A network for new and aspiring library professionals
The current system of mandating a postgraduate qualification for all entrants into the profession is failing in a number of respects. I feel I have to preface this argument slightly by stating that I firmly believe that libraries should be staffed and led by professionals who have received a high standard of training and education but my contention is that the current qualifying system of postgraduate degrees is a poor preparation for professional practice and is having a negative effect on the sector as a whole.
I believe there are three primary problems extant in the status quo:
Firstly, the high cost of postgraduate education inevitably discourages applicants, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, and limits the professional entry to those with the means to self-fund or those willing to incur further student debt.
Secondly, the requirement for academic qualification for entry-level librarian posts creates in insurmountable two-tier system in our workplaces; less a glass ceiling and more a firm concrete one that locks experienced and knowledgeable colleagues out of leadership positions.
Finally, the focus of postgraduate courses on academic rather than practical skills produces graduates who are poorly prepared for the modern workplace. The best of the university courses (and quality can vary considerably) will typically produce candidates without the necessary experience to fulfil most other criteria on a person specification besides the necessary certificate. This problem is compounded by the relative scarcity of vocational training in the sector such as graduate traineeships which are severely under-utilised: practical skills and vocational training are used as a ‘top-up’ to academic qualifications when what is needed is the reverse.
One solution could be to revolutionise the way training for aspiring librarians is carried out; a modern vocational and work-based training regime supplemented with academic modules where necessary. However, CILIP’s most recent assessment of qualifications has changed very little and the conservative approach to training remains. A less radical approach which could be immediately implemented would be to phase out the essential criterion of postgraduate certification on person specifications. A wider pool of candidates (from within and outside the sector’s current talent pool) could apply and would be judged on their skills, experience and achievements in the workplace rather than the academic skills and opportunities they have enjoyed. For the most part, the majority of vacancies would likely be filled by those with a library degree but there would be occasions where the successful candidate may be someone who would otherwise have been rejected at the short listing stage based solely on the lack of a postgraduate degree. The teaching departments of those universities delivering librarianship degrees need not close or withdraw courses but, for the first time, would be required to demonstrate why their form of training produces the strongest applicants in a system which operates on an even playing field.