library is covered by size of population, and if the population served is under a figure (perhaps 10,000), the city is not required to have a “licensed” librarian running the public library.

    School librarians have a license to practice and it is established state by state. In California, that credential/license is a part of the teacher accreditation through the Council of Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). AASL’s presence in CAEP means that that the ALA accredited program at San Jose State University covers the state credential for a teacher librarian because their School of Education does the CAEP review. Other states have passed laws that allow the credential to be granted to persons who take a test to become accredited.

    But then school districts are sometimes considering that they need a business manager as superintendent, someone who can use a business model to make things happen. One supposes that is what is happening with some of the leaders in ALA. However, I would trust someone who has run a library to run ALA, especially someone who has some sense of people and not selling products since I am a member of ALA and not a product and the students I served in my elementary school and taught in my LIS program are people and not products and they serve people first and, in doing that, the product of access to information is available to all..

  7. A degree helps me feel more secure in my job as a school librarian. Without needing a certification, they could just put whichever teacher “needs a job” in the spot.

  8. Certainly, our LIbrarians should walk their own talk of being lifelong learners and so qualifications may be seen as part of this. However, in schools, we are also Teachers and so some of our qualifications may be in educational areas that support our multifaceted role. Personally, I have multiple qualifications; 3 Masters degrees, 2 Graduate Diplomas, 2 Tertiary Certificates and my initial Diploma in Teaching. My Libary qualification is not at Masters Level. Does this make me less qualified to provide leadership? I think not as one of my Masters degree is in Educational Leadership. Does it reduce my ability to support the development of Literacy and Literature- I think not as one Masters degree, one Graduate Diploma and my initial Diploma focus on these areas. Does it limit my ability to support advanced learning- I think not as I have a tertiary qualification in Gifted and Talented Education. I have been teaching for 36 years and been a teacher-librarian for over 10. All the while balancing my life as mother, wife and carer.

    Surely, the question is not whether we have a predetermined qualification, but what do we bring to the position, both in terms of qualifications and experience. Surely, we do not want to miss the opportunity to draw on the best talents we can acquire to advance our profession and provide it with quality leadership.

  9. I understand that these dynamics may be specific to school libraries in particular–you don’t want to have *no* form of credentialing–but how does the discussion change, if it does, when you consider that academic libraries often have non-MLIS’d staff working happily (and in my opinion, legitimately) as librarians, usually with another master’s or Ph.D. replacing the MLIS? (Full disclosure, I am one of those people, with a master’s and a Ph.D. candidacy in my relevant subject specialty. I don’t have an MLIS, but I identify with the profession and am a dues-paying member of ALA.) Perhaps what you want is still some form of credentialing, but an expanded notion of what that credentialing might consist of, which gives you some flexibility in light of a given applicant’s relevant skill sets and talents.

  10. Tomorrow I will visit my accountant, where he will critique the bookkeeping and the form filing that I have done for my family business throughout the year. He will acknowledge my hard work, and ask me questions so that he can best complete the complicated tax forms. If I take those tax forms, and then use them as a template to complete the ones for next year, if I read my butt off to understand tax law, can I call myself a CPA? There is more to a professional label than the work of the occupation.

    You can work in a library and do librarian duties, but still you are not a librarian without the credential. As mentioned previously, this is the same in any profession — doctors, lawyers, architects. Without requiring a degree, we are relegating our work as a vocation, not a profession, and perhaps this is where we are going to end up. As a degreed and certified school librarian, I’ve seen lots of people doing library work on campuses — student aides, paraprofessionals with high school degrees, retired teachers, volunteers. While officially they may be known as ” library assistants,” “library instructional support,” “library aides,” “FUNbrarians,” most end up being named by patrons as “librarians.” I don’t think the title of Librarian should be earned through the work, no matter what type of library we are talking back. I think the credential has to mean something beyond the tasks that people see being performed in the space.

    Some of this “cheapening” of the title we have brought upon ourselves — when we constantly reinvent our spaces with coffee bars, makerspaces, exercise spaces, recording studios (all legitimate activities within library spaces,) I’m afraid we reinforce the message of “anybody can do this stuff.” Much of the activity that we do out of public eye is more related to our credentialing, and this is part of the public misperception. Sadly, I believe our profession has discounted our roles as teachers, as collection developers, as catalogers (the stuff that not just anybody can do) while promoting the roles that are seen as necessary to reinventing our profession. I’m not saying we shouldn’t grow and expand, but when we discount what separated us as a profession in the first place, then we are doomed to being absorbed by other professions or other vocations. Large spaces with books where talented and skilled people without credentials are “doing the stuff,” should not be called libraries, and maybe that’s okay. And, those talented people shouldn’t be called librarians, and maybe that’s okay too. But as long as we have libra* in the names for our spaces and professionals, then we should require the credential, which has been established as the MLS.

    Anyone can join ALA, anyone can work on behalf of libraries, but there are certain roles that should be reserved for the credentialed professional,

  11. Corrected comment:

    Tomorrow I will visit my accountant, where he will critique the bookkeeping and the form filing that I have done for my family business throughout the year. He will acknowledge my hard work, and ask me questions so that he can best complete the complicated tax forms. If I take those tax forms, and then use them as a template to complete the ones for next year, if I read my butt off to understand tax law, can I call myself a CPA? There is more to a professional label than the work of the occupation.

    You can work in a library and do librarian duties, but still you are not a librarian without the credential. As mentioned previously, this is the same in any profession — doctors, lawyers, architects. Without requiring a degree, we are relegating our work as a vocation, not a profession, and perhaps this is where we are going to end up. As a degreed and certified school librarian, I’ve seen lots of people doing library work on campuses — student aides, paraprofessionals with high school degrees, retired teachers, volunteers. While officially they may be known as ” library assistants,” “library instructional support,” “library aides,” “FUNbrarians,” most end up being named by patrons as “librarians.” I don’t think the title of Librarian should be earned through the work, no matter what type of library we are talking about. I think the credential has to mean something beyond the tasks that people see being performed in the space.

    Some of this “cheapening” of the title we have brought upon ourselves — when we constantly reinvent our spaces with coffee bars, makerspaces, exercise spaces, recording studios (all legitimate activities within library spaces,) I’m afraid we reinforce the message of “anybody can do this stuff.” Much of the activity that we do out of public eye is more related to our credentialing, and this is part of the public misperception. Sadly, I believe our profession has discounted our roles as teachers, as collection developers, as catalogers (the stuff that not just anybody can do) while promoting the roles that are seen as necessary to reinventing our profession. I’m not saying we shouldn’t grow and expand, but when we discount what separated us as a profession in the first place, then we are doomed to being absorbed by other professions or other vocations. Large spaces with books where talented and skilled people without credentials are “doing the stuff,” should not be called libraries, and maybe that’s okay. And, those talented people shouldn’t be called librarians, and maybe that’s okay too. But as long as we have libra* in the names for our spaces and professionals, then we should require the credential, which has been established as the MLS.

    Anyone can join ALA, anyone can work on behalf of libraries, but there are certain roles that should be reserved for the credentialed professional.

  12. As someone with an MLIS degree that took 2 years and several thousand dollars while only working part-time while in school, I think it’s important to have a degree. Having said that, I would like to see a bachelor’s degree in library and information science being the necessary degree to get a public librarian job. The public librarian profession is low paying and paying off the student loan was a hardship.

  13. As a 33-year veteran school library media specialist, I believe that credentialing should be required. In my state, when I started, 24 hours of course work in library science, plus an additional 12 hours each in secondary education and elementary education, plus three years of experience as a licensed classroom teacher were required. Now the teaching experience requirement has been lifted, much to the dismay of most of us in the profession, and a master’s degree is required. Licensed library media specialists ARE professional educators and as the title states, specialists in our fields. We are highly trained, not only in collection building, both print and electronic, but also in the instruction of research. An untrained paraprofessional, simply cannot offer to our students what a licensed professional can.

  14. Great read, Mica! I don’t have an answer to your questions, but you post definitely gave me more things to think about. This debate is intense and the outcome/resolution could either help or hinder. That’s likely why I haven’t developed a hard stance for either side. I just want to point out you made me question why school librarians (in TN anyway) are required to have a master’s degree but teachers aren’t. Is it because most universities don’t offer LIS degrees in undergrad or the “prestige” of having a master’s degree? Regardless, as you mentioned, the requirement poses the issue of a lack of diversity in our field. I hope to soon advocate for better pathways to address that. In the meantime, I’ll still be pondering both sides of the degree or not to degree debate. Thanks for making it that much harder to choose. :-)

  15. After over 15 years as a library assistant and library technician, I decided that if I wanted to stay in this profession and earn a decent salary I needed to get my MLIS. Having the previous library experience in both public and academic libraries, I found that it augmented and enhanced my graduate work. The practical experience of working in technical services and circulation is invaluable and makes a huge difference in being well rounded. The MLIS added the professional dimension for me and the better salary.

  16. I agree with the article I have posted below. Librarians are always adjusting to new technology and a changing world. Why put ourselves in a box on this issue?

    https://www.petoskeynews.com/news/opinion/letters_to_editor/letter—-who-s-a-librarian/article_3c97cd12-2b24-5c86-b1aa-9a819dfcac5a.html

  17. It almost seems to have become human nature to want to categorize, compartmentalize, and classify people or things in just about every walk of life. We do it in our libraries too. We use DDC, LCC, CC, UDC, and some librarian’s shelve their collections by genre. The same holds true when we think about librarians. People who work in libraries are called librarians, library aides, library assistants, library media techs and so on. Some librarians have degrees and certifications and others have experience, but generally speaking we never know to what educational extent a librarian has gone.

    What truly matters in the end is that library staff is knowledgeable in order to best serve patrons and that patrons find the information or materials they are looking for. Yet, this is just a simplified, glossing over of what librarians do and what libraries are purposed for.

    Years on the job should not be overlooked or discounted. With the correct dispositions to be a librarian, and the proper training, one might be quite qualified to hold the title of librarian. However, when an individual enters academia to study library science they are demonstrating not only a desire to learn and earn a degree, they are becoming specialized in the field. Whether specializing in school librarianship, legal librarianship, medical librarianship, or academic librarianship, students who are being educated in the field are learning about the field in ways that experience can never know.

    As a credentialed school librarian with a MLIS, I oversee library aides who combined have nearly 130 years experience. Two library aides have four-year college degrees and all but two were under the tutelage of my predecessor who was on the job for 38 years. What I was faced with these aides was a sense of experience trumping education. Four years ago when I took the position of teacher librarian, not only was I required to earn a teacher librarian credential, but I was also greeted with pre-twenty-first century library management, outdated materials, and students who HATED the library. What my teacher librarian credential and further my MLIS afforded me was the ability to turn my library around, advocate for the libraries in my school district, and show the library aides in my district that experience does not necessarily trump education.

    I know my situation is not exclusive and I know it is just one example. However, I know that having a MLIS and a Teacher Librarian credential puts me in a better position to manage all of the libraries in the district, advocate for our libraries in a district that has an administration that shows little to no support for libraries, and to teach library aides, teachers, and students. At a high school of nearly 3000 students, we see nearly 300 students during lunch on a daily basis, which is a result of a simple change in the library culture.

    Most likely I will be paying my MLIS student loans long past my retirement, but never before have I had a more rewarding career. While I think there is merit with library folks with experience, there is nothing more valuable than a librarian who holds a MLIS.

  18. Thank you,Mica, for your article on the credentials debate from the perspective of school librarians. As noted in other comments, the requirements of the person filling the title of librarian in a school library varies considerable from state to state and even district to district within a state. This, in my experience, is magnified in independent (private or non-public), charter, special education (state of private), and special facility (e.g. juvenile justice system, medical facilities) schools. Hopefully, this will help our profession move towards a more consistent definition of a school librarian and their role in a learning environment and,eventually, consistent credentials, as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: