more degrees for the same pay

In a recent Chronicle article, Todd Gilman complains about the lack of job postings for librarian subject specialists who have secondary master’s or doctoral degrees. While I think he makes valid points for why subject specialists should have post-graduate education in their fields of study, particularly if they are in tenure-track positions, I think he misses the mark as to why libraries are hiring folks without those degrees.

In that job posting and many others, the most attention paid to subject expertise (in the form of a master’s or Ph.D.) is a brief mention in the list of “preferred” qualifications. That is a strong indication that the hiring institution will settle for less — much less. In fact, I’m told that in a number of recent hires, Ph.D.’s and M.A.’s — some with years of professional experience working in top academic libraries in addition to having an MLIS — have been passed over in favor of candidates straight out of library school whose only previous degree was a bachelor’s.

Were they passed over because they asked for more compensation than what the institution was willing to pay? I suspect that may play a much larger role than what Mr. Gilman is giving it.

Libraries are usually the first target for budget cuts, and one of the biggest expenses in a library is staff salaries. Someone who has post-graduate degrees beyond the MLS will likely expect to be compensated for the additional skills and knowledge they bring to the job. University administrators either don’t understand or don’t care about the value that these folks add to collections and instruction, and as a result, they are unwilling to meet the compensation demands of these “better qualified” candidates. Recent graduates in any field will cost the university less in the salary department, and that short-term benefit is the only one that (mostly short-timer) administrators care about.

Given all that, would you go through the trouble of getting a second master’s degree or a doctoral degree, knowing that unless you are already in a tenure-track position with fair compensation, it is unlikely that you’ll be payed any more than you are already? Probably not, unless you were particularly passionate about research in your field of study.

Even so, that research might not help you with tenure, as some colleagues of mine discovered when their institution’s tenure requirements changed so that scholarship in their primary field (read: library science) alone counted towards tenure and post-tenure review. Nevermind that they focused most of their scholarly research in their secondary subject specialties.

All of the above is why I took myself out of the tenure-track world. I have no interest (at this time) in becoming a subject specialist in anything but what I do every day: librarianship. I’m happy to let others make decisions about content, so long as they let me focus on my areas of expertise, such as delivery platforms, access, and licensing issues.