The great international debate

My library has been working on updating our tenure and promotion policies. Yes, I can hear the collective groans from everyone out there, and it has indeed been a slow and painstaking process. But wait — lest I start out on a negative note I want to hasten to add that it is also a process in which I feel privileged to be participating.

As we’ve been combing through our potential new policy, I found myself tripped up by what I would formerly have considered the most standard of requirements: the ALA-accredited MLS degree.

Now here’s my thought process as we picked apart the document that my coworkers have worked so admirably hard on: an ALA MLS, sure, that’s the standard every librarian should have. Hm. Of course, ALA is an American organization, so what happens if the individual in question isn’t American? Do we want to immediately exclude librarians from other nations from ever getting a permanent job here? (Can you see the lightbulb going off?)

Personally, I thrive on diversity, the meeting of different opinions, backgrounds, perspectives. Don’t you? Part of what I love about our field is the fact that we do value those differences and gain such richness overall. So I decided to do my research and find out what the deal is on international librarian credentials that might fly in the US. My best find was an article in New Library World (v.108 no.1/2) entitled “International credentialing, certification, and recognition in the United States” but the article is an explanation of the problem, not an answer.

It did, however, lead me to ALA’s policy (54.2) on the issue:

The master’s degree from a program accredited by the American Library Association (or from a master’s level program in library and information studies accredited or recognized by the appropriate national body of another country) is the appropriate professional degree for librarians.

But this must be some sort of evasive maneuver. How on earth does one determine what the “appropriate national body of another country” is? Does someone out there maintain a list? I suddenly realized how complex all of this really is.

I don’t have any answers either, I’m afraid, but this issue concerns me greatly. The geography of our nation has always lent itself to a certain amount of isolationism when it comes to the world at large. If our field is based on an isolationist approach to the way we credential librarians, then I worry for our future in a world that shrinks by the day. Here’s a crusade desperately in need of a crusader. I know I, for one, will be thinking about the alternatives.

4 thoughts on “The great international debate”

  1. I’m not sure it would be that difficult to figure out what constituted an equivalent degree/path to professional librarianship. I agree, it’s worth remaining open minded.

    By the way, there are several Canadian programs accredited by the ALA, which is not limited to the US.

  2. I’m glad you posted about this, Kim, because it is one of the things that continues to be a great mystery to me. I became curious about this topic when I considered getting my MLS in Canada (then realized, as Barbara mentioned, there are ALA-accredited programs over there), and also when I was considering moving overseas myself and wondered if an ALA-accredited MLS would be of use if I wanted to be a librarian in, say, Australia. So I took a look at the Australian Library & Information Association (ALIA) and found that you don’t need a graduate level degree to be a professional librarian, just a bachelor’s (see here: Then if you take a look here: you’ll see that most of the graduate level programs accredited by ALIA are specifically information & knowledge management, not library science. But it seems that if someone came over with a bachelor’s in LS and a master’s in knowledge management (both accredited by ALIA), this should translate into the equivalent of an ALA-accredited degree. But I don’t know, would it?

  3. One would need to use an equivalency service to make sure that the degree is similar to the ALA degree. I had to do this recently with my job.
    I have a ALA accredited degree from a Canadian school, which I had to have in order to get my job, but when I began to work on a different work visa — switching from a TN-1 to a H1-B it was required that my material be evaluated. All together the cost was around 200.00 (transcripts, evaluation and postage). It was fairly fast and painless, except for the $$.
    I think what really needs to be talked about are the ways academic institutions support or (don’t support) international librarians. I know many Canadian librarians who come to the states, get jobs and then have to go home because the university can’t or won’t support them through the immigration process. I’ve been very fortunate at the University of Kansas, with the support I have received.

  4. Thanks for posting about this issue – for those overseas it is more complex than it seems. For example, here in Australia, Masters level courses are not yet the norm, and we also offer undergraduate courses in librarianship.

    ALA has agreements with CILIP in the UK and ALIA in Australia, but recognising only the Masters level courses from each of those associations. Many recent graduates are considering their international options more and upgrading to a Masters to ensure all possibilities are covered. I too have just converted my initial Graduate Diploma (another anomaly) to a Masters.

    I posted recently on another blog about a project that IFLA is taking on to examine this issue in more detail.

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