Future of Librarians

There is a discussion going on on Web4Lib right now (that I lost track of) regarding the future of libraries. Blake posts and interesting argument by Christopher Kiess over at LISNews that had some points that I completely agree with – and want to share.

Chris talks about the difference between the library and the librarian – something that we librarians sometimes forget to do. In his response he talks about the future of librarians as information professionals

In order for any profession to remain a profession there must be at the very least a perception that the profession possesses a skill set that cannot be duplicated (at a cheaper rate), replaced or outsourced. For librarians, this skill set is the organization, representation and retrieval of knowledge and information.

Knowledge and information are always changing, but probably have not changed as much as they have in recent years since the invention of the book or possibly the printing press. Our skills have moved from
information retrieval in a physical space to information retrieval in a virtual space. To adapt those skills further would require us to begin organizing and representing information in an electronic environment in the same manner as we do in a physical space – a virtual library, if you will. There are those who will cry out, “isn’t this being done?” Yes and those who participate in the effort do not largely refer to themselves as librarians. They call themselves information professionals, information architects, knowledge specialists, etc.

Will there still be librarians in the future? Probably, but they may not need an MLS. There will always
be a need for people to find information and for someone to aid them in doing that. But this will take place in electronic environments. We are aiding in that effort now. But, we only aid in a portion of the effort. In most instances we do not organize or manage that same information. Those jobs were list to those with greater technical skills or the willingness to adapt.

This makes me sad … but I do agree. Sad because my student loans have become due and are draining my bank account almost as quickly as I fill it, but it’s true! The nature of the librarian is changing – I’ve been saying this since before I got my MLIS – and so the nature of our studies have to change as well. This may mean a different list of core classes for the MLS/MLIS or a completely new degree.

Chris mentions that one librarian said that it almost makes more sense for librarians to have MBAs than MLSs … I don’t know if I agree with that for a public or academic librarian, but I certainly agree for a special librarian.

No one knows for sure where we’re going, but it looks like I may be giving my life savings to Drexel for little reason other than 4 new letters after my name.


  1. Hi Nicole-

    I think this is an issue we’re all dealing with now in the profession. I just wanted to make two quick comments (and they might seem contradictory):

    1) Don’t get down on your investment in your MLS. Any degree is more than just a degree – it is an experience and a skill set that you walk away with, not a piece of paper. I have an English lit and secondary ed. background that, most likely, I will never employ in a traditional teaching setting. However, even though I know I won’t use it “properly” as I am starting my last year of my MLIS program, I would in an instant go back and do the same program again knowing how much I learned and the amount of knowledge and skills that are transferable into nearly any job that I would pursue.

    2) Here’s the contradictory part: There’s too much emphasis on having an MLS/MLIS. Speaking in generalities – If we can prove that we are competent caretakers of information resources and can teach what we know in a library setting, what importance is there in the MLIS? I agree with your point that traditional public and academic librarians need some kind of official training, typically MLIS training. However, others (read: tech specialists with information architecture backgrounds or archivists with heavy preservation backgrounds – for example) may not need full MLS degrees – more like certificates. Are these specialists still librarians? You betcha. But in today’s library culture they wouldn’t be considered so. I think that is the main issue – we do have people who can do librarian- related work but we don’t consider them as such because they don’t have the degree.

    As the saying goes – that’s my two cents worth,

  2. I found having a master’s in Public Administration (MPA) to be particularly useful to me, especially since I mostly held admin positions after my first few years in libraries. For those working in the public sector it is a good adjunct to the MLS. Don’t know when, or if, we will ever be able to definitively say whether the MLS is always necessary or good. It does give us something of an even starting point, at least. Education of any sort is what we make of it and I am glad for both my formal and informal learning.

  3. It’s interesting that this is coming up now given my recent request for ALA to allow non-MLS members to apply for Emerging Leaders.

    I think that there will always be value in an MLS. But I think there is value in opening opportunities and embracing librarians with other degrees as equals in the profession. Like Jacque said an MPA is extremely useful in a library setting…as is an MEd and a lot of other degrees.

    Experience should count just as much as education as a qualification too.

    As I am looking at applying to grad school I have only had one person so far who has an MLS encourage me to pursue an MLS. Pretty much everyone I have spoken with who has an MLS has advised me to go for something other than an MLS. To me that speaks volumes, and I agree it’s sad.

    I hope that colleges and universities revise their curriculum and offer more relevant courses and tracks for the MLS degree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *