There’s been some commentary lately on the discussion lists about the ethics of being a library volunteer after receiving the MLS degree.  There seems to be quite a split consensus between those who think it completely denegrates the profession and should be avoided in all situations and those who think it is a valuable tool to get experience.

Personally, I fall more towards the latter end of the spectrum, though I can understand the philosophical/market forces argument put forth by the former.  Internships, work study, volunteering, and other relatively no pay/low pay positions are theoretically in the realm of library school education.  They are meant to supplement course work in order to give us that all important hands-on experience.  By “giving it away for free” as certified professionals, we lower the market value of an MLS degree, which is already undervalued enough. 

However, it’s another one of those infuriating library field Catch-22s.  Many students have no chance to do an internship or get other real world library experience as part of their course work.  There are still many ALA-accredited programs that don’t have such a requirement.  Technically, you could become a librarian without ever setting foot in a library.  While that scenario isn’t likely, it is much more likely that we continue to mill out these cohorts of students who just don’t have the experience necessary to hit the job market running.  That’s where our field is professionally lacking – doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. all complete intensive training in their respective fields.  We do not, unless personally motivated.  It goes unstated that you’d better seek out paraprofessional experience or internships on your own during library school if you expect to even have a chance to break into the field.  Why is this such a secret for library school administrators, and such a gnawed over bone of contention for those of us entering the field?

Even those who choose to complete a – let’s say – 150 hour internship have experience that barely begins to scratch the surface.  You just can’t get the necessary experience in that timeframe.  Some libraries have the patience and resources to mentor and support inexperienced newbies.  Many do not, and as the library market is right now glutted with graduates who have both years of experience and a degree, those without are just not going to be able to compete.  So how can you tell these starry-eyed, newly minted MLS professionals that they aren’t allowed to volunteer to equal out the playing field?  I’ve also heard the argument that having the degree means never accepting a paraprofessional position.  This strikes a personal economic chord.  There are more job-seekers right now in this field than there are jobs.  What are the rest of them (soon to be us) to do as we wait for that first professional job? Polish our resumes like a worry-stone in the hope it will gleam more brightly for the hiring committees? That can only do so much.

 I am of the opinion that ALA accreditation standards need to change to reflect the need for experience, along with library schools limiting the number of students admitted into programs and increasing the rigor of library education.  I know this is not a new argument, but it’s one that needs to be voiced in a variety of venues until it gets heard by library schools and the ALA.  Our crisis is NOT one of recruitment, but of quality and competitiveness.