I can't possibly cover all the various issues surrounding status, job roles, the level of academic study and attainment, and necessity that are being discussed, and I much that I have to say will fall into the realm of truism and platitude. First out of the box, there's the truism that LIS MAs, as with so much in life, are trying to be all things to all people. Curricula try to encompass a range of sectors, a range of skills, and a balance between practical and theoretical teaching that will never come close to matching any individual's career path. No-one's really arguing that an MA you should teach you everything you need to know for a given post, but rather, it seems to me, that it should equip you with the background knowledge and skill to be able to take on any given job as competently as possible. A more contentious issue is whether we need an MA (or other qualification) at all, or whether librarians' training should be achieved solely through on-the-job learning. On this point I'm going to side with those in favour of some sort of qualification: I think that it's important to have formal recognition that this is a professional job. Though I don't know what sort of qualification would truly best indicate this.
What's really caught my interest is the discussion of MA content, and how it does, or doesn't prepare students for real work. A couple of years after graduating, I've come to the following conclusiong about my own MA (I feel weirdly reticent about criticising it openly, so I'm not saying where it was, though it may well be obvious):
What I liked
- In-depth tuition in cataloguing (AACR2) and classification (several main systems).
- Writing a full Collection Development Policy for a particular collection as coursework.
- A couple of the optional modules that fitted in with my particular, and somewhat academic, interests.
What I didn't like
- The lack of detailed practical examples, particularly relating to e-resources management, staff management, legal issues, and LMS/cataloguing solutions.
- The lack of meaningful discussions of modern profesisonal trends and arguments (I felt we were rather left to discover those for ourselves, which seemed a waste).
Andy Priestner has written an interesting and quite convincing post about the benefits of a really *practical* training at library school. Andy has a lot more experience than me, particularly in the business of recruiting staff (something I've never done), so I would probably do well not to ignore his conclusion that 'the Library MA just isn’t vocational enough and doesn’t sufficiently prepare those who complete it for the challenges of the posts they will take after it'. My experience of library school was that much of the coursework was intended to be 'practical', but that much of it didn't feel very useful. The CPD-writing example above was different because we did look in quite some depth at particular libraries' CPDs, and as many of them are available online, I spent a long time considering them before I wrote my own. This felt like useful work, because of the combination of background instruction and real-world application. Many of the other assignments felt far more detached from the real world, either because there was little impetus to connect them to current issues, or because very little theoretical (or, rather, technical) grounding was provided (my own 'education' in 'legal issues' springs vividly to mind here - I really felt that this was a topic where a couple of lectures from experts would have been really beneficial, rather than 45mins on general topics and a reading list).
My desire for theory and technical detail is quite possibly a feature of my rather cerebral learning style - until I understand the background to something you'll have a really hard time trying to get me to put it into practice. But equally, if we reduce librarianship to some stark terms - selection, description and organisation - and learn a little about them theory of how that's done , we'd be better able to embrace the 'modern world' in a timely and effective fashion. My library school education (and I only graduated in November 2008, so it wasn't long ago) gave me the feeling that the world of libraries was splitting in two - the good old sort, doing it how they always had; and the reckless new places using *gasp* widgets, and pictures in the catalogue, and tags, and who knows what. Now, this impression was likely at least 50% my own fear of the unknown, but I like to think that a really great course would have shaken that fear out of me my showing how nothing's fundamentally changed - we're just finding new ways to help people find out about stuff.
What I'm really arguing for here is the proper integration of theory and practice. I don't see any value in a qualification (be it BA, MA, postgraduate diploma or Girl in the Moon's advanced custard pie throwing certificate) that sets practical exercises that are mere hoop-jumping exercises that appear to meet the standards for a course because they are 'vocational'. This isn't what Andy, or anyone else, is looking for either, I'm sure.
What would I have liked from an MA?A course that examined the fundamentals of library work, that examined how they apply in the modern world, that let us practise real-world skills, and that wasn't afraid to engage intelligently and rigorously with current debates.
I'm not quite that's what I got, but, I did learn a lot - some about libraries, some about me - and I gained the confidence (mis-placed or no) that I'm now 'qualified' and can set about building a bigger, brighter, library world (sorry - it's been a long day).
P.S. I wrote this quickly, and have barely scratched the surface. I'd love to hear other thoughts - so please harangue me!