Re: [ACAT] Tell all your associates, don’t go to library school.

Posting to Autocat

On 20/06/2012 21:13, Myers, John F. wrote:

Ruth Simmons, just before assuming the presidency of Brown University, had an interview with Morley Safer on 60 Minutes. Her thoughts on education were so profound, and contrary to current expectations, that I transcribed them from the VCR and have them posted in my office (and I may have shared them in this forum before):
MS: You’ve said that you want to see everyone in America go to college.
RS: Yes.
MS: Won’t that produce an awful lot of disappointed people?
RS: Why should they be disappointed?
MS: A lot of people who are with college degrees who are flipping burgers or pumping gas.
RS: Education does not exist to provide you with a job. This is, this is where we’ve gone awry. Education is here to nourish your soul.
MS: But you’ve got parents who are sitting there spending $40,000 a year, right?
RS: Yes, and that’s cheap for what they get, absolutely. Education transforms your life.

And FWIW, this exchange opened with Safer asking, “Why does a child from the wrong side of the tracks decide to study French literature?”

Try to predict that career arc or ROI — “wrong side of the tracks”, to French literature, to President of prestigious liberal arts college, to President of Ivy League University, to Board of Trustees of another Ivy League University.

I actually knew Ruth Simmons just a bit when I was at Princeton. I remember her as an exceptionally nice person, and she was scheduled to speak to the professional staff of the library the day after it was announced that she was to be president of Smith College. She was so happy and proud. Hers was one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard and I will never forget it. I have often thought back on that speech.

But I cannot agree with this statement of hers–it harkens back to the idyllic, collegiate days the 19th century, or at least pre-WWII when affluent young people would go off to college for a few years to pick up a bit of higher culture before they began work at daddy’s business. If you preferred, and you had enough to live independently, you could become a professor of philosophy or something, and find employment at a university. That didn’t hold for the vast majority of people, and it still doesn’t today.

If the point is to “nourish your soul”, is it really necessary to go into hock for tens of thousands of dollars at a very delicate point in young people’s lives? If people want to nourish their souls, they certainly do not need a degree–certification is completely irrelevant. Certification is what college is all about, after all. If it is nourishing your soul, you could just find a syllabus, or ask a faculty member to give you a reading list and would they be available to answer a question once in awhile. Then go off to the library. That’s what people did for years. Today, there are entire courses online and I have taken a few myself. In the past, many would just puzzle things out themselves as many people have, such as Abraham Lincoln. So far as I am concerned, figuring it out for myself has been where my own learning has really taken place; not in a 15 week class with a test at the end.

To return the discussion back to the professional degree such as the MLIS or MBA: *of course* people do it to increase their job prospects. When schools of higher education say that that is not the reason for college, that is simply disingenuous. That’s certainly why I did it. It is a completely laudable reason and no one should feel bad about it. But higher education must acknowledge that that is why the 99% is giving them all that money, listening to their lectures and accepting being graded. For the 1%, it is an entirely different matter.

It is only logical that a magazine such as Forbes would let people know whether they can expect to get a good return.

Once again, I will always maintain that a good grounding in library skills is very important, and the example someone gave of becoming a private detective is really interesting. But the question “does traditional librarianship really have a future?” is still vital for many young people who are facing some of the most important decisions of their lives.