Is the Library degree the best use of your resources? Imagine what else you could do with that time and money

12 Feb

Edit:  Despite my clarifications, people are still misinterpreting my original post as a proposed ‘solution’ to the problem of the Library degree, so I’ve rewritten this to stop that happening.


To embark upon a Library Masters in 2014 is a huge undertaking. Assuming you do it part-time, whilst working to support yourself, you’ll spend between ten and eighteen thousand pounds over two years, along with, at a conservative estimate, 1500 hours of your time.[1]

The question is, does the Library degree really represent the best use of this investment?

What if you were to spend the same amount of time and money on a self-structured curriculum of study, events, conferences, training, and building an online portfolio, whilst continuing to work in an information role. Would you not emerge as a more rounded, knowledgeable, and relevant information professional?

I think you would. If someone were to try it, the results would certainly be interesting. This is not, however, a solution to the problem.

The problem with the Library degree

I have many issues with the MA/Msc in Library & Information Management (or similar) as it currently stands, in the UK. For the record, I completed mine, via distance learning, in 2009. It was fine, I didn’t hate it, it wasn’t a bad degree in any way. My views on the degree are based on my own experience, and based on talking to others – I realise they may not be universal complaints. But here are the main ones anyway:

1)    Much of the content of the courses does not seem relevant to actually being an information professional

2)    There is one degree that is supposed to cover, in one year of full-time study, all aspects and types of librarianship, including public, academic and special librarianship (not to mention the myriad other potential careers under the information umbrella). As far as I can tell these disciplines are very different from each other

3)    Many of the courses contain modules they contained 10 years ago, despite the information world having undergone seismic shift in that time. Anything you learn on a library degree is likely to be out of date in two to five years anyway

4)    Having completed a Masters in another discipline prior to getting my Library one, I did not find the latter to be postgraduate in nature. It was just like a very short undergraduate course

5)    The piece of paper at the end – the degree certificate which allows you to apply for higher graded jobs for which a qualification is an ‘essential’ on the person spec – seems far more important than what you learn on the course itself

6)    The difference between a ‘qualified’ librarian and an ‘unqualified’ one is very rarely the qualification. It’s more often that the unqualified librarian’s circumstances are such that they have been unable to do the degree, rather than that they are in any way a lesser librarian

7)    The process by which CILIP accredits degrees and the institutions which offer them does not seem to be in any way rigorous, based on the experiences of colleagues who have attended certain institutions…

8)    To add insult to the injury of the points above, there are many more qualified librarians than there are posts for qualified librarians – meaning that in my own institution alone there are several very talented new professionals who have gone to the time and expense of getting the degree, but who are nevertheless in the same roles they were in whilst they studied

Most importantly, the degree is so expensive that it is actively excluding people from good jobs – we are putting a financial price on progress in our profession, and for what? A degree that isn’t particularly relevant or, in some cases, even particularly enjoyable to complete. I don’t think it’s acceptable that we’re all of us complicit in such a flawed system. Employers, students, CILIP, people like me who recognised the issues but did the Masters anyway just to get the piece of paper – we’re all part of the problem with the Library degree.

If you are going to create a professional environment in which a ten thousand pound degree is necessary to earn more than £25,000 a year, then the degree itself needs to be a LOT more meaningful than it is at present.

What do we do about it?

If it were up to me, I’d do two things:

A) re-design the Masters to be a Problem Based Learning (PBL) degree, which would allow a much closer connection between study and the reality of library work, and

B) issue some kind of nation-wide edict forcing all hiring library managers to give proper value to the second half of the sentence ‘Library qualification or equivalent experience’ which appears on so many job specs.

There are actually a pleasingly high number of hiring managers who do ‘B’ already, although it’s not that wide-spread. But ‘A’ is a lot trickier.

I am writing (or was writing – we’ll get there eventually!) an article with Alan Carbery about rethinking the degree as PBL. I find PBL incredibly difficult to explain succinctly – basically it’s student centered learning, that is used in a lot of Medical Schools around the UK (including the one in my own institution). It’s really very different from the traditional HE pedagogy. Here’s an excerpt from what the BMJ has to say about it (read the whole page here)

In problem based learning (PBL) students use “triggers” from the problem case or scenario to define their own learning objectives. Subsequently they do independent, self directed study before returning to the group to discuss and refine their acquired knowledge. Thus, PBL is not about problem solving per se, but rather it uses appropriate problems to increase knowledge and understanding. The process is clearly defined, and the several variations that exist all follow a similar series of steps.

It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does. Students absolutely love it. At my University it is also used, with great success, by the Law School, and it is their approach specifically that I’d like to see emulated with libraries. Here’s what the Law School has to say about it:

You and your colleagues decide how your firm operates and determine how to divide up the work.  Through the process you will build working relationships with each other and learn how to deliver on your responsibilities.

For each case you will identify the legal principles involved in the problem and unravel the legal and contextual issues that lie at the heart of it, which will typically involve more than one area of law. All of the problems will be simulated real-life examples brought to you by virtual clients.

In many situations you will have to interact with other student firms, sometimes working alongside them, sometimes in opposition.

For me this notion of operating in firms with real-life examples is key. Based on UCAS applications etc the Law School tailors each firm to suit the personalities and talents of the people involved.

Imagine arriving at Library School and being divided up into Libraries, and then given real-life, pertinent, and up to date examples of problems Libraries face. You’d work cooperatively with your peers (and in the era of constant-contact media, Google hangouts etc, distance-learning shouldn’t prohibit this) and deal with things which you really will have to deal with when working in a qualified library post. Issues around web-design and social media, around marketing and communications, around copyright, data protection and FOI, around managing budgets in difficult economic circumstances, around whatever is relevant and important, year on year. It’s not just that it allows Library Schools to cover contemporary issues, it’s the manner in which it is taught, which seems to relate more directly to the real world. Here’s another quote, from the Law School’s guide to students on their use of PBL:

The key role of the problem is to trigger your awareness that these issues exist, and create an interest in them by highlighting their real-world ramifications. Once this has happened, the problem then gives you a context which you can use to identify exactly what you need to learn in order to understand the problem and address the issues which it raises.

This, to me, sounds like the kind of approach which has the potential to produce Library Masters graduates who are significantly more qualified, aware, relevant and prepared, for the real-life world of libraries. In fact it’s a bit like what we all do with our CPD anyhow.

Clearly this would be a massive shift in how things are done. Any library school attempting to implement this would have to completely scrap the existing degree and build a new one from the ground up. But I’d argue that needs to happen anyway; perhaps a new teaching method would add much needed impetus and inspiration.

I’d be interested if anyone reading this who is familiar with PBL, or with teaching on current Masters courses, has a view on this! Is it the kind of thing we could realistically do?

[1] You are notionally expected to spend 100 hours of study per 10 credits on the Masters – assuming you do the dissertation as well, there are 180 credits in the degree, so the total figure is 1,800 hours. I don’t believe anyone has ever spent 225 full 8-hour days studying for a Library Masters, so I reduced it to 1,500 hours, although that still seems fairly fanciful.



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  • @lettylib February 12, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    I don’t disagree but at the same time you are sort of assuming that while doing a library degree these students are in some sort of alternative World. While doing the degree they will be “Reading books and articles, writing papers” which could become articles. They can also be building their online profile. Let’s face it lots of people doing the degree are also working so gaining that experience at the same time.

  • thewikiman February 12, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    Hi Lyn, yes, I think working at the same time would be essential via either path. I wasn’t assuming people didn’t read books when doing their Library degrees, just making the point that this would also be done via a self-structured curriculum too – the point is to emerge qualified, in the true sense of the word, to be in the information profession.

  • Megan Roberts February 12, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    I came at it in a slightly different way, although I’ve come out with similar conclusions! I did my degree as an undergraduate. I did the degree because I worked part-time in a library and knew I could do it better; even when I was studying I knew a lot of what we were looking at was outdated and wouldn’t be hugely relevant in the ‘real world’ but learning it did give me a view of what I didn’t want to do!

    I think it would also be great if the degree courses offered more dynamic content, more up-to-date issues and more ‘real world’ solutions and support for what the students are most likely to end up doing – or want to end up doing. Wouldn’t it be amazing if they actually offered students a course that did what you’re suggesting they do themselves?

    Some people there did want to be the traditional librarian, the stereotype to full extent – but I realised quite quickly I was more interested in the research/online/information management side of things.

    I went in wanting to learn how to do it better – they taught me how to do it the same and I came out wanting to do something else entirely!

  • thewikiman February 12, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    Megan, I agree, the ideal solution would be for the MA / MSc to actually do what I’m suggesting!

    Alan Carbery and I have a long-term plan to write an article about a proposed PBL (Problem Based Learning) Library degree, which would, if done right, go a long way to making things better, we think.

  • @RosieHare February 12, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Before I say anything, I completely agree with the notion of being complicit in a broken system and I have been whinging for over a year about how I am dissatisfied with the content of my distance learning MSc.

    However, I can’t help but feel like the challenge to new professionals of coming up with their own library degree comes across as you metaphorically climbing to the top of the tree house and then cutting down the rope ladder and telling people to figure out how to get up there without it. I know you don’t necessarily mean it to come across in this way, but I could understand if some people were a bit put out by your comments.

    I agree with @lettylib above, that library school is often something people are doing alongside working or writing/researching/building their online profile and the skills they are learning simultaneously all add to their employability.

    I would argue that what you suggest is entirely possible, but in order that we do not de-professionalize ourselves, we need the support of the information and library community to create an alternative and I think that the paradigm shift would take longer than a lot of us would like. Then again, if a lot of ‘us’ who are within the first 5-10 years of our careers end up becoming directors of service, in any number of different sectors, then it is us who has the power over requirements in person specifications etc. and the power to decide what we want in the staff we hire.

    When looking for jobs, I have noticed some that aren’t necessarily library based but do require a lot of the same skills and they merely specify ‘relevant professional qualification’ and the old favourite: ‘relevant professional experience’. I’ve even seem some professional posts where having the qualification is only a ‘desirable’ requirement, and if it just specifies a ‘professional qualification’ that could be any number of different things and not necessarily a library and information MSc.

    I can’t speak for other sectors definitively, but having spoken to senior leaders in the academic library field, they have stated that having the MSc shows commitment to professional development and demonstrates that you have experience of studying at postgraduate level, as there can be a culture of academics not seeing you as their ‘equal’ in university libraries. BUT, they have also said that having the MSc alone would not necessarily get you a job, it would have to be supplemented with professional experience and relevant examples of CPD etc. I also don’t see why you couldn’t have a MA or MSc in another subject and have a wealth of library or information experience, rather than a postgraduate qualification in LIS. I have come across people in academic library roles who have done this, and have chartered since they have been in their role. I do think for academic library jobs (like yours, Ned), you need to have been educated to postgraduate level, but I don’t agree that it HAS to be in a library or information MSc. This is just my opinion. I don’t think you could help master’s and research students effectively enough if you didn’t have enough of an understanding of studying at that level. As these roles change and adapt over time, though, perhaps subject specific knowledge will not be as important and professional experience (and the willingness to undertake further professional training or courses) without postgraduate qualifications would suffice.

    This is such an interesting debate though, and something I’ve been mulling over for a while now. I would happily get involved with fellow professionals in devising an ‘alternative’ qualification and working alongside CILIP and other relevant organisations to make this happen. However, I am also very aware that there are a lot of competing agendas here and the kind of entrenched traditions and beliefs that can take decades to change. What happens to the people working in the academic departments at places like UCL, Sheffield and RGU? (to name only a few). Can we work with CILIP and these institutions to satisfy the needs of the profession? I think it would be an enourmous task and simply saying that new professionals should do their own thing to get all of the equivalent CPD and experience required to get professional posts is just not good enough. I’m willing to work alongside anyone willing to challenge the current system, but I do think that we need a ‘system’, otherwise we might as well just give up on the idea of the ‘library and information profession’ and just have us as ‘people who work in the library’ just like you would have ‘people working in Tesco’ (No offence to those in the retail profession). I’ll end this comment there, I could waffle on all day about this subject!

  • thewikiman February 12, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    Rosie, it’s not really a suggestion for redesigning the way new professionals getting to the top. It’s a suggestion that one person tries something different, because there’s not much to lose with the Masters and the job market the way it is. The rope ladder is still there.

    I suppress my feelings about the Library Masters about 75% of the time, precisely because I don’t want to put people out – or rather I don’t want to discourage people who’ve gone to the time and effort of doing one.

    For me the biggest issue with librarianship is the need for the internal dialogue about it to match the external one. In other words, because we’re fighting cuts and community libraries staffed by non-professionals, we can’t discuss the value of the degree which makes us ‘professional’ without undermining that. Both sides of the argument are valid. Personally, I don’t think a librarian with a degree is professional and one without isn’t.

    This is aimed at someone actually about to make the choice to spend over ten grand and countless hours over 2 years to get the Masters, rather than a suggestion of how the profession should do things differently.

  • Claire Sewell February 12, 2014 at 6:28 PM

    Interesting post Ned. I would argue that you can do both – complete a library course and carry out some solid and worthwhile CPD. Is it hard work? Yes, but then the profession can be hard work with lots of demands on your time so it’s good preparation for that. I completed my course last February and the bulk of my CPD activities were done during the time I was studying (and working). I’m not holding myself up as any kind of shining example, I’m just saying that it’s possible to do both.

    I think that the qualification is worthwhile, even if it’s only a means to an end. Maybe I have a slight bias in that the jobs I’ve applied for have always required a degree (whether they state this explicitly or not) so I decided it was better to do one than not. I think the course needs to be tackled with the right attitude. If you go into it thinking it’s something you HAVE to do then chances are you won’t get much out of it. If you decide to pursue a qualification then I would say go into it with an open mind and take what you can from it, for example developing a supportive network of people who will be at the same stage of their careers as you.

    Having said that I do agree that some of the degree courses need a serious overhaul. The profession is changing drastically and course content needs to keep up. Maybe, as suggested on Twitter, MOOCs are one way forward? Chartership has been a good experience for me but I agree that it’s not for everyone. I was once told that the degree is the theory and the Chartership (or other CPD) is the practical. Maybe this is still true or maybe we need a bit more of a combination of the two?

    Anyway, thanks for the Twitter discussions and this post. It’s got me, and a lot of other people, thinking which is never a bad thing!

  • thewikiman February 12, 2014 at 6:29 PM

    Claire, I’d argue you have to do both. No one is going to get a job because they have the Masters – they’re just going to get an interview because they can tick the box on the form. No one has ever asked a single question about my degree in any interview, why would they? It’s an irrelevant piece of paper. They ask me about my experience and ideas. So you HAVE to work, and pursue CPD in a very big way, to stand a chance of any half-decent job, whether you have the Masters or not.

    The qualification IS worthwhile as a means to an end, certainly. It’s just a massive shame this is the case, when the degree is like it is now. It doesn’t even feel postgraduate, as I’ve pointed out before.

  • Michael. February 13, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    There were two things I found really valuable from my degree.
    1. Exploring areas, and looking at topics that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Perhaps because they didn’t look interesting, or perhaps, even, because I hadn’t even heard of them.
    2. Feedback on assignments.

    Two other things that were also useful, but less so, where interaction (including within group assignments) with other students and access to academic journals, otherwise potentially difficult or expensive (I read many many articles that I wouldn’t have paid $20 (or even $10) for, but that I found valuable).

    Overall, point 1 is a big reason that degrees are valued (I suspect). I’ve read a number of comments by various people regarding computing and programming. People who do a degree generally come out with a broader understanding, compared to those who don’t.

    And certified degrees, demonstrate that you have definitely studied the areas that (the particularly certifying organisation, representing) the industry values.

    Of course, I am quite sure that there are some people who could easily study in many different areas, not just library related, and obtained the knowledge that they could have got from a degree.

    And many universities offer the ability to “test out” of a particular subject, if you have the knowledge, they’ll recognise it. So if you do go down the route of studying on your own, you might still be able to end up with a degree at the end of it anyway.

  • thewikiman February 13, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    Hey Michael,

    I am not anti-degree, just this degree… I agree with both your points. I found doing my previous degree and previous Masters hugely valuable, not for vocational reasons but for all the other stuff.

  • Ed Chamberlain February 13, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    Lots to agree with here, and it feels like such a sensible solution I’m wondering if someone would give it a go. I’m certianly one of those who would look at the ‘or equivalent’ very closely. In terms of e-resources management, I’ve often found those outside of the routine career track can pick up issues and work far quicker that traditional LIS graduates.

    One caveat, you would possibly run the risk of self-selecting areas that interest you and ignoring other aspects that would make you a better rounded professional. Some guidance / mentoring would be valuable here to avoid this trap. The same could be said of LIS module choice as well.

    By proxy, this approach could affect continuing professional development and thus the professional organisations that underpin it.

    The LIS degree is all but dead and the full time masters on the slide (witness end of Loughborough LIS) Very few can afford the fees on anything other than a part time basis.

    I can see the concept of the profession as it traditionally stands eroding further, as we adopt the trappings of other areas of expertise to continue to procide relevant services (online publishing, data management, user experience). If we are to have a proffessional development structure at all, it needs to be flexible to incoporate all of this.

  • Carolin Schneider February 13, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    CILIP’s Professional Knowledge and Skills Base comes to mind. To use this could be an attempt to structure an alternative path, I think, and give anyone ideas about which areas they want to concentrate on (or not). When I started out in the UK I wasn’t aware of ACLIP and it was never really clear that you could attempt the MCLIP without a Masters degree (extraordinary route – does it still exist?) – I think CILIP could be leading on re-inventing qualifications and recognition, and I hope that’s not just wishful thinking.

  • Niamh February 13, 2014 at 8:59 AM

    I know others have pointed this out on Twitter, but Chartership is theoretically a vehicle for providing recognition for this kind of approach to qualification. It doesn’t resolve the problem of employers who don’t look further than the academic qualifications bit, but I certainly take a closer look if I see recent ACLIP/MCLIP/revalidation and definitely if I ever was lucky enough to see recent FCLIP (not likely because of the level I recruit at) regardless of whether or not the individual also has a library qualification. MCLIP from 20 years ago with no further evidence of development? Not interested, but then I’d say the same of a degree from 20 years ago with no further evidence of development.

    Ed makes an excellent point about requiring mentoring to ensure that the result is well-rounded, but again, the PKSB plus Chartership structure could facilitate that.

  • thewikiman February 13, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    Ed, yes I agree with your caveat. I would DEFINITELY fall into that trap.

  • Lizz February 13, 2014 at 12:17 PM

    Actually, I feel quite strongly that the material I learnt in my Masters has directly contributed to what I am doing now. I’m atypical in having approached the Masters while being Chartered (via the ACLIP route) and with 10 years of experience in different libraries under my belt. I looked very closely at the modules available in the course I chose and even the one I took because nothing else appealed is directly relevant to what I am doing now. I think there is a much bigger danger of a Masters being irrelevant if you aren’t sure that everything you are learning will contribute to your career, and actually the CILIP Professional Registration approach whereby you assess the areas of your work that are below the standard needed for progression and then make a plan to develop those areas is needed before starting any programme of CPD, whether or not it’s a Masters degree. Going into a Masters “cold” seems quite unwise unless you have money to burn, whereas treating it like any other part of CPD seems like a more sensible route. I think only one or two of the courses available met my needs at the time I was choosing, and I think that, more than anything, was why I found one I couldn’t be happier about having done. It was a lot of work and a lot of money and it was worth every penny.

  • thewikiman February 13, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    Lizz, that’s excellent – I’d be much happier of the system worked as it should, and it sounds like it did you for, which is brilliant.

  • Andrew February 13, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    I fell into the trap Ed mentions on my LIS degree anyway!

    Had I the money, the support, and the guts to go an alternative route to the MA, I would probably now take a series of short courses (I think some universities allow you to take postgraduate modules in isolation this way), training opportunities, MOOCs and autodidact stuff instead. As it is, I’m “qualified” but can readily identify huge skills and knowledge gaps that would hinder my ability to cross sectors, move into different roles, or jump ship from libraries if I needed to. I’m having to teach myself a lot of IT skills and what’s seen as basic understanding in a lot of jobs because what I was taught on the LIS degree was too basic. And there were other areas of the degree that ultimately turned out to be too theoretical and lacking practical exercises or application beyond imaginary scenarios – with collection management, and with e-resources in particular, it feels like I took a driving theory test and then got asked to drive a bus without having had any lessons.

  • Rosie Hare February 13, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    I completely agree with Andrew on the point about IT. I thought I might learn at least a bit about web design and how to manage the back-end of LMSs and e-resources and stuff like that, but that hasn’t happened. Our module on information retrieval was talking about using databases in such a way that probably went out of fashion in the early 2000s as the databases are now so sophisticated, you don’t need to know how to use bizarre searching language.

    It is one of the things I have already, and will continue, to feed back to the staff at the institution I’m studying. In a way it saddens me that this has happened to the LIS degrees but in a way I can’t but help feel a bit like the academic departments have let it happen by not keeping their courses up to date enough.

  • Andrew February 13, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    Agreed, Rosie – I found information retrieval quite lacking on my course too, though it was delivered by a guest lecturer. That was another case of disconnect between the classroom and what I would now teach and recommend to library users (and I say this as someone who works with people who do need to use complicated search strategies – it still doesn’t connect with what we were taught!).

    We were lucky to be taught some web design, though it was rather basic and I’ve never used it professionally. I doubt HTML and CSS would set me apart from any other candidate, and in roles where they are highly applicable I’d likely have to supplement them with additional skills.

    I can’t whinge endlessly and reject responsibility entirely though – we did have an elective module available on the more tech-minded side of databases and I didn’t take it. Huge regret! I don’t think the information profession is dying (obviously), but it is changing a lot and the people who come out happiest and most flexible are the ones with the widest range of interchangeable skills. It’s something I don’t think my LIS course was tackling (other than occasional lip service to “this is changing and I hope you’re prepared”), though like I said, it was a mistake I was complicit in too. People mention the vast array of roles those of us with LIS degrees can take on, but I feel completely clueless on this front as my library school experience was myopically trying to prepare me for the present (recent past?) when it should should have been preparing me for the future. My mistake and theirs, but I’d say it put me more out of pocket.

  • Tina Reynolds February 13, 2014 at 2:22 PM

    I think that this is a really difficult as I do think you could get an awful lot of what a library MA covers through this route but I really doubt anyone would.

    As people have mentioned above, it is really easy to pick the bits that are directly relevant or interesting rather than getting a broad view of the profession as a whole.

    If I had been left to my own devices, I would have avoided many of the topics which were the most valuable in my MA.

    I’m not arguing that the MA doesn’t need improvement because it really does but I think that people working in their own little niche with little awareness of how other people do things seems likely to be the outcome of this.

  • thewikiman February 13, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    There IS no likely outcome of this, Tina. It is not an actual thing which librarians all over the country will now be attempting, it’s an idea which will generate some debate then be forgotten about.

  • Erika Delbecque February 13, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    Ned, I think your post has stirred up an interesting debate that we do need to be having as these courses get more and more expensive and jobs more and more elusive. I have also criticised the value of library courses online, perhaps in terms that were too harsh, and have been discouraged by some of the responses I received, but at the end of the day this is a vital issue for the profession and it is imporant to know what other people’s opinions are. Anything you post online is bound to be misunderstood by some!

    Like other people said in their comments, I don’t think the library profession is dying – I have only worked in academic libraries, but I feel that if anything there is a greater need for people who can manage online information, educate users in navigating their way to the information they need, supporting researchers in managing data, know about copyright, freedom of information, Open Access etc. The skill set may have changed, but our core mission hasn’t: we still connect users to the information they need, and make that information accessible to them.

    That being said, I fully agree with you that the current library courses (I am generalising here, I only have direct experience of one course, of course) do not adequatly prepare students for the future of librarianship at all. Instead of stimulating, challenging and inspiring, I found my course for the most part to be conservative, irrelevant and pitched at a level that was much too low for postgraduate students. We are the future leaders in this field – we need to be radical, flexible, and able to think outside of the box. My course did little to encourage this mindset, and did not provide us with the skill set that is so desparately needed. I have found conferences and courses to often be much more relevant, but it is difficult to come up with a coherent program in this way. although I have found chartership to be very valuable for my professional development. Nevertheless, with the cost of PG degrees nowadays, I do not know if even with a complete overhaul of the content continuing the current system would be a viable option for the profession. I would favour a structured combination of training, short courses and CPD overseen by CILIP, based on the chartership model, but of course we would run the risk of devaluing and deprofessionalising librarianship in the long run.

  • Rosie Hare February 13, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    I completely agree with your suggestions about combining training, courses and CPD Erika and I do think such a thing, if implemented properly and accredited by CILIP would not deprofessionalise us, as it would just be a different way of becoming qualified.

    My concern is that university departments that are still getting student numbers would not agree with changing things and what happens to the lecturers if we decide to abolish the postgrad courses entirely? CILIP can’t afford to hire them all. It’s a tricky one.

  • Natasha Chowdory February 14, 2014 at 6:35 AM

    Hi Ned :)
    I will be the first to say that my course consistently disappoints me. Everyday actually. I am not doing particularly well on my course – I’m pulling in a C average at the moment. Bear in mind that I’ve already done a Masters and an undergrad and have a very very good idea of how the academic game is played (yes, it is a game).

    Before I get into the the ‘create your own course’ debate, I think the traditional idea of ‘librarianship’ is dying mainly because it doesn’t encompass the needs of users and developments of information today. Librarians today are in essence a little bit of everything and I’m constantly shocked that my course doesn’t seem to pay any attention to the ‘customer service’ aspect of what it means to work in a library. Because that’s what it is. It’s a bit ‘businessy’ but sadly true. To echo I work in a private technical library so a lot of things about public libraries tend to go over my head – but although my course is called ‘Information and Library Studies’ it may as well be called ‘How to work in a public library’. My course is poorly planned, ill-taught (HA!) and although I’m doing pretty badly (likely because I can’t read or something) it doesn’t stretch me academically. At all.

    I’m not sure if it’s the nature of the profession i.e. we should be doing on the job training. All I know is that reading notes on out-dated organizational models doesn’t a librarian make.

    I would be in favour of students curating their own courses and tailoring MOOCS and their own training to their own careers. If chefs, bakers and electricians can do it, why not librarians? Basic training and then apprenticeships to get ‘on the job training’. Academic LIS has morphed into most social sciences in that it’s dogmatic and not open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. I say this because I have consistently made comments about big data storage, and general shifts in the way people view privacy only to be ignored by my tutors. Pretty much daily. I accept that I’m not epically brilliant, but equally I know my ideas have some merit (I wouldn’t have been hired into an Assistant position if that were the case). For some reason LIS studies don’t have modules on database design, or basic financial management or web design, or anything you need to be a manager. Instead they focus on near-obsolete areas that in about 3 years no employer is going to ask me about.

    Thing is, I don’t blame universities, they are not famed for going above and beyond for the creation of their courses (my £2,695/year doesn’t pay for that right?) and I don’t expect much from tutors that are not expected to undergo any sort of teacher training. Heaven forbid! I do however, expect stricter parameters for judgement from CILIP. They’re the ones the allow courses like mine to have accreditation and churn out disaffected and dissatisfied students like me.

  • Rosie Hare February 14, 2014 at 3:41 PM

    Could not agree with your more, Natasha. For those who do not know, we are on the same course and I share all of Natasha’s frustrations. It is nowhere near as interesting or academically demanding as my undergraduate degree and I sigh with frustration every time I see a recommended reading list containing publications that are mostly from the 90s. The course in no way encourages independent or critical thinking and it’s clear that unless you say exactly what they want to hear in your assignments, you don’t get the top marks.

    I am very keen to call CILIP into question and wonder what on Earth they do when it comes to accrediting courses, as apart from one particular iSchool, I have never heard particularly complimentary things about other courses in other universities. Like you have already said Ned, we are all complicit in this broken system.

  • thewikiman February 14, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    The accreditation system is not one I am a fan of – but because the fears around deprofessionalisation will always trump the need to become better librarians, I doubt it’ll be addressed any time soon. To admit the degree is bunk is to admit we don’t need the degree, which is an open door to those who want community-run libraries – so we are stuck with this current state of affairs where you have to go to extremes of terribleness (as one insitution famously did) before your acreditation is in any danger of being taken away.

    I have no idea what I’m talking about of course, it just seems like that’s the case. Perhaps CILIP rigourously reviews each institution and suggests changes and improvements with the threat of withdrawal to enforce them, each year.


  • Rosie Hare February 14, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    Ha! Of course. I mean, that’s what we would do if we were the ones employed to do the accrediting, right?!

    (Annie Mauger, giz a job…)

  • Pedronicus March 4, 2014 at 3:41 PM

    There are LOTS of points that I would like to make in follow up to this Ned, but it will turn into a thesis if I’m not careful. I will play my cards and say that I work in a UK library department and so have some perspective from one of the other sides of this issue.

    First of all, I would want to say to you and some others who have commented that it is a mistake to extrapolate from “the LIS Master’s degree I did wasn’t great” to “ALL UK LIS Master’s degrees are no good”. The standards of teaching, curriculum, instructional design (and critically, if you study by distance learning) academic and personal support you will receive from different institutions is not interchangeable. For this reason I would say to prospective students: do your research very carefully before signing up for a degree. You will be investing in very different “products” with very different levels of quality and service and support depending on which institution you sign up to.

    Secondly, I don’t think the time estimates for studying a *rigorous* one-year master’s degree quoted are fanciful. Maybe you were a bit of a slacker when you did yours ;) or perhaps it actually WASN’T that demanding, and your view that it wasn’t pitched at the right level is correct. I don’t know, so I can’t comment with any authority. However, I know that our students have to work hard and with little respite to complete the timetabled sessions, literature searches, research and writing for assignments that is required in the taught element of a one-year full time Master’s. Distance learners do that AND hold down their jobs AND keep whatever constitutes normal life on the rails! It is a demanding and challenging task to successfully study for and attain the qualification, and that is with unusually high levels of support for students provided as part of our organisational ethos.

    Thirdly, I want to flag up an issue that is perhaps less well understood from outside of the LIS H.E. sector. This is the reality that LIS departments in the UK (and often elsewhere too) are having to operate within a very challenging external environment. Our discipline is often viewed as marginal by senior management and is never going to be a huge money spinner within what is now a highly competitive and marketised Higher Education sector. This means that, in an external environment in which universities are run as businesses, the resources made available to LIS departments by their own institutions may always not be equal to the task of maintaining, overhauling and updating curricula and courses. In the last decade we have seen the complete closure of several UK LIS departments by their institutions, where they have not been deemed to be making a sufficient financial contribution in terms of the cost to keep them running. I will be surprised if we do not see this happening again. My point in light of this being that it may not entirely be down to lack of interest or idleness on the part of LIS academic departments that courses and curricula are not ‘cutting edge’. Rather, it may be due to constraints from the lack of academic and support capacity available to them to do what they would ideally want to do were these things not an issue.

    In an ideal world all LIS departments would want to be able to design and deliver a curriculum which allows for total flexibility for all possible branches of the profession. In reality, there are insufficient numbers of students who wish to study within the discipline for this to be viable, and perhaps insufficient staff and money in departments to innovate. Maybe if we leave it all up to the vagaries of “the Market” we will end up with a situation in which it will be a case of last (non gender-specific entity) standing, but I fear this will not be good for the profession, either on the academic or practitioner side of the fence.

    Your comments about problem-based learning are quite valid. We actually do use this approach for a number of our assignments and find this stretches students and allows for good connection of theory and practice.

    I will leave someone from CILIP to comment on views about the lack of rigour of their accreditation – but I will say that I do not recognise this description from my own department’s experience as it involves a significant amount of time and engagement to go through the process!

    Lastly, I would suggest that it is not possible to devise *any* Master’s curriculum which will tick all boxes and imbue someone with all the professional knowledge and expertise that is needed to walk into a job and hit the ground running. You rightly identify the speed and pace of change in the LIS sector which renders so much obsolescent so quickly. This necessitates learning on the job, in each job and information sector, and being prepared to take responsibility for one’s own learning and development on a lifelong basis. I would argue that the process of studying on a GOOD LIS Master’s degree scheme equips you with the transferable skills to do this. This is as much about the ability to think critically, identify and evaluate information, to research, write and apply theory to practice as it is to accrue a horde of professional knowledge (although obviously this is important too). Speaking entirely personally, I found that I was stretched beyond what I thought was possible when I did my own LIS Master’s degree, and what I learned about myself in that process was as important as the actual subject information I gained. Doing the degree opened doors which would NEVER have opened otherwise and I do not in any way regret the time, effort or pain of the investment I made.

    I could say more but won’t for the moment!

    There are legitimate questions being raised about the rationale for the status quo, the perceived cost-benefit of doing the Master’s, and the reason for it being a benchmark of professional status. These are important matters to discuss and debate. I think all parties involved are going to be interested in improving things where they can be improved, so let’s continue the discussions.

  • thewikiman March 4, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    This is great! I’m off home now so will need to digest this properly and reply to it tomorrow, but I wanted to say thank you, for taking the time to engage and write really useful things…

  • Carolin Schneider March 27, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    I just came across The Free University of Liverpool (now closed): Something to ponder over?

  • thewikiman March 31, 2014 at 4:07 PM

    Pedronicus, so sorry, I meant to reply fully to this ages ago and life got in the way.

    I completely agree with your first point – my experience certainly wasn’t universal, and I don’t want to say all Universities offering the degree are the same. My problem really wasn’t with my specific degree (or my specific insitution) but with the degree as a whole – but I do take your point!

    I was indeed a slacker, back then, but it still took up a lot of time. I think everyone who works full time and does the degree part time has an absolutely enormous struggle with the life balance during that time, regardless of how taxing or not they find the Masters. It’s a huge undertaking.

    Your third point I welcome particularly because it’s not something I’d considered nearly enough. I can see that external factors make things very tricky indeed, and I can imagine there must be quite a gap, for academics, between what they’d love to do and what they realistically CAN do in this context.

    I also agree we’ll never get it perfectly right, because that’s really not possible – but we must get it righter than we are at present.

    I really do appreciate you engaging with me and others on this whole issue, it’s great to have your perspective.

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