“Evidence shows that the MLS Project has been costly, has created confusion outside librarianship and polarization within, and has met some but not all of its objectives. The same complaints from librarians about recognition are made decade after decade…” (p. 136)
Here Swigger gets to the question all of us want to answer, but it is important that this chapter comes last. Everyone wants to give our two cents about what needs to be done, but without the solid grounding provided by Swigger of the history and outcomes of the MLS Project, most of us should just shut up. Including me, because honestly, my early ideas about solutions proved to be neither unique nor exceptionally helpful in light of Swigger’s analysis.
Swiggers gives four very different but realistic options for addressing the status of the MLS Project:
- Continuation of the present system, with some fine tuning of curriculum;
- Separation of library education from information science education though creation of new accrediting agencies for master’s degrees;
- Recognition of bachelor’s degrees, either in lieu of or in addition to accreditation of master’s degrees;
- Development of multiple models for professional training (e.g. certification/licensing).
I think anyone who has been watching the debate about these issues as it filters through blogs online will recognize each of these options as having been put on the table at one point or another.
The first one, continuation of the present system, is summed up Swigger with a nicely turned phrase: “…there is no reason to expect different outcomes as long as one keeps on doing the same things.” (p.138)
The second solution, which is to essentially strip out “information science” from “library science” would be costly and, more importantly, confusing. The current atmosphere of uncertainty about how either field is defined, much less whether they are indeed separate fields at all, makes this option the opposite of a solution. It would, in fact, probably compound all the existing problems.
However Swigger does end his discussion of this option with an intriguing concept: “Recognition of IS undergraduate degrees as legitimate credentials for entry-level librarians would go far to enhance the difference between librarianship and information science and to clarify the nature of each.” (p.140) I’m not entirely sure I agree with that, but then, my own personal view is that librarianship is actually under the umbrella of information science, not the reverse.
My personal favorite solution is the third, which is to reinstate a bachelor’s level track of education that would create entry-level professionals and para-professionals in the field, while still allowing for a terminal master’s degree for those who want to pursue either an academic or managerial track in the field. Swigger makes a very strong argument for this, based on the idea that “form should follow function,” that is, the education should be geared towards the actual work graduates will do.
Sadly, the “disadvantages” of this option that Swigger lists boil down to territorialism and mutual distrust by the schools, a shying away of responsibility by the ALA, and both a sense of entitlement and a fear of status loss by ALA members who hold an MLS/MLIS (these are not random accusations, as Swigger backs these statements up with facts quite effectively). In short, the reasons not to implement this very sensible solution are petty in the extreme. Very disappointing.
The fourth option, “multiple models of professional training,” essentially refers to relying on certification and licensing of individual librarians as opposed to the accreditation of schools. Swigger spends several pages on this, discussing as an example how school librarians/media specialists are one sub-group of librarians for whom an MLS is not always required, as different states/school boards have certification requirements that do not include the applicant possessing an MLS, but rather passing a test and possessing a master’s degree in any field. While this isn’t a bad suggestion (Swigger clearly likes it a lot) I only see a monumental amount of bureaucracy and confusion. Certification isn’t a bad idea for specialized sub-fields, but I think that Swigger does not make a strong enough argument for it to serve as replacement for the MLS Project model.
Finally, Swigger states that while the MLS Project was in no way a success in that it did not meet the desired outcomes envisioned by those who implemented it, it is not really a failure, either. It was simply an attempt to solve a problem that didn’t work really well. It’s time for information science professionals to admit that, and look for new solutions.
To close this series off, I’d like to quote Swigger from his final recap. I think this statement clearly addresses both the problems with the MLS Project as it stands and how we can resolve them, if we are willing to accept some change and responsibility:
“Each option described above rests on its own principle, but the principle underlying the general proposition that there should be multiple models for preparation for library work is simply this: organizations and institutions that survive are those that adapt to circumstance rather than attempting to force their will on the world.” (p.148)