I have sat back and read the various posts in many places about the “need” for the new executive director of the American Library Association (ALA) to have an “ALA-accredited Master’s Degree or a CAEP-accredited Master’s Degree with a specialty in school library media.” I have remained largely silent in those discussions. I’ve remained silent because I have already cast my vote in favor of making the degree a PREFERRED qualification, and didn’t think there was a need to state or reiterate my position publicly. I’ve also stayed silent because I am currently a member of the ALA Executive Board and I did not – do not – want what I say to appear to be a reflection of the views of the Board as a whole. I am speaking here as a member – as a LIFE MEMBER – of the American Library Association, and not as a Board member.
I earned my Master of Library
Science Service (MLS) from the then School of Communication, Information, and Library Science Studies at Rutgers University. The year after I completed the degree, the School added an “I” and began to offer the degree of Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS). They subsequently changed the name of the school to be the School of Communication and Information and more recently dropped the “L” from the degree and they now offer a Master of Information degree. I have to admit it sounds rather cool to be a “Master of Information” but I don’t know if they were really going for the “cool points” when that decision was made.
We are now at the tail end of the trend towards dropping the “L” from the names of schools that either once offered, or still offer, a “library degree”. Most have become schools of information science or information studies or some other combination of words that include “information” and not “library”. I’m not going to draw any conclusions from this fact, but will ask that you think about what it says about those who have made a commitment – arguably – to educating the next generation of librarians, or should I say information professionals?
But the discussion of the schools may only be tangential to the ALA Executive Director degree requirement. Although the changes at the schools are possibly a reflection of what is happening in libraries – certainly what I see happening in academic and research libraries, with which I am most familiar. The work that we are doing continues to evolve and often requires skill sets and educational backgrounds different from those typically conveyed in a “library” school. In some sense, I applaud the schools for realizing the need to change. We certainly recognize that shift in some libraries and have begun to hire staff that have the appropriate mix of experience and education that is likely to lead to success in the positions – even if that education does not include an MLIS. And hiring these people does not devalue the MLIS as we will continue to hire MLS-holders where it is appropriate; it is merely a recognition that for some positions, we need something other than the MLIS. If someone with an MLIS ALSO has the other skills and education, then great for them, as they become (potentially) even more marketable (i.e. qualified).
The question I will address here, however, is does the ALA Executive Director need to hold an MLS? I don’t think so. I do believe that the executive director needs to have a grounding in the issues that libraries face and those for which we advocate on behalf of our users and our communities. And they need to be a strong leader. I might even say they need to be a strong association leader. That’s it. period (well, there are all the qualities that come with being a leader, etc.).
The position is one of leadership. Some have argued that we need to have MLIS-holders running our libraries and therefore need to have an MLIS-holder running our association. They have drawn comparisons to the fact that the Library of Congress now has (finally) an MLIS-holder as its Librarian. To them, I say YES. I could argue (even if I don’t completely agree) that the LIBRARY director (of whatever library) should have the library degree. The ALA Executive Director, however, will not be leading a LIBRARY; he or she will be leading an ASSOCIATION. And, by the way, the association has a library that is managed by a librarian. Association Executives come from many fields of study. The person could have an MBA, a JD, a BA, or any other academic credential. We do want someone who understands and has led membership organizations, who understands and can speak about library issues, and who can advocate for libraries and library workers. There are people who do just that who do not have an MLIS.
Yet others argue that the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association are headed, respectively, by a doctor and a lawyer. Furthermore, as the body that accredits the degree in that profession, it would be an anathema to have the accrediting agency (in this case, ALA – as the appointing body of the Committee on Accreditation) be headed by someone who doesn’t hold the very degree that we accredit. It is certainly true that the directors of these two associations (and probably others) hold the degree that the body accredits.
I thought it worth examining the accreditation standards for those organizations, as well as those of the American Library Association’s Committee on Accreditation. Again, I believe it necessary to remind readers that I am not writing this as a member of the ALA Executive Board, but rather as a member of the Association.
The standards for accreditation set by the American Medical Association’s Liaison Committee on Medical Education and the Curriculum Standards [PDF] (Standard 303) of the American Bar Association describe a core set of prescribed educational outcomes that are required for one to earn the respective degrees in these fields. And one also has to continue their education and professional growth to remain certified in these professions. Not so in our profession!
The standards for the American Library Association [PDF] seem not to have a similar core set of educational outcomes. I question, therefore, what makes a librarian a librarian if the body that accredits the members of this profession does not define a core set of knowledge that is required to be considered a member of the profession? In examining the requirements for the degree at several schools there isn’t even a standard for the number of credit hours required for the degree. For example (and I admittedly only looked at
five six of the nationally ranked programs):
- Syracuse: 36 credits
- San Jose: 43 credits
- Florida State: 36 credits
- Michigan: 48 credits
- Rutgers: 36 credits
- Drexel: 45 credits [added to the list by request, 12/6/17]
I’ve provided links for anyone interested in examining the curricular requirements (such as they are) at these schools. With this seeming disparity, I now ask, what makes a librarian a librarian if there is no common set of required knowledge? And without a response to that question, why should we have someone with an ALA-accredited degree (which can vary in scope and content) to lead the Association?