The MLIS vs. the MLS

You know what’s cool? Starting to feel like you are part of a career/profession. I am nearing the end of my degree program, and I am starting to reach out to the profession and have been really excited and impressed by the responses I have gotten from established librarians/bloggers. Especially through my “What I Learned in Library School…” series, I am excited to enter the field with such interesting and qualified peers as I have had the pleasure of featuring.

Seeing the profession a little closer has also raised some questions about the value of my degree. Uh oh. The “What the hell am I going to do after I graduate” question. Well, not exactly. In my Foundations of Information Professions course the other day, taught by the amazing Dr. Christie Koontz, a point was raised that caught me off guard. She noted to us that we are on track to receive a Masters of Library and Information Studies, NOT a Masters in Library Science. Hmmm… no big deal, right? I don’t know. I have been going back through all the people I respect and read regularly and have been noticing that there is a pretty even spread between the MLS and the MLIS.

Image from US News and World Report

After some further research I learned that the discrepancy that I have so recently noticed is not at all a new trait in the profession. Almost since the advent of library schools has the issue of theory vs. practice been at stake. Is this the core issue between the MLS and the MLIS? Does the Information part make that much of a difference, or is it the “science” vs. “studies” part? Is Library School supposed to be specialized professional training in the work of Librarianship, or are there larger considerations that must be accounted for in the preparation of the new “Information Professional“? Does it really have to be that complicated?

Here’s what I think: it doesn’t really matter either way. The value of the degree comes from the effort put into it by the student. I plan to get out of my MLIS what I came into it for, a thorough understanding of the current information climate so that I can be prepared to address whatever may come my way as a professional. I may work in a library, I may not. What is important to me, and perhaps to many of my peers, is the fact that we believe in the mission of cultural institutions to preserve and share Knowledge and that access to Information of all types is crucial to the continuation of an engaged society. (OMG. Did I just write a personal mission statement?!)

One thing I am sure of is that things won’t be the same. I really believe that the future of the field will consist of a variety of cultural institutions (and corporations) plucking their employees from a extremely qualified, interested and hard working pool of Information Professionals with broad interests and broader skill sets. Professionals already working in the field, what do you think? Does the degree matter that much? Are the variety of skills necessary for your institutions being addressed in library school? When hiring a fresh-faced library student what are the top 2 things you must see on their resume? ALA membership and an accredited degree? What about great references and good ideas?

This post was inspired in part by Kim Leeder’s article on the “real work” of librarianship and Bobbi Newman’s amazing list of links for a potential/job seeking library school student.

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10 thoughts on “The MLIS vs. the MLS

  1. I think you are right. I believe my diploma says M.S. but it’s from an ALA accredited program and that’s all that used to matter. And though I’m not working as a “Librarian” now, I believe my experiences in a variety of Libraries shaped and directed my career down a more technology centric pathway.

  2. Thanks for the comment Catherine. Isn’t it weird that we tend to place so much emphasis on degrees and yet they just end up helping us meet the people and develop interests that take us into a career?

  3. Thanks for the comment Bobbi. I am amazed at the variety of degrees that are now feeding in to the information professions. I am starting to wonder if I shouldn’t have pursued a CompSci degree too! Ahhh!

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  5. The degree, in and of itself, is not as important as the person holding it. I do place some value on the MLIS, but…if we’re hiring for a librarian position, *all* the applicants (well, all the applicants we’ll consider seriously!) have that. So it’s not something we evaluate people on; with the MLIS, a certain base level of knowledge is assumed.

    Personally, the first thing I look for is a reasonably well written cover letter / resume and a lack of grammatical errors. It may be nitpicky of me, but…it’s not as if people are reliant on their own writing skills for this stuff – you can have friends read it over (library school friends, for example – you made friends in library school, right? right???), you can spend hours agonizing over it (I certainly have, with mine!), you can take it to the career centre at your school if you’re a student. If you can’t manage any of that…well, it doesn’t speak well for your ability to manage the job, does it?

    (Using “you” entirely in the impersonal sense, here, if that needs pointing out. :) )

    Errors on the resume don’t have to be the kiss of death if the employer is sufficiently desperate, of course, especially if it’s a temporary position anyway. *wry* We did hire a summer student this year who’s halfway through her MLIS degree who had several grammatical errors on her application. I had mixed feelings about hiring her, but felt she’d be better than nothing – we did not have a very big pool of applicants (partly because this is a fairly rural area, partly because the wage we were offering wasn’t that high; the job offered scope for really good experience to put on one’s resume, especially as a library school student, but.) And the student we hired *was* better than nothing. Somewhat. :/ Sometimes things like that on a resume really are red flags…

    You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink. The library school that student was from is a fairly good school, but so much depends on the individual. If I were going to pick the most important things I wanted to see on someone’s resume, apart from it being well written (thus proving a certain amount of competence/attention to detail, or at least an ability to get friends with better writing skills to read it over!), I’d say enthusiasm, genuine interest in the job, and the willingness and ability to learn are the most vital. Specific skills are important, yes, but *attitude* is much more so – if someone isn’t genuinely interested in the job and passionate about good service, I don’t want to have to *work* with them. (That summer student did not qualify on either count, sigh. And we did not get any strong impression of enthusiasm from her in the interview, so we kind of suspected that to begin with. We would not have hired her had it been a permanent position; we would have just reposted it and waited for more applicants.)

    …I’m a relatively new librarian – I graduated from library school three years ago – and it *is* very cool to start feeling like you’re really part of the profession. Also very interesting to start being on the other side of the hiring equation! After this experience, I’ve decided attitude is a dealbreaker for me; if I don’t get a sense from the interview that someone is going to be a good person to work with, I don’t want to hire them, regardless of their other skills. My two cents, for what they’re worth. :)

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  7. Interesting points on the distinction between the MLS and MLIS. I have both — the MLS and then an Ed. S. in LIS. And, I’ve wondered if the distinction between the MLS and LIS was more artificial than substantial. I had a look at a few ALA accredited programs and those that offered both degrees, the MLS and the LIS/MLIS (Maryland offers the MIM). They differed in curriculum with the MLS requiring more core courses in collection development and evaluation as well as library services. The MLIS core emphasized systems analysis, information retrieval and data curation. To be sure, this was not a bona fide research study; just a quick look for differences of emphasis. Still, the distinction seems genuine. But, regardless the degree track one selects, there are always electives to extend the reach.

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