Recognizing Professionals

Rachel Singer Gordon has a very thoughtful post about what it means to be a librarian and the times when one can separate the degree from the word.

I found myself nodding through most of Rachel’s post and I suggest you take a read through it. She makes some excellent points that cut through much of the blustering about who is a professional and who isn’t.

Rachel’s post was somewhat prompted by snobbish backlash to this year’s LJ Movers and Shakers. I’ve seen similar snobbery not only online in blogs and listservs but also I have seen it used as an excuse to devalue excellent people whose work is that of professionals in libraries. I’m rather particular about putting my degree on my business cards and formal letters sent out to the community because I’m proud of my education and there are times when reminding people that I do have an advanced degree is helpful. But when I need help, I’m also very likely to call the Incredibly-Patient-Mother, who ran a children’s department for seven years without an MLS.

There are benefits to the degree, certainly. I think we’re starting to see trends in the LIS programs that will make the degree stronger and more useful to the graduates, as opposed to being just the piece of paper needed to advance. On the flip side, the majority of the library students I knew (and know) are already working in libraries. They’re taking the skills they’ve learned on the job back into the classroom.

In the real world we see different kinds of “professional.” I know “library professionals” who have stopped learning, which is baffling for me as an information omnivore. Although fully burnt out when I finished library school, I’m probably headed back into some kind of formal coursework in the fall. I thrive in school. I know “paraprofessionals” who are continuing their education, some of them even including library school, and who, in a few years, are much more likely to be scampering up that professional ladder, gaining further recognition and accolades for their work in the community. How can we not recognize their achievements thus far based on lack of occasionally mind numbing coursework?

The nominations for the 2009 Movers and Shakers are open. To quote the requirements:

The editors of Library Journal need your help in identifying the emerging leaders in the library world. Our eighth annual Movers & Shakers supplement will profile 50-plus up-and-coming individuals from across the United States and Canada who are innovative, creative, and making a difference. From librarians to vendors to others who work in the library field, Movers & Shakers 2009 will celebrate the new professionals who are moving our libraries ahead.

I don’t see a field that requires degree date and transcripts.

Something to keep in mind for those working as librarians who do not yet have an MLS. (This is a rehash of the nagging lectures I give to friends who are working in libraries.) Consider the future and if you will want to change jobs or move to a new location. If so, go and read the job ads. If the majority of the job ads for what you are doing require the degree, it is probably in your best interest to look into completing it. I would hate to see you unable to continue your work or find equal because the hiring place has that requirement in place and you are unable to meet it. I would hope that if you are the best person for the job you would still be considered, but have, as a candidate, been disqualified for enough other reasons that I wouldn’t want to not give the committee an obvious one.

And for the record, one of the most motivating reasons I went to library school was a reference librarian at my hometown public library. Marcia was always welcoming and inspiring as I bounced through ideas of becoming a journalist, a writer, a professor and all other manner of English major things. It wasn’t until just before she recently retired that anyone bothered to point out to me that she hadn’t gotten her master’s degree. And really, it didn’t matter–She was a professional librarian.