I think I’ll call them Masterful and Mastermind. And I will make them female, just because there are only two choices–no gender bias intended. Let me introduce them-
Masterful wields her MLS/MLIS/MSLS like a weapon. She rules with an iron fist and with inflexible standards. She is careful to carefully distinguish at all times, and in all circumstances, between professional librarians and paraprofessionals. Masterful has made it clear that anyone without the proper credentials is unable to think or act independently or perform professional librarian duties. Masterful is quick to point to her degree as proof that she is entitled to her proprietary and territorial hold on her sacred librarian ground. If you don’t know she’s a professional, by God, she will tell you and everyone else who will listen. She earned that degree and how dare you tell her that it doesn’t mean something. She’s not threatened by “non-professionals,” mind you; she is simply looking out for the profession. Masterful is full of her master’s, herself, and something else, too.
Mastermind uses her MLS/MLIS/MSLS like a tool. She is well aware that there are many others without the degree more capable than she, and she is not afraid to admit this to herself or anyone else. She knows that in the real world the lines are blurred when it comes to distinguishing between professional librarians and non-professionals and quite frankly believes that being a professional has less to do with having a degree than it does with attitude, conduct, and work ethic. Mastermind welcomes input from everyone and understands that her position or stature is not threatened simply because someone else, less schooled, knows more than her or can do what she was taught in school to do. Mastermind understands that what her degree has given her is not the right to devalue the efforts of others but rather the power to change perception. Mastermind knows three things–1) the degree is a useful tool and gives someone in the profession a definite advantage; and 2) the degree activates the sound button on a voice that would otherwise be unheard, silenced, or not taken seriously; and 3) the degree does not make her do her work better or even necessarily enhance her skills; the degree gives her a solid, wide perspective on the profession and a chance to make a real difference because she is visible and audible while the paraprofessionals are often not.
What do Masterful and Mastermind have in common?– An advanced library science degree and not much else.
I know that there are serious issues at hand for librarians when it comes to unemployment, underemployment, and the devaluing of the master’s degree in library science. For some great, recent discussion on the subject go to Will Unwound and to Will’s most recent article in American Libraries, which came out right before Forbes dropped the news that Masterful and Mastermind share the worst Master’s Degree for jobs.
But that’s not an excuse to ignore the reality that the degree is not always necessary to perform some of the jobs some of us perform. And that by working to hold onto our status as professionals, we are, in effect, devaluing the enormous contributions of those in the field who walk the walk every day but can’t talk the talk because their voices are not heard.
I don’t know what the solution is, really. I’m certainly not advocating for devaluing my own degree–I worked hard to achieve it, and I’m proud that I have it. Maybe we should look more closely at where and when and in what positions the degree is truly necessary and where it is not and make those distinctions based on something other than just because that’s the way it’s always been.
Times change; needs change. We need more visionary leaders in the world of libraries. If the MLS or the equivalent can make that happen, then that is a degree that is worth something. Otherwise, we are all masters of a very small universe. Let’s elevate the entire profession by rising to the occasion.