Why require an MLS for library technologists?

2007 July 18
by Karen

I started to comment Ross Singer’s recent post “Union Card” but the comment gained a life of its own and I decided rather than potentially having it eaten because of its length (this has happened to me before on other blogs) I’d create a post here. In essence, Ross wants to know why a particular job being advertised as requiring an MLS, given its job duties.

Looking at the ad in question, I don’t necessarily agree with the MLS requirement. I don’t see anything in the post that would indicate this person is a dept head or has to interact with librarians. However, it is difficult to tell because the job description requirements are, in my opinion, extremely badly written.

One thing I would like to say to Ross though is that there are many reasons why the MLS gets tacked on to library technology positions. We are currently searching for a web services coordinator at UH and it requires an MLS. Why? First, the person has to interact with the librarians to make decisions about our open source web applications, as Leo points out having an MLS puts them on par with the people they are dealing with. Second, while this position requires technical work, the communication skills, political savvy, and project management experience piece of the puzzle are in some ways more important. Another issue is that at UH it is very difficult to be allowed to do a national search for what is considered a “staff” position. Librarian = national search. Based on the failure of our search for a Web Developer 3, my personal feeling is national search good, local search bad.

Another potential factor in this is the small to mid-size library factor where the librarian is question must work the reference desk, do collection development, and teach information literacy sessions in addition to their technical/systems administration duties. This was my previous job in a nutshell and although I would argue that this model is somewhat insane, it persists because there are only x number of positions the library is allowed to have and another MLS to share the library workload is always a plus.

However, not all library systems positions should require MLS degrees; sometimes this is just plain silly. For example, why would I want my web developers to have MLSs? However, my personal preference is to see managers in library IT departments be librarians, but only if they are qualified in terms of the skills necessary to do the job. Those skills aren’t always technology skills. I’ve often found myself using my anthropology degree as part of my job. Being an effective manager of technology takes WAY more than technical adeptness. I use my technical skills rarely compared the other tools in my kit. Some of the most important qualities about my current AD for Systems (who doesn’t have a technology background at all) are his ability to manage people and projects effectively, his understanding of university politics and how to get things done, and his budget and fund raising savvy.

As a result, I think an MLS for library technologists is a reasonable requirement because of the desired background, skill set, and knowledge-base.

And let’s be honest Ross, good library technologists with an MLS don’t need “the profession propped up”, we could work lots of places other than libraries for significantly more money.

11 Responses leave one →
  1. 2007 July 18

    Q: why would I want my web developers to have MLSs?

    A: Your librarians won’t respect them if they don’t.

  2. 2007 July 18

    yeah, I completely agree with this comment. The way we are structured here that isn’t a problem because I and the new Web Services Coordinator interact with the librarians. My developers don’t have to interact with them regularly.

  3. 2007 July 23

    Great post, Karen.
    I think the solution will vary from library to library, something you hint at in your response to Blake. My former position was as an I.T. manager–none of the folks below me were librarians (at first); it was crucial that the person in that position speak the same language as the librarians, who were largely decidedly non-progressive. It’s been interesting watching the evolution of the position since I left it. The exact position number has been converted to an AD (!), and it will be very interesting to see who fills the position of having to manage the on-the-ground IT folks, including the caretakers of the ILS and website, both of whom are librarians all but in name (no MLS). I think they’re realizing that it’s still crucial for that person to be a librarian of one stripe or another.

  4. 2007 July 31
    Naomi Dushay permalink

    While I agree that the need to require an MLS is situational, I would hope that folks would be open to “or the equivalent.” I’ve been working in the library, and digital library, field for 15 years. I have no MLS; my educational background is in computer science. However, I believe my work experience, starting back as an undergrad, has given me the appropriate background. This would seem to be borne out, as I am now in a tenure track faculty position at an academic research library.

    As to the skills necessary to be a manager, I would argue that neither computer science nor library science has much to offer. As with so many important life skills (e.g. parenting), there are few degrees considered “relevant” that provide instruction in how to manage projects or people, how to run meetings, how to communicate effectively in all the different situations jobs require. I picked up a lot of these skills in volunteer work, in other non-work activities, and of course on the job.

  5. 2007 August 7

    Do you know another place to view Ross’ post? dilettantes.code4lib.org is all messed up and didn’t appear to come back when code4lib.org was restored.

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