Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Value of the LIS Degree

If you're a librarian in the U.S., likely you got pulled into the conversation started by Library Journal on the value of the MLIS degree (Master's degree in Library & Information Science).  This week, I'm involved in two follow-up conversations on that topic, which are available online.

First, Matthew Gunby - a recent MLIS graduate - and I wrote a joint blog post entitled "A Conversation on The Value of the LIS Degree."  Matthew and I recognize that this conversation has many sides to it, and we tried to select a "side" that we thought brought up some different ideas.

Second, Steve Thomas (Circulating Ideas) and LitTech's Emily Thompson and Addie Matteson had a conversation on this with Dave Lankes and I.  That conversation is becoming two different podcasts: one for Circulating Ideas and the other for LitTech. (In total, less than 60 minutes.)

The MLIS degree is a professional degree, accredited by the American Library Association. Doctors, lawyers, and journalists all receive professional degrees, so librarians are in good company.  It is a degree that aims to educate a person's first day in a professional position and ensure that person can stay relevant throughout his/her career.  While a person will likely need to engage in ongoing professional development, the MLIS should provide a base on which additional knowledge and capabilities can be built.

ConfusionRelevancy - When I graduated with my MLS degree, my first job was in IT and not in a library.  Still the work I had done for my library school professors was what got me hired.  When I moved out of IT and became the head of a corporate library - and yes, that was my first professional library position - my classwork became immediately relevant.  Some became even more relevant when I became a digitization consultant and was dealing with ideas around information storage and access.  While others have been confused about the relevance of their MLS/MLIS degree, I have never been.  I could always see its impact on my life, even when I wasn't working in a library.

Yes, I've attended a great deal of professional development over the years, which has built upon what I learned in school.  I have figured that librarians never stop learning and, those that I hang out with seem to believe that it is true.  Getting the MLS, didn't make me think I knew it all, and heading a corporate library proved that was so.  And the fact that I did professional development didn't make me think any less of my degree.  Those workshops and conferences just added to my web of knowledge.

One hard part for me is looking at every LIS student and saying "this is relevant", when they don't see the relevancy yet.  It is also hard to look at an LIS professional and tell that person that the degree was worth getting, when the person hasn't fully seen its relevance yet.  For me, the keyword is "yet."  I don't know when the "yet" will occur for each person.  And I fear that some will never recognize the "yet" when it does occur.  They may see the degree's relevance in others, but not in themselves. They don't see that everything they do is different because of the knowledge that the degree gave them.  What they see instead is the cost of getting the degree both in time and money, and not its benefit on their lives.

Job vs. Passion - Bence Oliver, who spoke at the SU iSchool graduation convocation this last weekend, told the graduates to not get a job. Instead he asked that they follow their passion.  He recognized that obtaining a degree takes time and money.  He wondered, though, why anyone would waste that effort on just doing a job. Why not apply all that you have learned towards doing what you love?  We might see this as being unrealistic because there are bills to pay, including student loans.  However, as I listened to him, I wondered if what is missing from the MLIS discussion is indeed passion?  Did the degree help you follow your passion? If yes, then Oliver would say it was worthwhile.

A Never Ending Conversation - The one thing that I know is that this conversation about the value of the MLIS will never end.  Next year, some journal will write an article that will prompt it all over again.  What I hope is different next year is that some people consider how what they have learned has changed them and how that change has impacted their lives.  If even a few can focus on that, then the conversation will be a bit better.

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