The latest edition of CLIR Issues (Council on Library and Information Resources) for September/October 2006 provides an update on their CLIR Postdoctoral Fellows in Scholarly Information Resources program. If you are unfamiliar with the program here is a description:
The CLIR Fellowship Program is designed to give the best recent Ph.D. recipients in the humanities a unique opportunity to develop as information professionals and scholars. Fellows are placed at different institutions, each with specific goals and projects for the participants. Fellows are afforded the opportunity to participate in the intellectual life of their institutions by working within the areas of academic librarianship; archives and archive management; special collections; curricular development; teaching and learning support (techno-pedagogy); and digital resource production and use. In addition, Fellows contribute to the development of the CLIR Program by participating in an intensive summer seminar; sharing work-in-progress through electronic portfolios; meeting regularly in virtual seminars with leading figures in the fields of librarianship, the humanities, and other related areas.
When I first learned of this program I reacted cynically as did a number of academic library colleagues. On the surface the program appears to offer fast-track entrance to coveted positions in academic libraries without the need for the traditional LIS education and resulting degree from an accredited program. It suggests one can go through the CLIR library boot camp, get some on the job experience, and then be deemed qualified to serve as an academic library professional. Here were some initial reactions of mine:
– don’t we already have enough qualified librarians with LIS degrees that can fill the available positions
– doesn’t granting those jobs to PhD holders without LIS degrees undermine the value of the degree
– aren’t the research institutions who churn out all those unemployable humanities PhDs the same ones who invented this program (i.e., um, let’s see…our English PhDs can’t find jobs in the professoriate….so…why not have them work in our libraries…great idea!!!)
In time I grew less skeptical, and even came to accept the idea that non-MLS professionals can strengthen academic libraries with their unique skill sets and expertise. And I was encouraged to read that some of the Fellowship recipients do go on to earn the LIS degree – and that should be further promoted within the program. So why write about this program update now? It was a statement I came across in the piece that I considered questionable and somewhat controversial. I refer to a statement from one of the program’s supporters who says she is so:
“because she believes it is one way of meeting an imminent, serious shortage in the library workforce.”
I’m certainly no expert on the library workforce, but I do encounter many LIS graduates who share their frustration over repeated failed attempts to find a professional position. Do the majority of ACRLog readers believe any such shortages exist in the library workforce? Not likely. The number of librarians, both new and experienced, who are challenged to find a desirable position will likely have a hard time taking that statement seriously. Now it may be there is an imminent shortage of doctoral-level digital scholars at elite research universities. Perhaps LIS programs are failing to produce the caliber of graduate needed to excel at these specialized positions – and the only way these institutions can find qualified individuals is to take PhDs and develop them in the CLIR program. Seems like my cynicism level is creeping upward again because I doubt this is the case. But even if such a shortage exists, we may still question why this CLIR program is needed when there is an abundance of graduates of MLS programs, new and experienced, some with PhDs themselves, readily available to alleviate the shortage. Is the program about eliminating imminent, serious shortages – or giving unemployable PhDs a bypass around the traditional LIS education route to a library job? Perhaps putting more traditionally educated PhDs in academic library positions will create better bridges with faculty. Or is it about something else all together? What do you think?