Changing Roles: Degreed Prototypes

Writing my last post, on changing roles of reference librarians, it occurred to me that I was topically in the same room as degree relevance and deprofessionalization. And while I generally try to stay away from that room, I felt compelled to acknowledge the presence of those looming subjects and apply them to changing and developing librarian roles.

In that last post, a commenter expressed a preference (in all caps) that altered reference positions be filled by librarians, as opposed to non-librarians. Well done. After all, libraries have a responsibility to information literacy, and we can only reasonably expect that responsibility to be fulfilled by librarians. Yet, while this may seem like a no-brainer to you and me, our libraries and our profession are constantly threatened by deprofessionalization, privatization, and a seeming litany of other problematic zations.

In discourse regarding evolving LIS roles, these topics surface almost invariably, and with good reason, particularly in the public sector where funds allocation is ruled by so many circumstances. And if Jeff Trzeciak’s recent presentation at McMaster University is indicative of anything, it’s that professional librarianship faces pressure and scrutiny not only from the outside. Whether the CS degree might obviate the MLIS, the paraprofessional might replace the librarian, or any number of anxieties related to the forced obsolescence of the degreed librarian, there are always concerns when we talk about librarian evolution.

While academic libraries are at the center of the McMaster brush fire, we’re all part of the same profession. As such, we continue to discuss and to adapt and create. The more I see of prototypical librarian roles, the more encouraged I am that public libraries have the right people in place to affect change. In my odd little world, professional librarian roles aren’t outsourced or pushed to non-LIS people. That’s to say nothing of veteran library staff without a library degree or self-avowed shambrarians. There are plenty of non-degreed people who’ve held down reference desks or whole libraries for 10 or 20 years without the “librarian” title. I’m concerned here with job descriptions–altered professional functions and developing positions.

And while the profession is flavored with people who question the necessity of a master’s program in library science, I find their arguments largely counterintuitive. New professional librarian roles should be performed by people who function with the unique perspective and particular knowledge base of the degreed librarian. Again, no matter the myriad services our institutions offer, at the end of the day, we’ve got to be sure we’re serving information literacy.

As expectations of libraries change, it’s natural that the expertise and functions of the degreed librarian will change synchronously. The MLIS is the minimal requirement and should be regarded as such. Its sustained relevance and its value to developing librarian positions is the onus of library school administrators. They’re smart people. I trust them.

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About Steven V. Kaszynski
librarian, editor, contributor

6 Responses to Changing Roles: Degreed Prototypes

  1. Chris D. says:

    Well put. People often get so scared that changing librarian jobs are going to mean nobody needs librarians anymore, when really the opposite is true. Sometimes I’ll see a job that doesn’t require and MLS but should. There are so many hands-on library jobs that require teaching and interaction, and you need a librarian who understands information literacy skills.

    • Thanks, Chris. I’ve seen a few of those job listings, too. I suspect some hiring managers don’t initially require an MLIS for some newer positions in order to attract an applicant base with a wider variety of skill sets. After all, a lot of those applicants probably come with library experience–possibly a great deal of experience. Still, I wonder whether, ultimately, the people selected for those positions are degreed librarians. Not everyone thinks like me, but I like to think the common preference among directors and management is to hire the library-schooled professionals.

      And I know what you mean about those interactive and instructional roles. I’ve lately been reevaluating my thoughts on community programming. I suspect that a lot of traditional programmers are now going to be involved in those community attache functions, whether creating content or any number of collaborative engagements.

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  4. Michael Cox says:

    The article was brought to me by Google via a search for non-degreed jobs, as I am in need of one, or two. It is compelling to me, the theme can only be described as classism. Do you need a degree to be a library supporter? While your intent might be a bit of protectionism, the protectionism is not through proactive promotion of the library itself, but of individuals whose primary claim is that by having paid for a certain education, you have been class elevated beyond others who may have spent a long time in libraries. I am personally a danger to none of you, but beware the likes of Pol Pot and that line of thinking that utterly rejects classism on the basis of either a specific, or random, paid program.

    • Thanks for reading and writing, Michael. I will say that any notion of classism here was inferred by the reader, rather than implied by the writer. On the contrary, I think I’ve been fairly clear about how I, as all librarians should, value experience and vision over requirement technicalities like degrees. Everything is measurable. Some of the finest librarians and educators today are librarians without the MLS calling card. “Do you need a degree to be a library supporter?” Well, no. But let’s not blur the line between “library supporter” and “library professional.” An editor, I grieve when any salient topic is clouded by semantics.

      Classism? No, sir. I’ve merely invoked what has been a fundamental tenet of the LIS profession for aeons–that there are positions in any library which may be of greatest benefit to the library and its community when occupied by a person with the perspective of one who has been through library school. Again, everything is measurable. But that perspective is the X factor. It can prove invaluable to the new librarian, the library, and the community, alike.

      Whereas you invoke Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, I’ll allude to a somewhat less-offensive insubordinate in Brian Setzer. While I can appreciate the obstinate claim that you “can’t learn nothin’ in school they don’t teach you on the street,” we all know that’s just a lot of youthful boloney.

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