So over the last two years I have seen increased discussion online at conferences and in classes (when I was still in school) about semi-professionals in libraries. Many librarians or people who are in the process of becoming MLIS/MLS accredited argue that semi-professionals are stealing jobs and cheapening our degree; at the same time they argue employers are looking for cheaper labour as budgets become tighter and funding is drying up. The other side of that coin is semi-professionals are arguing that MLIS grads are applying for semi-professional work that is making it hard for them to find work…blaming librarians for crowding in on their jobs. The problem is not that simple, but I would like to open up a discussion about it in 1000 words or less.
Focusing more on the librarian side of the coin. Over the years what used to be work done by librarians is now becoming (or has become) the area of work given to college Library Technician graduates. Many positions posted for cataloguing, reference work, circulation, etc. does not require a Master’s degree. This work was once the realm of master’s (or previously Bachelor’s) degree in Library Sciences. So because Library techs are now the “cheaper” option for many libraries they have taken on the grunt work of librarianship in the past, and are being trained to do it.
In Library School I had 1 semester class on reference services, and one semester class on cataloguing. That was it. I got one day (maybe 2 in a week) on each type of cataloguing: MArc 21, AACR2, Dewey, Library of Congress, etc. This compared to a friend of mine who went through the Library technician course whom recieved a class devoted to dewey, a class devoted to Library or Congress, etc. Full 8 week courses devoted to types of cataloguing. This is just one example of where the Library technician program was given ground work duties, compared to my MLIS.
So what do they teach in an MLIS? It really varies dependant on the program. My own program focused more on Technology, and management based skills. I took a reference class, I had a cataloguing class, I took some technology classes. The core classes focused on giving you the basics. So I learned how to generally do AACR2, Dewey, and Library of Congress. This was taught so that one day I would be able to oversee someone else doing it, and know what they were doing/offer assistance/training/guidance.
Probably the best courses I took were my Management course, which at the time I thought was a waste of time, issues in librarianship, and my Special Libraries course. All three focused on project management, team building, types of volunteers/employees and issues in real world librarianship. They were all basically priming us for middle management issues: how to deal with different demographics involving employees/volunteers, how to make a proposal to refresh/build a new library, are libraries neautral, etc.
It wasn’t just the way things were taught in school, but a few professors argued it was the future of librarianship. There was a meeting between faculty and students, this annual meeting allowed students to voice concerns or opinions on the program. Student concern was pretty central on the topic of practical skills. The response we got was one that we didn’t want to here. We basically got told that the landscape of librarianship was changing. The librarians of the past who stamped books, catalogued the magazines, and answered reference questions had gone the way of the card catalogue. We were told that the skills librarians needed were to act as middle managers for those people who chose to go the library technician route. Next question…
We weren’t too thrilled about that answer but it got me thinking. This allows librarians to move up in the theoretical corporate ladder in libraries. So instead of having a long chain that starts at Library Page and goes up to Library CEO, we start at middle management. This may be a dreamy eyed approach, as many others see it as cutthroat and driving wages down by allowing cheaper, less professionalized people do the work, but as I see it the wages were gonna go down regardless, as it has in all other professions as well. This allows Librarians to try to maintain some form of medium waged salary in a professional field that we love. Regardless of what you think of all this, the professors were right about one thing. It is the future of librarianship, whether you like it or not. You have just got to make the best of a not so great situation.