This month's issue of American Libraries features an article about the fabulousness that is an online MLIS. Distance Education (DE) is a touchy subject with me; I have mixed feelings about the program and its ability to truly educate students, but that's another discussion for another time. DE is incredibly popular in the library world because the majority of the library schools are located in the eastern portion of the U.S. For many, there isn't a library school nearby, so the options are either to move to where there is a program, or get an online degree. For many, moving isn't an option for a variety of reasons, so getting a degree online isn't just practical, it's financially smart. For the most part, DE programs offer the exact same degree online as they do in person. At UA, we have a large DE program. Students going through the program get exactly the same education, taught by the same teachers. The only difference is that it takes a little more time. Students enrolled in the DE program usually take between 2-3 classes at a time versus the on-campus students who often take 3 or four courses at a time.
So if these DE students are getting the exact same education, what's the problem? According to our favorite library argument starter, The Annoyed Librarian, a lot. She seems to the think the online MLS is useless. Check out her posts on the topic here, here, and here. Her problems with the online program are plentiful, but it mostly boils down to the quality of students being accepted to online programs are sub par. I can sort of see that. These online programs are fairly new, and in order to meet admissions numbers, programs are having to accept students that might not be up to the same academic level as they would like. But the point still remains that in order to be accepted to a library school, students must meet some minimal requirements. I know for a fact that very few students are accepted who do not meet these minimum requirements. Therefore, I don't think that we should be arguing that the students are the problem, perhaps the problem is the standards for admission are to low. That makes it the problem of the schools not the students.
Another problem the Annoyed Librarian sees is that library school is boring. When students take the classes online, they have full access to the world around them and no one to tell them to pay attention. Yes, library school is boring. I hate sitting in class for 3 hours learning about research methods, out-of-date technologies, or something obscure that I'm never going to use. But that's a fact of life in graduate school. I have friends in a lot of different programs around the country and they are all bored most of the time. It's just the way school works.
The Annoyed Librarian touches on other topics, but those two stand out the most to me. While I wouldn't personally choose a DE program for myself (I've learned by taking an online class that it's not for me), I can understand why people would choose (or be forced) to obtain their degree that way. Does that mean that their degree has less value than mine? Absolutely not. Does it mean that the MLS is without value? Again, that's another discussion for another day, but in this library school student's opinion, the degree does have value. If not for other things, at least for the sole purpose of qualifying me for a number of library jobs.