WILL UNWOUND #628: “Tis the Season for New MLS Grads”December 8, 2011
We typically don’t think of December as graduation month, but for thousands of students it is. With on-line education running on a 24/7 basis and quarter systems becoming the norm, December is now a prime graduation month.
This is particularly true for MLS grads. Many are graduating this month and will soon be swelling an already overcrowded supply of unemployed librarians. These folks won’t be having a merry, little Christmas. Yes, it will be little, but no it won’t be merry. I feel for them. I really do.
It is one thing to go to college and major in the liberal arts even though there are no jobs in the liberal arts. I’m an old fashioned I believer in the liberal arts. That’s because I am an old fashioned believer in the intrinsic value of education. I believe that a well rounded education makes you a better person by expanding your horizons, introducing you to the value of open dialog, and developing in you a skill set that enhances your ability to think and to express those thoughts logically, analytically, clearly, and artistically. I mention that this is an old fashioned notion because more and more I see articles that analyze the return on investment of a liberal arts education purely from a financial standpoint. If your motivation in going to college is to get a good job, clearly you want to stay away from the liberal arts.
But the fact is that many students are still drawn to the liberal arts for all the traditional reasons. Then at graduation they have a decision to make. They are pretty much forced into finding a graduate school program that will give them marketable skills. Many of them choose librarianship because it is the ultimate liberal arts occupation that encompasses the full range of subjects and disciplines. It really is a great profession for that reason. I loved every minute of it.
I was fortunate in that I got my MLS in 1971 when jobs were plentiful. In fact I had my choice of 7 different offers. Today the situation is reversed. There are probably 7 graduates for every entry level opening.
The glut of MLS grads has been blamed on a number of things: 1) ALA over promoted the concept of a librarian shortage due to increasing retirements, 2) Libraries are cutting back, and 3) the graduate schools of library and information studies are greedily taking students for whom there will be no jobs.
I discount reasons 1 and 3. The Great Recession wiped out the retirement plans of many librarians. I don’t know how ALA could have seen that coming if Wall Street didn’t. Also, the job of the LIS schools is to educate and train; not place students into jobs. At some point students have to be accountable for their own decisions.
One major factor that is always overlooked in analyzing the glut in the supply of librarians is the part that on-line education plays. Before the lap top LIS schools took over the MLS training market, there were about 50 accredited MLS programs. These 50 programs were not evenly spread out over the country. In fact, there were large geographical areas that were remote from the closest program. This kept the numbers of MLS students relatively low and more in balance with the number of librarian job openings.
Now with on-line education all the geographical barriers are gone, and the number of people who can get an MLS degree is pretty much unlimited. And that is precisely what is happening. Is this a good thing? I’ll let you decide, but it is one more way in which the computer is transforming our economic marketplace.
This gets me to the question of the day: If we can all agree that there is an intrinsic value in a liberal arts education, can we also all agree that there there is an intrinsic value to an MLS education?
My answer is an emphatic no. There is only one reason why you would pursue an MLS – to get a job. If there are no jobs, then the degree is pretty much worthless, which is why I feel so badly for the new unemployed MLS grads out there. No jobs = coal in the Christmas stocking.
What say you?