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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 07/09/2012

The worst master’s degree?

American Library Association President Maureen Sullivan was not amused by Forbes’ recent designation of the library and information science degree as the worst master’s for a student to pursue.


Main reading room, Library of Congress. (Michael Dersin)
In this Forbes.com post , master’s degrees were rated based on salary, employment outlook and long-term opportunities.

Programs that train physicians’ assistants were No. 1 on the “best” list; computer science, second; electrical engineering, third. Leading the “worst” list was library and information science; English was second and music, third.

The rankings are like many others: They should be taken with little more than a grain of salt. As Sullivan notes, one notable item missing from the criteria is a little thing called job satisfaction.

Sullivan took issue with the top “worst” ranking for a number of reasons. Here’s her statement:

Recently, Forbes.com wrote: “…the low pay rank and estimated growth rank make library and information science the worst master’s degree for jobs right now.” It is true that many librarians are not paid for the full value of their work. The profit-centered, corporation-based measures valued by Forbes suggest that pay rates and growth are the only valid reasons for selecting a career or seeking an advanced degree.

While it is true that for some individuals these factors are the principal focus, for librarians the primary motivation is job satisfaction derived from the opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of others.

Librarians find fulfillment in their work because they provide essential services for patrons of public, school, college, university and other libraries. The range of services they offer matter greatly to their communities: assistance finding jobs; free, reliable and organized access to books, the Internet and other sources of information and entertainment; research and reference assistance; and, programs for children, immigrants and other groups with specific needs, plus much more.

In more than 16,000 public libraries across the U.S, librarians offer a lifeline to people trying to adapt to challenging economic circumstances by providing technology training and online resources for employment, access to government resources, continuing education, retooling for new careers and starting a small business. More than 74 percent of libraries offer software and other resources to help patrons create resumes and employment materials, and 72 percent of libraries report that staffs help patrons complete online job applications. Libraries have also fueled renewed interest in and use of library services. Americans are capitalizing on free access to books, magazines, e-books, DVDs, the Internet and professional assistance. More than ever, libraries are community hubs, and it is the librarian who works to maintain a safe harbor for teens, a point of contact for the elderly and a place to nurture lifelong learning for all.

In schools across the country, librarians support teaching by providing students access to the tools and resources necessary to gain 21st century learning and digital literacy skills to enable them to compete in a global economy. Librarians are teaching students how to navigate the Internet and how to conduct research. They foster a love of reading and prepare them for college, where specialized academic and research librarians then continue to support and guide their education.

You don’t have to look far to find a librarian. There are more than 135,000 librarians working in schools, public libraries and colleges and universities – plus thousands more in hospitals, law firms, government agencies, corporations and nonprofit organizations. From the Chicago Symphony to Columbia University to Entertainment Weekly, there is a diverse range of career opportunities for these graduates. Librarianship remains a dynamic and rewarding career choice ranging from teaching information literacy skills to digitizing and archiving rare collections to selecting the winning Newbery Medal book for children.

Graduates of master’s of library and information science programs (now frequently known as “information schools” or “I-schools”) have training in a range of competencies that can be successfully applied not only in librarianship, but also to careers in other fields.

So, if you are looking for a rewarding career that will enable you to make a significant difference in the lives of others and contribute to the health and well-being of our communities (while providing a comfortable standard of living), a master’s degree in library and information science is an excellent choice.”

Maureen Sullivan, president

American Library Association

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