Karen Coombs responds to Ross Singer, re: requiring an MLS degree in library technology positions.

I’m torn on the issue, as an erstwhile systems analyst who went through library school primarily for letters after my name. I’ve seen both sides of the divide and have seen IT positions that might have benefited from the MLS – a particular non-MLS comes to mind who had no sense of which battles were winnable and ultimately wound up leaving – and also seen jobs with a totally unnecessary MLS requirement that accomplished little other than watering down the candidate pool.

If a position will need to interact with librarians or act in public services capacities, the MLS is very useful; folks from IT (or elsewhere in the extrabibliosphere) do not necessarily know our culture or our values – hell, they might not even speak our language. And there is something to be said for this sort of familiarity. Librarians hold the reins in libraries and if you can’t speak to their values in a language they understand, you are likely to spend much of your career tilting against windmills (and getting nowhere fast).

On the other hand, we librarian folk think that libraries are a hell of a lot more special than we actually are. Our needs are sometimes esoteric, but many times they are not, and so an MLS requirement probably does more harm than good. And too often “web librarian” and “systems librarian” are euphemisms for “underpaid IT workers.” Earning a master’s degree should not reduce your earning potential, and yet that is precisely what happens.

In summary, I guess my views align with Karen’s but I appreciate what Ross is adding to the dialogue (having experienced much of the same nonsense). We need more Rosses in library-land, and ought to treat them very well in order to keep them around. Library technologists are (read: “should be”) first-class citizens in libraries and will play an active if not vital role in our future, whether they have the MLS or not. We’d do well to keep that in mind.