A network for new and aspiring library professionals
I have started this post several times. In fact, this post should have been available to read a while ago, but I have been stalling. Why? I find the current arguments for having an professional qualification (e.g.MA) to be weak. I could say: “Yes, the library MA is worthwhile because it will allow you to gain a professional post.” However, as Darren argues, is it just ticking boxes? Are competent librarians in non-professional posts being prevented from applying for jobs because they have been unable to spend £4000+ on a degree?
It would be easier to defend if there was cohesion in terms of course content, across all CILIP-accredited Institutions. Currently, I feel there is not. There are certain areas in the information sector such as Information Literacy (IL), Copyright and Digital Skills that should be a) core modules b) taught in greater length and in the case of IL, it should be taught from the perspective of a teacher (e.g. lesson planning, presentation skills and learning theory). Especially now that these skills are becoming more and more relevant to information professionals across all sectors.
That said, I am required to defend it (both for the sake of this blog and because a professional qualification has provided me with opportunities that would not have been possible without it). I am basing my argument on personal experience; I had very little exposure to the library and information sector prior to enrolling on the MA, and thus the MA provided a valuable insight into the profession. The MA, whilst providing an overview of the key principles of the information sector, enabled me to consider working in different information sectors.
The MA (or BA/MSc/PG dip) offers the opportunity to develop skills in business planning and copyright law (always pick the copyright module, it is important!), which some individuals in non-professional roles may not get the chance to experience in the workplace. In addition, with the number of graduate traineeships dwindling, the opportunities for people to gain the necessary on-job-experience that has been proposed as an alternative to the professional qualification are few. Thus, the argument that the professional qualification is denying opportunities to competent non-professionals can also be directed towards the idea of librarians being developed in training programmes.
In addition, the BA/MA/MSc offers the opportunity to research a key area of the library and information sector, an opportunity that should not be underestimated. I researched the use of mobile technology as research devices, I found the topic interesting and it proved to be a talking point in interviews. However, more than that, after researching a topic so intently, you gain knowledge in that area and elements of that experience can be practically applied to the work place and, from my experience, it will lead to opportunities with your job role.
Furthermore, the professional qualification offers an opportunity to develop an awareness of different sectors and consider how the theoretical elements of the course can be applied to various library/information professions. The information sharing via classmates regarding their experience of being in the profession or their take on a theoretical issue provides the foundation for every library student to form a network. The course enables students to work collaboratively, write in various forms (essay, report, business plan) and have work assessed at an Masters standard, thus providing students with the confidence that if a professional post requires experience in report writing they have a firm understanding of the format and the evidence to back it up. Skills such as report writing or collaborative team working are not always found in non-professional roles, so in that respect I can understand why a professional qualification would be valued as a pre-requisite. It is important to acknowledge that whilst the professional qualification route has issues, the job descriptions of those in non-professional roles are unlikely to provide the experience in teaching or presenting/report writing/cataloguing that is often required in a professional post. The BA/MA/MSc/PG dip on the other hand should provide candidates with the theory and some experience behind these key aspects.
But above all, whether a person decides to complete a professional qualification or not, it is a commitment to lifelong learning in the information profession that is the most valuable pre-requisite in any job description.
As a final point, my argument refers to the BA/MA/MSc/PG dip route.