Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
MissMoneyJenny

Why do MLS/MLIS programs have such a bad rep?

Recommended Posts

I've been exploring the idea of Library and Information Sciences as a graduate program for about a month now (prior to this I didn't even consider looking into what it might be, focusing more on staying within the same field as my undergrad) and although the program websites have good things to say about their degrees, many blogs and magazine articles seem to be under the impression it's a pretty useless thing to go for. I'm just curious as to why, because from what I can gather from program websites, and personal research into potential careers afterwards, it seems like a pretty good thing to get into and just as competitive for grad school as most other programs.

I'm looking at graduate studies in Canada only, if that makes any difference.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A lot of it is that it's really hard to find a full-time professional library job in the US (not as sure about Canada) right now. Taking out a massive amount of loans for a degree you may not ever get to use is generally looked upon as a dumb idea. Also, for every really good, high quality MLS and MLIS programs there is a program (especially online programs not associated with a brick and mortar school) that don't adequately prepare their students for the reality of working in a modern library. Lots of programs emphasize outdated theory while not giving their students the support they need to gain the practical experience and soft skills they need to land a job. The job market is flooded by under prepared MLS holders who think that their love of books and really expensive piece of paper is enough to land them a job. Further, most people don't understand what goes on behind the scenes of a library and question the requirement of a masters degree. It doesn't help that many librarians are all too happy to fill paraprofessional positions in order to feed themselves, effectively devaluing their education and worth.

In a lot fewer words, the economy sucks and bad programs give the entire field a bad name.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've also heard the courses are generally not very exciting. You're learning about libraries, so it might be hard to make that sexy. As far as jobs go, there have been no openings at the county libraries in my area since I've been keeping track (about four months). There are however over a dozen openings for school media specialists, which is the job I plan to pursue.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After talking with the subject librarian at my undergrad institution, I heard that there are a number of programs in Canada that aren't up to the caliber of the others. As well, we have a bit of a hiring glut here too. Feel free to pm me for specifics!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After talking with the subject librarian at my undergrad institution, I heard that there are a number of programs in Canada that aren't up to the caliber of the others. As well, we have a bit of a hiring glut here too. Feel free to pm me for specifics!

There's only 7 schools in Canada which have Library and Information studies Masters programs, all of which are at reputable universities, top universities of the country even, so I'm curious about your statement about them not being up to caliber.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps I used the wrong wording. What I meant to say was that some are considered more likely to prepare you for the library science market today. The ones I know of are UBC, Alberta, Dalhousie, Western, and Toronto. I believe there's also two at McGill and Ottawa that may or may not be bilingual, but I'm not even sure about their existence.

I was told by the librarian mentioned above that two of them prepare you very well (Western exceptionally well given its paid co-op option, Alberta as well but without paid co-op) but that one at a school that you wouldn't expect (Toronto) does not give you adequate preparation. Basically their "library science program" is really just a specialization in Information Science which, acccording to the librarian that I spoke with, can hinder your chances of employment in a specifically library field. She also mentioned that students of the program recently have said that Toronto is stating plans of changing the program, but she wasn't sure if that would help things or make them worse because she didn't know what these changes are expected to be. She didn't know too much about the other strictly English ones. I haven't done any research on Dalhousie, but I've looked at UBC and they have some interesting program options. This librarian did state that some of the programs are getting somewhat dated in their approaches given how digital everything is become, but she didn't specify which ones. Again, this is just one person's opinion though; I'm sure there's been many success stories out of Toronto.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I hope it doesn't sound like I intend to badmouth schools or programs. Like I said, I just wanted to pass this along as the opinion of one person in the field in response to lydibird's comment that "for every really good, high quality MLS and MLIS programs there is a program (especially online programs not associated with a brick and mortar school) that don't adequately prepare their students for the reality of working in a modern library. Lots of programs emphasize outdated theory while not giving their students the support they need to gain the practical experience and soft skills they need to land a job." I have a lot of respect for all of the institutions mentioned but was just hoping to relay some of what I've heard that might explain the bad reputation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for all the information AmandaC. It's unfortunate that this kind of information is really only available from word of mouth, I'd really like to know about these things before I consider applying. Only so much information is available from the schools themselves.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Differences between schools: cost (i.e. Dalhousie is very expensive), theoritical vs. practical training (not sure which school is which, sorry).

Does it matter? Yes and no. I went to McGill and found a lot of busy work and some useful courses. It's more like an introduction to running a library. The real learning comes from actually working in that environment. I suggest you get part-time work in the field you're interested in, whether it's a library or archive or whatever.

It's very hard to compare library schools. Time and time again I hear people saying to compare cost of the programs, as the end result (the MLIS) is comparable. Good luck to you!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are around 450 new MLIS grads every year in Canada. Do you think there are that many new jobs? I don't. Also, avoid Dalhousie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I strongly considered doing an MLS (in the States) for a long time. I worked at my college library and loved it and I wanted the chance to continue my work. Ultimately (and after some great advice from my boss), I decided that the MLS degree at this point in time was a too specialized for me and the jobs I could get. As my boss said, an MLS degree gets you a library job, and that's about it, and it's even harder if you specialize with archives, YA lit, etc.

 

My research led me to believe that a lot of people who might be MLS candidates are feeling the same way.  I don't think it's necessarily that the programs themselves have a terrible reputation. The MLS is, broadly and currently speaking, an overly specific degree that needs to update itself in order to accomodate the changing needs of library/information science (though MIS fares better). Furthermore, since the MLS is the entry-level degree requirement, that exacerbates the funneling effect.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are around 450 new MLIS grads every year in Canada. Do you think there are that many new jobs? I don't. Also, avoid Dalhousie.

Why avoid Dalhousie?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've heard there's a substantially better chance of employment in archives than more traditional libraries (as most of the people who come out of MLIS programs did the library specialization), but maybe that's just my neck of the woods.
I do agree with the posters who stated that experience is everything; I'm working as an assistant archivist this summer, and am learning invaluable info about my province's archival database and the digitization of records.

As a sidenote, I worked at a library in small town Western Canada three summers ago. There were only three certified librarians, but they had all been hired within the past 18 months. I think maybe the MLIS is similar to a lot of other things in that if you're willing to move, and move to the periphery for at least a bit where competition for positions diminishes, your employment opportunities increase. I think a lot of (MLIS) grads want to stay in the big cities they studied in, and that's not always advantageous to finding a job.

Edited by legroschat

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

IMO, its the money. Without a decade of experience in a library, the money to be made sucks. I got into the program for the IT side which is a little more lucrative if you actually want to go that direction. In the end i'd have done just as well (if not better) getting an IT certification.

Edited by socioholic

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm currently finishing up my MSLIS. These are reasons I seemed to see are as follows.

 

Some people think that the library's only librarian is found at the reference desk (or perhaps one at reference, one in children's). They assume the rest of the work is done by people without specialized schooling. This is not the case, though there is a worrying tendency amongst today's libraries to hire outside the pool of MLS grads. In some cases, this is normal--for instance, at the library I worked at in high school, the circulation desk was not manned by librarians, because the work was largely rote. However, a lot more people see the circulation desk than see, say, technical services, so they get the impression that the people at circulation are the only people in the library.

 

Going along with this is the fact that many people think that what librarians do is not very complicated. This is both true and false. Some of what librarians do isn't complicated. A lot of it, however, is more complicated than it looks. For instance, what seems to be a simple children's program actually requires a lot of thought and coordination; it's not unlike some aspects of an elementary school teacher's job. People in LIS programs aren't just learning the Dewey Decimal System; they're learning about all the different things a library has to do to function as a member of a larger community. They focus on community engagement, and emerging technologies, and problems of access, and a bunch of other things. These things can sometimes be critical:

 

As an example: your library is running out room because both the laws of time and space and your budget are completely inflexible. What do you do? Stop buying new books? Cull your existing collection? If so, using what criteria. Recently, a local library decided to cull their collection simply by discarding books that hadn't been checked out in a year. This resulted in all of the books on some subjects being discarded, which was Not A Good Thing and got some media attention. A good LIS program will teach students how to approach these problems.

 

Additionally, a lot of people assume that an LIS degree only qualifies you to work in a public library. They forget about corporate libraries, legal libraries (which often require a JD as well), museums, and academic libraries. They also forget about the IS part of LIS, so they don't think about things like web archives, data management, digital collections, data analytics (some places offer this), and other not-library places. This is my particular frustration; people will ask me about, say, library-centric taxonomies, and I have to tell them that I don't know, but I'd be happy to manage their database/do semantic analysis/prepare metadata on digital objects.

 

Finally--and this is potentially the most controversial one--librarianship is seen in a feminized light. As a result, it suffers from the same sort of devaluation that teachers and (increasingly less frequently, due to a crisis in numbers) nurses have dealt with for decades. Gender roles aside, it's also frequently seen as a labor of love, something that's romanticized and that everyone who really loves reading is somehow immediately qualified for. And, you know, since you love it, you obviously don't need special training or decent pay, right? Going to school for it seems to be viewed as somehow indulgent and wasteful as a result. 

 

All of that aside, there do exist people whose entire thought process is as follows:

 

"I have/will be getting a XXX degree. It's not that useful. But I really love reading and books. I know; I'll go to library school! Then I can read books and be around books all day and people will pay me and it will be awesome!" I was that person when I left undergrad, and it would've been a terrible idea for me to go for my MSLIS at that point. All I would've been doing is taking that option because I didn't know what else to do. That's a terrible reason to go to graduate school. That applies to all fields, mind, but the lack of direction is especially obvious when it occurs in this case. 

 

A love of books is great--and most people seem to have that; I mean, I'm not even in the "book" part of LIS, and I love books--but that's about 1/100th of what you need. The people who seem to really thrive in the LIS program here are the ones who are driven to engage on a community level, the ones who not only embrace but spearhead change, and the ones who have library experience and are looking to deepen what they're already doing at work. The people who don't fit those criteria...they don't seem to work out as well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I completely agree with Betafish.

 

My degree will not have Library in the title. It's an MS in Info. Sci. from an ALA accredited school which means I can apply for librarian positions but it also allows me to apply for more tech positions as well. I've worked in academic libraries for 8 years which is why I'm getting my degree. I have the experience but can't move up in the world without it. I don't hate books but I also don't spend a bunch of time reading them either (which may seem odd to all those people who go into the profession because they LOVE books and reading).

Basically, look at the program and really think about what it will do for you. There are a lot of positions that aren't library related. It's important to look into them. If you're just interested in information science and not in working at a library then there are non-ALA accredited programs that do Info Sci (Berkeley is one). The school I attend is a part of the iSchool consortium along with Berkeley, Syracuse, and a handful of other schools in the US and Europe which is why I chose it out of a bunch of other programs. Full-time online, btw, is in not as easy as people make it think. There are easy classes and there are those that will make you curl in a ball and cry. It just depends on what you're doing. Also, in online classes where they have an on-campus cohort they often give you extra busy work since you don't f2f class time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.