Monday, 6 September 2010

The Librarianship Qualification

This is a difficult one (following from discussions here, here and here).  As mentioned before, my first full-time library job was as Music Information Officer at a specialist music library, doing all of the things a 'proper' librarian would have been doing - if there had been one there - and I think I did a good job at it too.  They did recognise the value of the qualification, encouraged me to go for it and have appointed people that were already qualified to the position since then, but in a lot of ways the fact that I had a strong music background was more important to the post than the librarianship qualification would have been.  I remember feeling frustrated that I was doing so much in that post but couldn't get the job I was already doing elsewhere without getting this 'piece of paper'.  Luckily, I love learning so was more than happy to do a Masters.  I looked into the options and went with Aberystwyth - a distance learning programme that even had an optional module on music librarianship.

I'm now about to head to my last study school in preparation for the dissertation and I've come around to the value of the qualification as more than just a way to open doors.  Our course included the theory, but a lot of the assignments encouraged practical application - business plans for new services, reports for collection management, analyses of information retrieval systems, a journal article for actual potential publication, an entire module on Studies in Management - and we did have the option to specialise in areas such as music, archives, health, schools and knowledge management.  We didn't spend lots of time actually cataloguing or classifying, but then, that's the kind of thing that's best learned on the job.  I think the balance between the practical and the theory was perfect, although I would love to be able to take more of the other optional modules.  (Please let us do them as CPD when we're finished the Masters!)

Do I think a Masters is essential to be a good librarian? No.  I know I did a good job without it, and in fact a postgraduate diploma is the norm in Ireland, not the full Masters.

Do I think I would do things differently if I was back at CMC now, with what I've learned from the Masters?  Absolutely.  I have a much better understanding of approaches to collection management.  I have thought through the issues involved in deciding between electronic and print.  I've done some research on what's done differently in other Music Information Centres.  I've realised the importance of evidence-based learning and feeding my experiences back into the literature.

So, do I think you should have to have a postgraduate qualification in librarianship? It was valuable, it did prepare me for working in all sorts of libraries, it taught me to think beyond the here and now and look for better ways of doing things.  I don't think someone with years of experience should be overlooked because they don't hold that piece of paper already - their practical experience might be worth more than the qualification.  Isn't that why CILIP allows Associate members that are working in what is essentially a librarian role to apply for chartership, even without the qualification, provided they can prove that they are working at that level already?
I think the real point is that any applicant for a job as Librarian should be able to prove that they have the skills and knowledge required for the position.  The piece of paper is a useful short-cut, but it's not enough.  Experience is needed as well, and more than a certain amount of experience should be enough to be called for interview, even without the qualification.  If someone can stand up against other candidates that have a Masters, then they should get the job.  I think the best-placed applicants will always be the ones with qualification and the experience, and even sometimes additional qualifications that are relevant to the job, such as a background in the subject area.  If there's a glut of people with a Masters, it's always going to be more difficult for the people without it to prove that they can do just as well, but if they can prove it, they should have that chance.  I'm grateful to the English Faculty Library for taking me on even though I'm still working on it!

Just my thoughts...


  1. Hi Niamh. Thanks so much for this post, I found it really interesting. I began the same course at Aberystwyth in April 2010 and as the initial buzz of the study school and returning to academic study (albeit not particularly profound academic study) wears off and I'm faced with the prospect of writing a business plan for the very first time, reading a positive review of the advantages of the course in your career has been very comforting.

    I chose to study by distance learning so that I could work and gain experience--as well as earn some money--at the same time. I think your answer to the last question is a brilliantly balanced and thoughtful espousal of some of the key issues here.

    I also (possibly naively) thought that there would be a significant degree of practical application of the theory learned via the modules at work. So far I've not found that to be the case AT ALL. But it's still early days, I guess, and there's still time.

    Good luck at your last study school and enjoy that beautiful Aber beach!

  2. Hi Helen,

    I'm glad you found it useful! Thinking back now, I came back from my first study school worrying that I wouldn't 'get' any of what we'd be doing because I wasn't in a 'normal' library - I was so wrong. I've been able to drag all but two of the assignments back to my first-hand experience. Those two were soul-destroying essays that you just knew thousands of people had written before and thousands will write again, but the others more than balanced them out. I'm sure you'll find the same.

    Good luck, and shout if you need to bounce ideas!


  3. I can sympathise with the soul-destroying essays! And interestingly, some of the Collection Development work is what has stuck with me as particularly useful, even though I didn't enjoy it much at the time (that's an interesting lesson on the difference between teaching and content - the content was apparently quite good, but the teaching left a little to be desired).

    The balance between experience and understanding (as one ought to gain from a qualification, whether MA or diploma or whatever) is key, the qualification ought to be organised such that it's possible to apply what you've learn in the workplace. That's sort of what I'm arguing in my new post, anyway (here comes the plug):

  4. Yes, great post, I read it last night! I'll be interested in any follow-up posts. I'm off to start a thread on LISNPN -