The Alt-Ac movement is
a response to the dismal academic job market and the toxicity of graduate school an opportunity for scholars to use skills developed in their studies in new contexts. If you’re unfamiliar with the term Alt-Ac, it’s shorthand for “alternative academics,” and describes people that have left the professoriate to pursue jobs in non-profits, government, libraries, museums, and the private-sector. In this post, we’ll focus on libraries and continue the Alt-Ac conversation.
Innovation vs Protectionism
As was pointed out in the comments of my post, “What Does an Unsuccessful Academic Library Look Like,” libraries need to change and adapt. They need to ask faculty and students what they want from a library and plan accordingly. Does that mean libraries of tomorrow will look different than libraries of today? Does it mean libraries will no longer support core services? Or, does it mean libraries will continue to forge a hybrid role on campuses as an engaged partner in teaching, learning, and research?
A former colleague once told me the MLS was the most expensive union card you could buy. While there are jobs in libraries that require an ALA-accredited degree, a trend recognized by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) stated:
We may see an increasing number of non-MLS professionals in academic libraries with the skills needed to work in this changing environment. Graduate LIS programs and professional organizations will be challenged to provide new and relevant professional development while individual librarians and their institutions will struggle to fund such development. The profession may need to consider whether the terminal degree required for librarians should be changed or broadened.
Does the statement by the ACRL devalue the MLS or ALA-accreditation or does it acknowledge the changing roles of libraries?
Strange Case of Jekyll Ph.D & Hyde MLS
In the post, “Of Hybrarians, Scholar-Librarians, Academic Refugees, & Feral Professionals,” Amanda Watson describes her worry “about avoiding the stereotype of the clueless humanities Ph.D who grudgingly takes a library job after failing to land a faculty job, and then looks down on his or her library colleagues.” But, does the opposite also hold true? Do librarians look down on their colleagues who have a Ph.D?
Lisa Spiro describes being quietly dropped from a group for library professionals at Rice in the post “What is She Doing Here?” and further urges institutional decision makers to “get past obstacles based on status.” Her advice does not apply to just libraries, but to the general academic environment, as alternative academics navigate academia.
In looking at librarians reactions to Ph.Ds entering the profession, a point of interest is the 2011 controversy over a presentation by, then University Librarian of McMaster University, Jeffrey Trzeciak. Some outspoken posts in support of librarians and the MLS were written by K. G. Schneider and Jenica Rogers. A counterpoint to these posts from librarian, Michael Furlough can be read here.
If you don’t like clicking on links, the bullet points from one of Jeff Trzeciak’s slides reads:
- Unlikely to be librarians
- Unlikely to be traditional paraprofessional
- Likely to come out of IT, including audio/video production
- Likely to be PhDs
- Likely to have skills we haven’t even though of
- Likely to be shared with other units
Jump to Today
It’s 2013, the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship program is still accepting applications, tenure-track positions may be the new Alt-Ac career, and controversy has now shifted to the New York Public Library and Edwin Mellen Press.
Where are we in this conversation regarding Ph.D’s in libraries? If you are a librarian, a paraprofessional, a postdoc, or library professional without an ALA-accredited degree, I’d like to hear from you.
What’s been your experience working in libraries and how do you view Alt-Ac’s in libraries?