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[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Julia Skinner, Lauren Dodd. Lauren Dodd said: New blog post on the number of students in library school: "The Numbers, and Should We Warn Them?" [...]

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rocksanne said in September 9th, 2010 at 8:01 am

Lauren, I also read the three posts you mention in this post, and I have been wondering the same things you are as well as a less-savory problem. Well, it may not be less-savory but it certainly isn’t politically correct to talk about.After my first semester in our program, I not only began to question the amount of students in the program, but the caliber of student as well. On the occasion of a truly challenging class, I have heard much complaining and even heard of students who give low marks (to professors) on course evaluations because the class is too hard! It’s graduate school! If it’s not hard, there is a problem! In response to your question “Should we warn them?” I would say no. I am not one to dampen hope and enthusiasm, and the new students will likely pick it up in class discussions and talks with peers.

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The Librarienne said in September 9th, 2010 at 9:55 am

rocksanne hit it right on the head, I think. There are far too many MLIS students, all of the programs are located in the same part of the country (East coast), and the caliber of student has gone down considerably seemingly just to drive up numbers and revenue.
In my program, which is one of the smaller ones, there is no GRE or MAT requirement. A friend who has been teaching in the program agreed with me that the quality of student admitted has dropped dramatically in the last ten years since they dropped that requirement and now anyone with a B average can get in.

There is no thesis requirement, there is no thesis option, instead a comprehensive exam which only three people in the history of the program have not passed the first time around.

The tenured professors are checked out and have been teaching from the same syllabi for years; the coursework is dated, mostly theoretical and also mostly just busywork. Having earned one masters degree before starting the MLIS, I was horrified by my peers. Many were terrified to present, many couldn’t write a logical sentence and they complained constantly about how hard the work was. The work was not hard, but it was tedious, I’ll give them that.

I quickly decided that the MLIS was something that you just pay for, a means to an end, and I shifted my focus to professional development: trying different jobs, making contacts, learning as much as I could from people in the field because some of my professors had never actually been librarians–just professors.

So, to answer your big question, when I meet someone who is competent, intelligent and who wants to be a librarian, I tell him or her the truth. Library school is a joke, your peers will be morons, it will be very hard to find a job, but as you are one of the good ones, I would love to work with you one day and I think you should consider it. I don’t want to work with the morons even though they’re abundant and I’ll probably get stuck with a few over the years, I do still want to encourage people that would be an asset to the profession, but I also want them to know the score.

To tackle bullet point 3, I think that since the MLIS is largely a professional degree (I know there’s debate on that, but I went to library school so I could stop working circ and answer tougher questions), MLIS programs are obliged to tell students what all they can do with the degree outside of libraryland–especially now when there are so few library jobs. I think ALA should take a role in this as well and, as I’ve already stated at length, quit lying to potential students about job prospects and actually support recent graduates and acknowledge their frustrations.

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Samantha said in September 9th, 2010 at 11:20 am

When I’ve been approached by potential MLIS students, I try to impress upon them that the job market is miserable. Several times, I have recommended that someone really interested in being a librarian first find employment as a paraprofessional and then get the degree if (and only if) it would allow them to be promoted to a professional position with the same library.

I was actually asked “Is the degree worthwhile” by some new students in front of a professor, and hesitated only briefly before telling them how tough the job market has been for everyone with whom I graduated. There’s no point in glossing over it.

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Lauren said in September 9th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Thanks for the responses, everyone!

Rocksanne, I agree – it seems like it’s not cool to talk about these things, and like Samantha said, certainly not in front of professors and new students (at the same time). Although if you typically talk to professors one on one, if they’re in the know about the state of the profession, they’ll be honest with you.

I’ve also noted the many students who complain about assignments, etc. It’s kind of ridiculous. My most challenging classes have by far been the best classes I’ve had. Librarienne, I love your response to competent prospective librarians – I think I will try that on for size.

“I quickly decided that the MLIS was something that you just pay for, a means to an end, and I shifted my focus to professional development: trying different jobs, making contacts, learning as much as I could from people in the field because some of my professors had never actually been librarians–just professors.”

While I’ve gained a lot from some of my classes, I completely agree with the professional development – this is where being in library school has afforded me so many opportunities. Without library school, I wouldn’t have had access to any of it, and I am certainly glad I’ve done what I’ve done to increase my knowledge and professional network.

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catherine126 said in September 10th, 2010 at 8:59 am

As a new LIS student at a top program, I am absolutely making it my priority to approach this degree with all my strength. I honestly had no idea that there were MLS students who are less than dedicated. I’m not surprised, but disappointed and worried for them. A little optimism will get us all started, but the goal of gainful employment will remain elusive unless we take serious action. Doing the coursework will get the degree, but so what? Employers obviously need more and more for less money, and we have to be ready and willing to show experience, skills, etc. That means going above and beyond what is required.

Frankly, the metrics of LIS education and subsequent employment are disturbing, and as Lauren pointed out in her post, this problem is part of higher education in general (think English PhDs).

When I talk to people who know LIS graduates, my first question is “did they find jobs?” Even though I’m a fan of the abstract and theoretical knowledge, I want to know that degree-holding professionals are employed. Period.

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Braegan said in September 10th, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Great post Lauren!
As a new MLIS grad seeking full-time/professional employment I can only nod my head as I read the statistics you’ve given. It was actually quite shocking to me to read that there are 20,000 library students out there!

I am lucky to have my part-time job here in Austin. Every librarian and library school student I have met here has not sugar coated the issue. They all say that the job market in Austin is very difficult to tap in to. And, having applied to at least 15 jobs in the last month or so with no response so far…I would agree! I am sure the presence of a top-ranked iSchool in this city is somewhat responsible for my current lack of employment prospects. I have read many job descriptions which explicitly call for UT iSchool students only. It’s quite frustrating.

So, I’ve also had to look for unconventional ways to begin my career. I’m working in a small academic theological library (that still stamps date due cards, and uses a typewriter to create patron library cards!) But I’m networking and gaining more experience and working with people, which is the best part really.

The advice I’ve been given is to persist and to put myself out there: submit proposals for conferences, volunteer, and network network network! I don’t regret getting my MLIS, but I also knew what I was getting into. A good librarian knows they have to work hard. It’s not a cushy desk job, and anyone who imagines otherwise is just being naive. Whether or not that is their fault or their program’s is still up for debate, I think.

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Sheli said in September 13th, 2010 at 8:37 am

I wonder what percentage of the 20,000 students are currently working in libraries. I know some public libraries hire some people with the notion that they will receive their MLS within so many years. At my old public library job, there were 4 employees enrolled or completed their degree while employed. I think this is pretty common to have people working in libraries and want to move ahead in their institution and pursue the degree.

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Lauren said in September 15th, 2010 at 7:09 pm

@Catherine – I agree. While I have loved the experience of library school for my own sake, I want to get a job. This is what I want to do with my life, and the numbers are just so discouraging.

@Braegan – I am really happy that you got that job! It says a lot about you that you got that job in the oversaturated Texas market. I want to believe that those of us who really want this and work extremely hard will eventually succeed, especially my very talented friends are are still looking, but I don’t know if that’s realistic or if it’s just what I need to believe.

@Sheli That’s a really great question. I know that the majority of students in UA’s distance cohort (about 40 per year) already work in libraries, and there are a good number of on-campus students who do as well. However, I would say most of these students are nontraditional – i.e., not 1 or 2 years out of undergrad. Most of us who came straight from undergrad have not worked as a paraprofessional in libraries, but as student assistants.

Thanks for all of the thoughtful responses!