Whenever my family and friends have asked me if I thought I was setting myself back by getting my degree completely online, I have a laundry list of responses:
- My degree will be from an ALA-accredited state university that is in the top 10 schools among library and information science programs. We take the same classes from the same top-notch professors as those who are on campus. Perhaps the only difference is that we have to police ourselves when it comes to getting the work done, a factor that puts a check in our favor. To succeed in an online degree you have to be well-organized, highly motivated and capable of independent thought – all qualities that employers should be looking for.
- Online programs are a growing trend in every field. If you are a library, don’t you want librarians who understand the way students in that program feel and are able anticipate their needs because they’ve already been there? Also, at the end of this program, I will be an expert in the technology that is necessary for online students. Can on-campus students say that?
- I am making sure I stay exposed to other aspects of the library field by working in a public library, regularly visiting a college library near where I live and getting active with my state library association. This is because while the degree is an obvious requirement, what you do above and beyond the degree is what should set you apart.
Despite how sure I am that this is the right path for me and that my unique experiences – including the fact that I am part of an online cohort – are a benefit to me, I still feel personally attacked when I discover other people in my field are opposed to students and future librarians who get their degree online. Today’s kick in the gut came from the Hiring Librarians blog, which anonymously surveys librarians who play a role in hiring others. I’m a big fan of the blog, so this isn’t an argument against them. What this is is a response to those who think that because I got my degree online, I will not be a better librarian than the same student who got their degree in a classroom. This includes the librarian surveyed in today’s post, who said that “I would be reluctant to hire someone who completed an online-only degree.”
I think this librarian’s prejudice weakens his/her library and the profession as a whole. I’m sure the respondent must have his/her reasons. I’d be curious to hear them. While I have many things to say to this librarian, I first and foremost would say this: Don’t sell me and my fellow online students short. We worked incredibly hard to get where we are. Our professors go out of their way to make sure we gain the same skills as our on-campus peers, and we work just as hard as our peers to hone those skills. While our experience is not the same, it is equally educational. It’s an experience that can be of value to libraries, if their hiring managers are willing to see that the strengths that allow online students to succeed will make them undoubtedly great librarians.
I would also say that the flexibility inherent in online degrees allows online students to work in the library field right now, giving us valuable experience our on-campus peers aren’t always able to attain if they have to get to campus everyday. And isn’t experience in the field, as opposed to degree, the most important thing for success in libraries?