Would a lover of learning be satisfied by library school?
March 15, 2012 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Is library school worth it in terms of the education received?

I'm not talking about career prospects or the cost. I would like to know what the quality of education is like at a good school. How cerebral is it? If a person had no concerns about money or future employment could the knowledge alone ever be worth the time and effort? Or is it just a stepping-stone to a job?
posted by Danila to Education (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
For me personally, it was a complete bore, although I don't know that I went to what anyone would call a good school (but we were ALA-accredited, and that's all that matters if you're in it for the job). The only classes that were worthwhile were the hands-on ones like web design, indexing, and cataloging. I learned very little of actual intellectual worth during library school and can't imagine someone doing it for fun. *shudder*
posted by jabes at 4:35 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Everyone I know who has an MLS or MLIS hated most of their classes and only did the program for job advancement.

All of the programs I'm aware of have a lot of tiresome requirements.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:39 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know anyone who says they really enjoyed library school, even people who love being librarians. I learned almost all the important parts of librarianship by running a bookstore and working in libraries. Library school improved my presentation skills, helped me build a network, and taught me that Ranganathan writes rocking' prose.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:41 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went to a big famous reasearchy information school, and my masters did actually provide a lasting intellectual framework.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:43 PM on March 15, 2012

If you choose your program, classes, and professors very carefully, maybe. I took 10 classes for my degree, and I would say I accomplished measurable amounts of learning in four of them, although one of those was really just a basic film studies class that I could have taken in any program, not just library school. I think I would rather have done an IT degree.

Here's how I would break my experience down:
  • Excellent: one class
  • Pretty good: one class
  • Not bad: one class plus that film studies class
  • Useless and tedious: six classes

posted by mskyle at 4:44 PM on March 15, 2012

GenjiandProust pretty much nails it. Library school was mostly about building a professional network and learning to explain what I do. I was often surprised at how little rigor was required on assignments and at least 1/3 of my classes weren't super useful. On the other hand, having an MLIS has opened a lot of doors for me and kept me employed in a lot of places where work was scare.
posted by nangua at 4:50 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I loved my program for the first semester. After that I felt it was full of busywork.

For people who supposedly love books most librarians shouldn't write them. The LIS texts and articles are some of the worst things I have ever read.

I love being a librarian.
I did really love my internships, perhaps if you want this experience you could volunteer?

I would not do this program for fun, it is a stepping stone.
posted by ibakecake at 4:57 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

MSIS from another big famous researchy information school here. It made a huge difference for me, not only in terms of exposure to technologies and some really interesting research, but also for the networking. I got a great assistantship, some lifelong friends, and opportunities that would never have happened had I stayed in my previous career. My master's paper was a satisfying personal achievement: original research, solid statistical analysis. I know not everyone feels the same way, but it meant a lot to me. Not all of the classes were rigorous, but a 48 hour course requirement + master's paper was a lot of work when all was said and done.
posted by malaprohibita at 4:58 PM on March 15, 2012

First it all depends what you mean by "cerebral."

MLIS (etc.) degrees are often increasingly marketed in terms of professional development, and so this is what many students expect when they enroll. And so this is what the schools then provide. You may find more intellectual adventure at PhD level. This more fits your question of if "a person had no concerns about money or future employment could the knowledge alone ever be worth the time and effort?" However I'd pick your school carefully.

From my point of view, LIS is not really intellectually adventurous in many areas. You can get a good idea of this by looking at LIS journals. There are very few theoretical monographs published. (Plenty of survey of the field books, practitioner books, and text books though.) FWIW I think there may be some interesting stuff going in archives - for instance I like checking out American Archivist. Maybe an archives program at a good school? - I can't speak to the quality of those, though.
posted by carter at 5:04 PM on March 15, 2012

I found library/info sci school classes to be basically busy work, lots of group projects (ugh!) and not cerebral at all. The texts we used were pretty awful. Granted I took a lot of courses in business and government reference so the texts were basically lists and descriptions of (incredibly out-of-date) resources a professional would use.

I worked in a couple of libraries while in school and those experiences were far, far more valuable and mentally challenging.
posted by medeine at 5:55 PM on March 15, 2012

I am not a librarian and did not go to library school. I did spend five years working on a federal library contract, doing acquisitions and cataloging, as well as communications. I learned that there are quite a few cool jobs for library grads, but they all told me the curriculum is very boring. I could've had a library degree subsidized, but I am so glad I did not. A joint program in LIS and history might've twisted my arm.

Moreover, when I left the organization (about 50 people), there were *no* librarians doing acquisitions (One had been there, but she left for a better job, and the remainder had never attended college and, at the admission of their supervisors, are not capable of it), there were *no* librarians doing cataloging (very few of them had college degrees), and one indexer who was not a librarian. The point here is how much intellectual stimulation could there be in a curriculum that is not even apparently needed to do the work?

I will say that there were about 3 or four power librarians there in indexing and collection development. The contract is headed by an IT guy who believes special digital libraries are irrelevant due to Google.
posted by jgirl at 5:59 PM on March 15, 2012

No, it is not. The job is being deprofessionalized. Even if you find interesting classes--which can be hard to do--it probably won't be worth the tuition overall.
posted by scratch at 6:10 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I went, my classmates and I referred to library school as "getting your union card." I was shocked at the lack of intellectual challenge. This was years ago; sounds like little has changed.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:19 PM on March 15, 2012

I didn't go to library school but I had a lot of friends that did. The majority of them said that most of the classes were a total joke, but they all got really good jobs on the backside of it.
posted by greta simone at 6:43 PM on March 15, 2012

I had finals in some classes that were take-home multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank exams. Even the interesting courses were not what I would call rigorous.
posted by candyland at 6:46 PM on March 15, 2012

I went to library school at UCLA, which is technically an information studies department. Since there was also a PhD program, we had some required theory classes that were really different than the standard library school fare. You could probably do more of a theory-based master's degree there, though a few of the required courses would be on the more practical end. If your end goal isn't to be a practicing librarian, you could also look for non-ALA accredited information studies departments or communication departments as those fields tend to be more academic and overlap a lot with issues that are pertinent to libraries.
posted by wsquared at 6:56 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Interesting. I found that if I pushed myself and pushed the assignments as hard as I could that library school could definitely be cerebral. I had to work to make it difficult, but if I did all the readings every week for all of my classes, scrounged around for supplemental readings, and really made the most out of the assignments, I could make being a master's student into a pretty difficult, challenging, and rewarding job.

Of course, now I'm getting a PhD in the subject, so it may require a certain kind of personality. It is a professional degree, so it's unlikely that you'll be pushed to make your courses really difficult in the cerebral sense by your peers or by the faculty. You'll have to be internally motivated to learn as much as you can and to really squeeze a lot out of it.

There are other students like you in the master's programs, so make sure you work with them on group projects if you can. One of the most successful and personally rewarding things I've ever done was a group project with two motivated and whip-smart individuals in my master's program. We did this project in a distance education course, and I got so much out of it. I was just thinking about it yesterday, in fact.

The people you take classes with - both the faculty and your peers - really matter, so I would suggest selecting a school that has faculty who are doing stuff that is interesting to you (check out what grants they're working on on their websites) and find out as much as you can about the faculty by reading a few articles they've written and asking around. Every discipline has amazing professors and so-so professors, so this advice will hold no matter what you decide to study.

I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for my MSLIS, and am now at UNC-Chapel Hill for the PhD in IS, for what it's worth.
posted by k8lin at 7:36 PM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I felt like library school gave me a very good understanding of the profession I was entering into and the values of that profession. I had a few professors who were intellectually stimulating but this was mostly something I got to know outside of the classroom. A lot of my classes were sort of straightforward and not that simple, but I gained some technical skills that I wouldn't have probably delved into otherwise. I wouldn't go hang out there for fun, though I met a lot of people that I still keep in touch with, all the stuff you'd expect. I speak at library schools fairly often and there do seem to be some programs that are more what you'd call rigorous, but even at the really good schools, students still complain about the trade school feeling of some of the classes.
posted by jessamyn at 8:08 PM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think it really depends on the program you select. I went to Simmons for my Masters and honestly learned more in my first month on the job in a corporate library than I did in the entire year I spent in library school. If I could do it all over again, I would have gone to U of WA instead.
posted by Pollfabaire at 8:13 PM on March 15, 2012

Oh, and I went to U of WA, but back when they were handing out MLibs and still inside the Suzzallo Library.
posted by jessamyn at 8:15 PM on March 15, 2012

As witnessed by the comments here, there is a huge, huge difference in library schools. I have a large professional network, and I would say most of them think library school was just a Thing You Have to Do to be a Librarian, not an intellectual exercise. With that said, my program (UNC-Chapel Hill) was just exactly as hard as you made it...if you wanted to skate through, you could definitely find an easy path. But if you wanted intellectual, you could cross-list a TON of other graduate courses, take really amazing classes outside of Library Science (we had courses that were cross-listed with journalism, law, computer science, and more).

I found it interesting, and sometimes challenging. I have classmates that found exactly the opposite. Life is what you make it, ya know?
posted by griffey at 9:04 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I graduated from U of Wa 5 years ago. I had some classes that were challenging and some that werent exactly busywork because there was true learning involved, but they didn't require a ton of effort.

Some of my cohort found some of the concepts challenging, and I think most of those people had never worked in a library setting. I had already spent 5+ years working in libraries so I felt very connected to the material. I found almost all of it interesting and most of my cohort did too, I think.

It's hard to say whether someone just interested in it intellectually would enjoy it. I guess if money were no object I'd say sure, go for it, but you might want to stick to the schools that have a good PhD program attached to the library school (not just an MLIS mill) because you would want to be surrounded by the intellectual curiosity of that environment.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:05 PM on March 15, 2012

I mainly it saw it a necessary step to getting into the career of my dreams. I love being a librarian but I only tolerated library school. I was ready to be done with school by my junior year of college.
posted by amapolaroja at 12:27 AM on March 16, 2012

I think griffey's really got it: there is a HUGE drop off after say the top 7-10 schools. And even in those top 7-10 schools you can coast. I went to a top 7 school and pushed myself and learned a ton, but I definitely didn't have to do that, and could have easily learned 1/3 as much and graduated. However, because I pushed myself, I am honestly still using approaches and intellectual frameworks I was introduced to in library school.

There were definitely students who didn't take it seriously, who were just "getting their union card", who complained about the smallest bit of work, which is unfortunate. In addition, much of the classes are applied and project-based, which actually appealed to me (I was going through an "f. you theory!" phase), but YMMV.
posted by lillygog at 5:29 AM on March 16, 2012

I would second that the MLIS is potentially less mentally stimulating than PhD work. Keeping in mind that unlike a lot of subject specialty degrees, a cohort coming into library school has a vast array of undergraduate educations, so there's definately a lowest common denominator factor going on.

Something else to touch on is finding an advisor, and individual professors, who will stimulate you. My advisor took me on as a random student without a clear goal, but her specialty was children's librarianship. We never saw eye to eye. Similarly, there are professors that are passionate and dedicated to the profession and want to challenge you, and there are adjuncts who stop on campus once a week and "do their time."
posted by librarianamy at 5:34 AM on March 16, 2012

I think griffey has a good point regarding cros-listing. You could check with schools to see to what extent you can take courses outside the department. Sometimes the requirements are structured such that it's difficult to do this. But going outside the dept. could be very interesting.
posted by carter at 6:22 AM on March 16, 2012

When I started my PhD program in Public History, the biggest thing that stood out to me was that the entire program was much more reading intensive and intellectually challenging than library school. The school I did my MLIS at is a bigger, more nationally recognized school than the PhD one, and the PhD program has doctorate level classes combined with masters level classes. Even so, the Public History program was much more about intellectual ideas, figuring out how to interpret and understand things and far, far less about these are the steps that you have to do the job.

There was one professor in my MLIS program that talked about the intellectual side of being a librarian, the nature of information, the social implications of what we do, but everyone else was much more about practical stuff.

Also, and I say this without trying to be mean, the quality of students in each program is vastly different. The MA students I've met and worked with in the Public History program are motivated scholars who really, really love the idea of the work. While a few of the library students I met were the same, the overwhelming majority were just there to meet the requirements and get a sweet library job.

For my money, I'd say a similar degree, possibly an archives focused public history program would do you about as much good as an MLIS and get the brain muscle a good workout.
posted by teleri025 at 7:21 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Agreed, it's a professional degree, and it's just the top programs that are theoretical. It makes sense, I think; it's only the top available jobs that have any use for theory. Even in academic libraries that encourage their librarians to contribute to the professional literature (which, yes, does not have high standards for quality), there's only so much time and money people can spend on theory, because there are books that need to be bought and processed, reference questions to answer, instructional sessions that need to be planned and taught, outreach that needs doing.

I dunno, I would say I identify as a lover of learning and am satisfied with a lot of what I learned from my LIS program, but even for a top school, it wouldn't make sense to build a program that people come to "for the knowledge alone." I think the "you want knowledge, you want a PhD" angle sounds about right.
posted by clavicle at 12:20 PM on March 16, 2012

I went to a top program (top 5 for my specialty, top 10 overall), but I found it to be a professional degree program and the coursework was not at all challenging. However, it was the gateway to a profession that I love. Librarians in general are enthusiastic lovers of learning, but the degree program for the profession is mostly technical. I did love the opportunity to do a field study and a practicum for on-the-job training, just as I love my job now. But the MLS was a means to an end.

It's like when you hear, "Oh, I love books! I'd love to be a librarian!" when those things are only tangentially related; people who love books often become librarians, but librarianship has little to do with loving books. Librarians often love cats, too, and that actually might be closer to a prerequisite for librarianship.

If I wanted to take classes for the love of learning, I'd choose history or a social science area or maybe just pick and choose a variety of classes with no aim to finishing a degree at all.
posted by aabbbiee at 2:47 PM on March 16, 2012

I don't know if I'd find library school as appealing today as when I was there, but for me it was transformative on a number of levels. This was back in the pre-internet days when access to databases was rare and expensive (we had to carefully map out our search strategies on paper using Boolean operators before ever going online). The faculty members I remember were some of the most intelligent, farsighted people I've ever met; key figures in information retrieval, cataloging, copyright law. And people who were passionate about passing on the values of making information available, and of service to the community. As I think back on it, yes, it was theoretical in its focus, maybe even primarily philosophical. And that theory/philosophy sticks with me long after I've forgotten the details of MARC tagging and AACR2.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: Just as a data point, I also went to UCLA and I found it pretty damn easy. There's some theory (sometimes way too much, to the point of being out of balance with the practice) and there's an emphasis on 'being an iSchool' that wasn't really fulfilled in reality. Also budget cuts have taken a pretty horrible toll on important things like electives. UCLA is also a really traditional library school for all its iSchool focus.

I read some really good things out of UNC-Chapel Hill, some interesting things out of Syracuse, and have met some solid librarians out of UI Urbana-Champaign, UT-Austin, and U Washington. Those are the five schools I would recommend and that's pretty much it as far as an intellectual challenge. For the love of Mike, avoid San Jose State if you're looking for cerebral.
posted by librarylis at 8:35 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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