I would like to thank everyone who took the time to post a comment to the original post. While I thoroughly enjoy writing this blog and would probably do it even if only my kids were reading it, I have to say it is very rewarding to have feedback and to generate a worthwhile discussion. If you haven’t read the first post, or if you didn’t take time to read the comments, please do. Many of them offer much more insight than what I had to say in the first place. I’m particularly grateful to my colleague here at The Library System of Lancaster County, Ed Miller, for contributing his thoughts. They are always spot on.

As promised, I asked my classmates to share their thoughts, and five of them did. We had a very special cohort, which you can read about here. Since some of the criticism about online education stems from the notion that there is no opportunity to develop personal relationships, it’s somewhat ironic that the personal relationships I developed as a result of my online education are in many ways even more valuable than the education itself. I met–virtually and in person–some of the most extraordinary people and librarians that you would ever hope to meet. Pennsylvania is indeed fortunate.

I appreciate my classmates’ contributions, which again offer a perspective that I could not. One voice is almost never enough-

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I am an alumnus of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. I have an MLS degree from their ALA-accredited program. I have never been on their campus.
There are some that might argue that I don’t have a “real” degree – that I attended a “Laptop University” that exists only to make money and generate paper degrees. That may be the case with some programs, but I can guarantee you that is not the case at Clarion. I am 1 of 25 Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Scholars for the state of Pennsylvania, and of those, nearly all of them are graduates of this program. We had to compete for this honor and were chosen because the selectors saw the future of libraries in Pennsylvania in us. [Many of us] were already library professionals at rural libraries or libraries serving a low-income population.

Yes, I could sit in my pajamas and work on assignments, but I was able to do that while working on a different degree on a physical campus. I have taken graduate level classes both on physical and virtual campuses, and I can honestly say the virtual world is much more difficult. You don’t have an instructor there to go to for explanations or clarifications. You are often given an assignment and expected to do it and hope it is right. Don’t get me wrong, there is an instructor for the class, but their time is often monopolized by students from their physical classrooms. There is also the seemingly never-ending litany of discussions where you would have to give a valid response of more than, “I agree.”

To generalize that one online degree program is the same as the next or that one student is the same as the next would be like saying Sprite is the same as Sierra Mist. There is no real way of comparing these things unless one is to look at the ALA-accredited programs versus the non-accredited programs.
In the long run, no one really cares about two things – your GPA or whether your degree is from an online program if it is a college or university. And, by the way, most of those in my virtual cohort have been published in a peer-reviewed journal…how many traditional students can say that? Becky Richardson

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I have a Master’s in Library Science from Clarion University. Clarion is one of three universities in the state of Pennsylvania recognized by the ALA. The curriculum was equally demanding as that of a traditional student, and I am equally prepared to challenge any traditional student regarding the content and high standard of my graduate studies. Because of the four-hour distance to the university and the fact that I have a full-time job, going to the physical classroom was impossible. I do, however, realize that many of my fellow librarians in Schuylkill County District where I live and work have “library certification,” which is 9 to 12 credits from a community college along with an unrelated associate or bachelor’s degree to qualify as a library director in Pennsylvania. There is a vast educational difference in such a minimum requirement (certification vs. an online educational program such as Clarion, Drexel, and the University of Pittsburgh). Joan Farrell, MSLS

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I would never judge where someone went to undergrad or grad school.  I think the true test is what you do with that knowledge.  I didn’t realize that it was that big of a deal. My resume states, “Clarion, Dec 2010.” Linda Filkosky

Our experience as Laura Bush Scholars in the Clarion program was life changing in so many positive ways. I naively went into the program with the attitude that I already knew quite a lot about libraries and librarianship. But I needed the sheepskin to somehow amplify my voice. I was so wrong. You don’t know what you don’t know. The program taught me to think and hear and see in different ways. Did I feel like some of it was extraneous BS? Yes. But those were the days when life was especially challenging. I think our interaction with one another in the virtual classroom and in our own [Facebook group] venue was particularly enriching. That the value of that program is in question makes me wonder just how elitist is our profession? And now, 1 1/2 years later, do I feel that the sheepskin amplified my voice? No. The piece of paper didn’t do that for me. The confidence born of hard work and based on knowledge and experience did that. June Houghtaling

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First, let me say, as a professional librarian and director of a public library in Western Pennsylvania , I have often perused and relished digesting “Will Unwound.” I first learned of and was enticed by his commentary as an online MLS student at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. One of my fellow students christened Will as a curmudgeon, but as an over-50, his prose often hit bone for me (and I can be cranky too).

However, as the recipient of an online MLS, I charge that Manley’s blanket argument against the quality of online library degrees and finger-pointing of such as the cause of  librarianship glut is unsound.

Yes, Will, Unsound.

The online library degree I attained was one of the most difficult endeavors I have squared off with; I have raised three sons, cared for ailing and elderly family members, and worked in newspapers for over two decades. My first incarnation was as a reporter, and I graduated as a scholarship student with my B.A. meritoriously from a bricks and mortar, highly respected university.

That said, working for my online MLS was much more daunting, and I learned more.

The cyber effort encompassed two years of logging several hours daily at Laptop U on grad work, and sometimes 13 hours on both weekend days. I churned out paper upon paper, immersed myself in today’s librarianship from marketing to original cataloging and was required to be published in a professional journal.

Will, it was not the least bit “tantalizingly easy’; I might even use the word “grueling”.

In addition, my online cohort connected me with some of the most brilliant women and yes, a shining star of a man, in librarianship today. Meeting in the Rathskellar together does not a better librarian make.

Now, I will agree that Manley raises the issue that some online degrees are dubious, and we all must be vigilant in the programs we choose. But I refuse to have my degree and my fellow colleagues’ accomplishments diminished. Stellar librarians emerge from bricks and mortar and online programs.

And while I would like to write more, I have library doors to keep open and patrons to help. Our community has been hit hard by unemployment (few of them are library science majors).

But before I sign off, I need to mention one regular patron: a single, African-American mother who works a full-time job who in May finished her undergraduate degree. Some of her classes were taken at our public computers and some on campus from a state university. One of my proudest moments in life: hearing about her graduation and knowing I helped teach her how to do scholarly research in the digital age.

Laptop U taught me. Terri Gallagher

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I also received the following comment via email from someone who didn’t want to post publicly on my blog-

I graduated in 2002. As the rumor goes, I attended a pretty good [bricks and mortar] library school, and …I think I got one B. I worked hard, I suppose, newly single, raising kids alone, working full time and going to library school. I thought everything was hard. Really, I got all As. But here’s the thing…

I doubt very seriously that one, single professor recalls my name.  Or my work. Honestly, how does anyone dare to imagine that your education is much different from mine? Why would anyone suggest otherwise?  Oh, I’m sure there are some not so great programs – but I imagine the difference is not in which chair you sat.  I went to school with a lot of other students like me, raising families, working another full-time job, and trying to keep on top of school work.  We signed in; we listened; we answered; we did our assignments; and we went home.  We didn’t join clubs or excel in activities that would leave an impression on our instructors. I know that I’m not unique in my experience; I’ve spoken with others.  For a long time I thought it was something I did “wrong.” But what I’ve heard over the years is something like, “Our instructors were as busy as we were and had no interest in getting to know us personally.”

It’s just a little sad – sad that you must “defend” because so many are academic snobs, but also sad on my end.  Failing to find fulfilling library work, I think some days that I’ll go back to grad school.  I drool over applications until I get to that part where I need to send in recommendations.  Then I remember, no one remembers my name. It’s a really silly argument.

Education can happen anywhere – good teachers adapt to whatever medium available.  I had some great teachers – I’m a REALLY good librarian.  Clearly this is your situation also – I’m betting you were also a great student.  Great teachers teach and great students learn, if necessary, in caves in the dark.

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I dislike flame wars–that is not the purpose of this post or the previous post. The purpose is to give voice to the online graduates (and others) who are proud of their accomplishments and rightly so. I dislike flame wars, but I dislike academic snobbery, too. Enough said. Time to move on.