Monthly Archives: August 2013

An Age Old Argument in Library School: Impacting Academic and Public Librarians Differently

Traditionally there have been two major streams in library education, the public library stream and the academic library stream (although, of course, this is a simplification!).

The philosophies and approaches employed by librarians once they enter the workforce in each respective workplace are different – and I am starting to wonder if the acculturation process occurring in library schools could -in part- be detrimental to public librarians?

In library school, librarians are taught by individuals entrenched in academia. Many of the faculty have PhDs and have little working history in public libraries. Because of this environment, these individuals spend a great deal of time and effort teaching students the importance of  ‘professionalization’ and legitimization of librarianship as a profession.  Does this impact the way that librarians working in university settings see themselves?

Because university libraries are set in the environment of academia (where a lot of importance is placed on status – e.g. publications and impact factors) – this may impact how librarians working in academic libraries see themselves or perceive they are viewed by others.  Most individuals who work as librarians in a university are considered faculty.  While for collective bargaining purposes both a PhD and non-PhD are treated fairly equally, they may not be perceived equally amongst peers because they lack a PhD.  As a result, it is extremely important for academic librarians to take on a ‘professional persona’ to ensure that they continue to be perceived as relevant and of similar status in academic settings.

In addition, because the perception of librarianship is still so stereotyped and limited (book-stampers and ssh! leap to mind!), there is also a tendency for some librarians to desire that this ‘persona’ has more ‘weight’ – to be, for example, seen as highly technical (and exclusive).

I am now starting to wonder – if the same ‘persona’ of ‘professional librarian’ is applied in the public library setting, can it actually lead to the creation of barriers between public librarians and their primary user group, members of the general public?  Due to the process of acculturation librarians learn in library school, public librarians can fall into the trap of continuing to be the creators of programs, services and collections – with little or no input throughout the entire service-planning process from the community.

A remedy does exist, and it can be addressed through community-led/needs based approaches – making public libraries more relevant to communities.  Are library schools up to this challenge?

What should a library degree look like?  Should related experience be equivalent in terms of required qualifications, especially given the many barriers community members (especially people from diverse groups and different social classes) face trying to acquire an MLIS?

What are your thoughts?

~ Thanks to John for input into this posting / Ken

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