“What do librarians need a master’s degree for?”

“What do librarians need a master’s degree for?” he said. “I mean, they just reshelve books.”

This question isn’t surprising, of course. Lots of people ask it. So my companion and I pointed out various things librarians do which are not reshelving books — keeping abreast of new technologies, say, teaching people to navigate the huge piles of information they can find these days, research process, et cetera. He specifically called out school librarianship as requiring no skills, so we told him you need to know the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks (they’re not light reading) and pointed out the piles of awesome that school librarians can do.

Now, that’s clearly more than reshelving books, but do you need a master’s for it? We ducked that question a little and my personal jury’s still out; since I’m still looking for my first professional job I don’t know how much I’ll need the degree to do it. I do feel that the MLS equipped me to join in the conversation, which I have found very valuable. I also feel that it was a very expensive way to purchase the right to apply for certain jobs, which I don’t approve of. We’ll see.

At any rate, getting the MLS means I wasn’t surprised to hear someone ask the question.

What did surprise me was that he was working the tech support desk at a library.

So, about that articulation problem

6 thoughts on ““What do librarians need a master’s degree for?”

  1. It’s a tough issue, this – when I blogged about it, it got the second highest number of comments I’ve ever received on a post. You’ve probably already seen this but Bobbi rounded up a whole load of posts on this subject (including mine) that’ll keep you reading for hours… 🙂

    http://t.co/hxMHn4K via @librarianbyday


  2. Do librarians really shelve books? In all the libraries I’ve ever been in, shelving is done by clerks or students. (Sure, librarians do it from time to time, but I wouldn’t put it in their job description)


    1. Also an excellent point!

      I think there are (at least) two issues here:

      1) You can’t actually tell the difference between professional librarians and other people by looking. Conference spot-the-librarian fun notwithstandinnig. Even undergrads are allowed to wear cardigans! 😉

      2) A lot of the more intellectually demanding work that librarians do, they do in their offices — i.e. where the guy at the tech support desk can’t see it.

      Between those two, I can certainly see how one might get the impression that all librarians do is shelving and circ clerking. (If I’ve ever thought of a more compelling argument for embedded librarianship, I can’t think of it.)


  3. Great post. I waver back and forth on the question about whether it really needs a master’s as well. Sometimes I think the main reason the library degree is a master’s level degree is because most people come to the profession after already getting a degree in something else, and no one really wants to do a second bachelor’s. But other times I think the intellectual work we do does require a Master’s. I still don’t know.

    But it’s scary that someone who works in a library thinks that all the librarians do is reshelve books!


  4. .The future of libraries it s a topic at many conferences and one that always seems to generate conversation and debate. I had a respected colleague suggest to me not too long ago that a public library requires an MBA more than an MLS. I would agree…What is at issue here is the skill set of the librarian and that is a central factor in whether we can save our profession.


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