Friday, March 9, 2012

Making Masters of Library and Information Science Programs More Rigorous

Ahhh, library school: so easy to get into, and even easier to get out of. If you're like me, you were surprised to find out that some library science programs actually do reject half, or more, of the people who apply. I started, but did not finish, the application process at one MLIS program and was still invited to enroll within two weeks of the fall semester, and have heard similar tales from other librarians, so I expressed my disbelief via Twitter, per usual.

What we have to work from when making admissions decisions: 
  • Academic transcripts (pre-winnowed because of the minimum-GPA requirement)
  • A résumé
  • An application essay
  • Three recommendation letters

I understand and respect the Loon's position on the admissions process (better her than me reading all those essays), but am curious as to why we, as librarians, as members of the American Library Association, can't affect some measure of change on the graduation process. That is, once in, let's make it harder to get out of. There are a few ways of going about this.
  • Comprehensive exams: Some MLIS programs already do this, and hypocritical me, I avoided applying to those that have these as a requirement, having already suffered through comps in a political science program, a process that left me feeling a strange combination of never smarter thanks to all the reading and analysis, yet also never dumber thanks to a laser-like focus on the discipline. But what if every program had these as a requirement? The exams could take place at the end of the first year, or the semester before one graduates. The ALA could even play nanny state and mandate core content on exams.
  • Theses: Again, some programs require theses as well, but what if they all did. Force librarians to come up with a research topic, execute it, and then maybe even publish it (open access, please). 
  • The Loon, above, mentions the role of job placement stats on MLIS programs. I'd like her to expand on this. As I understand it, job placement data could play a role in ALA accreditation, and publicizing this data on the ALA website could drive potential librarians towards the programs that are more rigorous. This would increase rejections at some programs, but overall the field of librarianship would be better for it.
  • Got more? Please share them in the comments, or on Twitter. 
    • UPDATE, 3:45PM on 3/9/12: Thank you, Eric, for an excellent comment that fits into this category. 
Not only would these measures weed out people in MLIS programs, they might make prospective applicants think twice about applying in the first place.

Why do this? There are two reasons. First, I want better librarians. I want academic and law librarians to have a better idea of what goes on in academia and law schools (theses, comps, research, and the like). I want school media specialists and children's librarians to know more about early-childhood education and educational psychology. I want reference librarians to be as familiar as possible with research. You get the idea. Second, I want librarianship to be more respected as a career. That doesn't happen without more rigor in MLIS programs. While the costs of changing admissions policies might be beyond the pale, the costs of changing the curriculum of MLIS programs are not.


  1. Jake, I wholeheartedly agree that MLIS programs need to be more rigorous. I think the letters of recommendations are a good idea. Also, improving the quality of instruction is very important, too, though that's tough to quantify or regulate, as the discussion about NCLB has shown. Having a good teacher makes a 3-hour class go by MUCH faster.

  2. More rigorous? Yes, please. Tests & theses? Absolutely not.

    The "theory vs. praxis" debate is ongoing & will never be settled in LIS, as in every other pre-professional graduate degree (e.g. law is another good example). I despise the idea of making librarians who do not want to become research librarians write academic papers. Those of us with humanities & social science degrees already suffered through this once & we do not need a reminder. I loved LIS school most when the outcome was a project: I weeded an actual collection in Collection Development, I redesigned an actual website in Web Design, I answered real reference questions for the IPL in Reference. Those are successful & rigorous assignments, if done right.

    And tests? LOL. We're educators. We should know that they're weak forms of assessment. There's no reason to favor abstractions when the concrete is plenty difficult as is.

    End rant.
    One of the many librarians who doesn't have to publish research if s/he doesn't want to

    1. There's nothing that says an MLS thesis can't be an applied thesis, written as a report on a project like those you described, but yes, written as a paper to ensure that MLS graduates can put together a detailed, well-crafted report of what they accomplished. (EdD dissertations are often applied dissertations, which I think the MLS could use as a good model.) While librarians may not all need to write research papers as professionals, even public and children's librarians could use a bit of training in how to think up a way to improve a service/library, carry it out with a nod to acknowledged methodology, and report it out, whether it be as preparation to answer to a board or to write a grant to expand on a pilot project.

  3. Interesting, and I agree with many of your points here. I learned a lot in my MLIS program, but I don't think it was nearly as rigorous as it should have been. My grades were excellent; my level of effort was fairly low.

    I particularly liked your point about school media specialists learning more about pedagogy. When I graduated from my program, I knew how to catalog a book and discuss equitable access to information. You know what I didn't know how to do? Teach a kid. That I learned through trial and error and a whole lot of tearing my hair out. I only took one class that even touched on it, and unfortunately my program allowed no electives at all-all students in the School Library Media track took the same twelve classes, at least two of which involved skills that I have not used at all.

  4. Interesting post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for posting.