Why require an MLS for library technologists?
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.