What is an MLS worth?

The following is a message I posted to the LIBSUP-L list in July of 1993. LIBSUP-L is a discussion list for topics of interest to library support staff, which I used to subscribe to in the mid-'90s before I got too busy to continue following it. One topic that surfaced fairly often is the value of the MLS, or Master of Library Science degree. Without rehashing the discussion here, let me just say that during this particular airing of the topic, several people expressed the opinion that with their years of experience on the job, they were often far more competent than MLS librarians who were fresh out of library school with no practical library experience, and at least one as much as said that the degree was worthless. The following was my contribution to the discussion.

Speaking as one who's been on both sides...

I worked for years in libraries (starting as a student worker), got
my MLIS, and now am a librarian.  At least in title anyway, for I feel
that it will take me years of hard work before I'll feel I really
deserve the title.

I actually enjoyed library school, and found it to be a rewarding
experience.  I can say that the kinds of things you learn in library
school are different from the things you learn on the job.  Some of it
overlaps, but really, they are different experiences that compliment
each other.  I do believe that what I learned in library school has
helped me to get more out of my current (and past) work experiences
than I think I would have otherwise.  I can also say that my past work
experience made my library school experience much richer.

Library school (as with academic study in general) is not well suited
for, nor is primarily intended to be, vocational training.  It's
inescapable that someone who's fresh out of library school will be far
less equipped to deal with the job than someone who's been doing it
for a while.

Library school is more than a place where you learn theory and
background and broadly survey the wide and varied world of libraries. 
It is all that, but it also goes much deeper.  I think the core
function of a library school (as with academic study in general) is to
prepare someone to grow and develop as a professional over the course
of an entire career.  You spend a lot of time writing papers and doing
projects and exercises, many of which may seem fairly insignificant in
of themselves, but the idea is to get you to think critically about
what you're trying to learn to do, to exhaustively examine the issues
in the field, and to seek creative approaches to dealing with
problems.  The MLS experience should, theoretically, produce someone
with the potential to not only serve effectively in a library, but to
also contribute to the field of librarianship and face the challenges
of the future.

The attitude of the student is critical to how well that goal is
achieved, even in a really good school.  I think it is unfortunate
that some MLSers look at the experience as a lot of busy work leading
to a piece of paper, including some people I've gone to school with. 
However, many of the people I went to school with found it to be a
valuable and life changing experience.

I suppose it is possible to learn this stuff on the job.  But chances
are you'd learn it faster and more thoroughly in an organized and
planned course of study.

Now I'm not saying that an MLS automatically makes someone an
enlightened person, or even a good librarian.  What I am saying is
that for me personally, getting my MLIS was definitely worth the time,
effort, and money.

One last thought:  "Library science" is a work in progress.  The
evaluation of a library's effectiveness is complex.  The best way to
provide effective service is difficult to determine.  Our world is
changing rapidly, and we must deal with what the future holds for us. 
To look at a smooth-running library as the function of librarianship
is, in my opinion, short-sighted and limited.  Admittedly, it's
unlikely (but not impossible) that someone could die or land in jail
as a result of what we do.  But libraries do have a real and
significant impact on people's lives, and to assure that for the
present and the future, it will take a lot of work by those of us who
work in libraries.  For this reason, I feel that librarianship IS a
legitimate profession.  And I feel that anyone -- librarian or not,
with or without an MLS -- who's willing to deal with these issues and
take on these challenges, fits at least one definition of what a
professional is.