Why a Master’s Degree for Librarians?

By Dorcas Hand with help from TLC
Special thanks to Terri Stamm, SHSU student; Barbara Paciotti, retired, Barbara Bush Middle School, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD; Cathy Delafield, Hargrave Librarian; Rosalia Rohr, McAllen TX; Valerie Loper, Clear Falls HS, Clear Creek ISD for their permission to include these comments.

A post on TLC last week caught my attention –and maybe yours. Terri Stamm is a brand new SHSU Library student. We need to take her cue and ALL get up to speed on the answer to her question:
I am excited to be taking my first graduate class to become a librarian. Just today, I was asked by three different people, "Why does a librarian have to have a Master's Degree and a teacher doesn't?" I really didn't know how to answer that other than "those are TEA guidelines". One was a parent at my school. She said, "Oh, I figured a librarian would only need a GED." Does anyone have a better answer than that?

This post is important for several reasons:
1.   We have missed the boat getting the word out. Every one of us needs a strong answer to this question ready before it is asked.
2.   We have not carefully articulated to ourselves, much less our allies and stakeholders, what we do.
3.   We have not distinguished the differences between degreed librarians, certified librarians, teachers in libraries and circulation clerks. This is a spectrum of training – schools gain expertise in support of student achievement at the degreed and certified end; schools are only getting partial service (mostly clerical) without that training.
The key question: what do librarians KNOW that makes what we do more effective than someone without our additional training? The answer to this question is especially important as we look at the implementation planning for ESSA, a process that will rely on administrators at all levels understanding the potential they are missing without a trained librarian on their faculty.

Because these answers were all so good, this post is longer than usual.  Please take the time to read all five perspectives. As you head out to school this week and every week, be sure you are telling people why your spot as a school librarian is essential to every student on your campus – and possibly their family. Tell them both in words when you have in chance, but more importantly in actions every day with every student and class. Be especially sure your campus leadership understand. Don’t assume people know. It never hurts to give them a new point of reference.

I have excerpted the five replies I saw - apologies if there were any I missed.
Valerie Loper: A few points
o   We have to have been teachers, and we are still teachers (everything from teaching research skills, literacy skills, media literacy, and more to overseeing state testing). 
o   We are expected to know how to find the answers to anything.
o   We do not just check out books - that's clerical work, which does not require a degree. 
o   We must select the materials for recreational and research reading; that's a pretty high level responsibility. 
o   We are good stewards of our school district's money (the net worth of the items in your library probably is worth several hundred thousand dollars).  Who do they think selects and purchases those materials? 
o   We are responsible for any challenges a parent may submit to the campus.
o   We are the copyright queens, knowledgeable of all citation styles.
Of course we have Master's degrees.
Cathy Delafield: To be honest, I was surprised when I started looking into the field.  I figured it would take extra work but did not expect to earn a Masters.  Now when people ask me why (usually after they have just asked me to do something for them, ironically), I always tell them 3 elements:
1. I have to be able to assess and provide reading materials that my students need for school and want for fun.  I have to constantly be able to track the market, find the best product and then make them available to the kids. 
2. I need to know best practices for research and be able to provide useful tools, as well as teaching them to use those tools.  I have to be able to assist both teachers and students in this.  I know what research skills students will need when they go to college and make sure they know how to use databases and other reference materials. 
3. I approach running my library somewhat like a business. I'm "selling" the most important product: the love of reading and lifelong learning. Trying to get teenagers to buy into that is challenging.  I have to market my library, provide incentives to come in, raise support through my teacher community and be able to acquire funds if necessary. You wouldn't expect a successful business owner to not be educated.  Your specified degree hits all these points so that when you're finished, you can also be a successful librarian!

Rosalia Rohr: I have also heard that question before, and I honestly did not feel that librarians required a master’s degree. My perception changed when I was hired as a permanent substitute for the librarian at an elementary school. I can assure you that you gain a lot of hands on experience, but without proper schooling, I feel that a librarian will not be able to perform well. There will always be innovative ideas that one would never be aware of if we did not obtain a Masters in Library Science.                              
Barbara Paciotti: School librarians need a Master's degree because having a teaching certificate & years of experience isn't enough to manage a whole school library program.
o   we must have an in-depth understanding of national/state curriculum.
o   standards to fully integrate library skills into classroom activities.
o   we must know how to build an extensive collection of library.
o   materials in a variety of formats to meet the needs of every teacher's curriculum, and to meet individual students' reading needs & preferences.
o   we must have a comprehensive understanding of intellectual property, copyright, and fair use guidelines for purchasing a variety of materials and to advise teachers and administrators on their proper use.
o   we must have the specialized technology skills to manage and use audio/video/digital  equipment & applications.
o   we must have financial skills to administer a budget and take advantage of outside funding opportunities.

Dorcas Hand: Think of all a librarian needs to know about books and digital resources, about teaching kids, about curriculum and collaboration, about inspiring student to be curious, about stewardship of limited resources to strongest support of student growth, about working with campus and district admins, and more.... It's really a wonder we don't need a PhD!

SPREAD THE WORD. Library certification and master's degrees are important to student achievement.



  1. I have heard this comment more times than I would like. I also tell them that in order to help all students (in my case PK-12th grade) I have to be know all of the curriculum that the classroom teachers have to know along with other superpowers.

    When I started at my school 13 years ago, students use to say to me "Oh, you don't teach in a classroom since you are a specials teacher," but I helped them change that mindset pretty quickly to reminding them that I have three classrooms to teach in...an EL/MS Library, HS Library, and MS Computer Lab.

    I love sharing with my students, parents, teachers, and our community why our school libraries are the heart of both schools and beyond...it is helpful that we are a small rural community.

  2. As book doctors, resource scientists, budget accountants and tech gurus, a Masters degree is the tip of a Titanic iceberg that describes the massive role a librarian plays in the orchestration of intellectual literacy and information legislation. Thank you Dorcas!

  3. Important post and thanks for compiling it for us, Dorcas. I will share this with my school library management students at UT Austin ischool. --Barb Jansen

  4. These are the best tips I have ever read and this is really going to help not just me but even the family and friends so the business reaches on its highest peak. However getting educated is important too before moving forward.

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