Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Credentialling the Uncredentialled

According to the ALA's Standards for Accreditation of Master's Programs in Library and Information Studies, "Accreditation serves as a mechanism for quality assessment and quality enhancement with quality defined as the effective utilization of resources to achieve appropriate educational objectives and student learning outcomes." *

This got me thinking...(a risky business, to be sure).

I have been mulling over the current state of library technicians in terms of their standing in the field and the recognition (and often, lack of recognition) their qualifications garner. They are a large (and increasing) component of the library/information management workforce. In addition, the role of techs, like many other "para" professionals, has evolved over the last 30 years, with many positions becoming increasingly complex. Yet, in some long-standing organizations, their positions have been treated as nothing more than clerical in nature or in compensation.

There are other issues to consider, as well. For example, lifelong learning is a belief that is fully embraced by the profession and yet many technicians need more support and encouragement for upgrading their skills and knowledge. Additionally, there is an undercurrent of tension in the field between the role of technicians and full-fledged librarians. On yet another front, other professions that credential their members can find it difficult to understand how our field recognizes "professionalism" without accreditation.

Although a lack of certification does not mean that we can not perform our jobs (of course we can), it does offer some advantages that are worth consideration. Formal accreditation could:

- help to establish a foundation of professional competencies and expertise
- provide a consistent understanding of core skills through this baseline knowledge
- assist in clarifying the roles of technicians within the context of information work
- provide technicians with a clear need to engage in continuing education (and thereby get more financial support)
- help those who work with technicians but may belong to other professions identify with professional expectations that emerge from credentialling standards
- improve pay for technicians who are currently classified as "clerks" by demonstrating a highly specialized knowledge in their field (i.e. it is not a job that can be done by just anyone).

From the perspective of library techncian programs, meeting accreditation standards could be stressful. What if a program does not "measure up"? My experience suggests that the connotation tied to not meeting accreditation standards can help programs present a stronger case for securing funding and support from their parent institutions. For post-secondary institutions, losing accreditation is one of the most undesirable outcomes of a review. Quite simply, it is bad press. Thus, accreditation can not only assist in streamlining standards of education, it also has the potential to build more responsive and resilient programs.

These are just some possibilities worth further examination and discussion. The biggest drawback may be creating such a program. Credentialling library technicians needs to be an initiative embraced by those in the field. Certainly, Canada is well positioned to make this process a reality as we have a limited number of programs to coordinate.

It is an issue that warrants serious consideration. In 2011, I plan to tackle this topic more fully during my sabbatical. In the meantime, I encourage technicians to think about this option, talk about it with others, and voice their opinions.

Council of the American Library Association. (Jan. 2008). Standards for Accreditation of Master's Programs in Library and Information Studies.