In several of my previous political posts, I've mentioned that I value education highly as compared with experience when evaluating candidates. This actually ties in quite a bit with some thoughts I've had regarding library leadership, so I thought I'd expound on the topic some.
Not to sound like a elitist or anything, but I believe that a college education, particularly graduate level education, does a lot to prepare a person for positions in, say, politics...or librarianship. It doesn't really matter to me WHAT the degree is in, but the mental training involved is something I feel is particularly important. Graduate level courses require you to present arguments, to evaluate multiple sides of an issue, enhance your critical thinking skills, to be be skeptical, to be curious. A graduate degree helps you to become an expert in a certain area, but to also see the big picture of your field.
One of the reasons I find Barack Obama's resume so attractive is his years teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago. I believe this shows an insight and passion into the foundation of our nation's government that goes beyond party lines. When one is a specialist in any topic, one dissects it, puts it back together, researches its origins and history, understands it inside and out. As I'm reading The Audacity of Hope, I see evidence of this understanding. Obama articulates very well the pathways our government has taken to reach this point, he describes both Republican and Democrat points of view, and he presents informed, educated ideas for change, based on historical and constitutional precendent. If he is elected president, I am confident that his oath to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States of America will be a sincere and devout one. I would feel very uneasy about someone being President without having that knowledge and understanding of the Constitution, and I definitely feel uncertain about someone who doesn't possess the critical thinking skills and open mind that a graduate education can give.
I have never claimed to have a particular respect for my own graduate degree - as graduate programs go, mine was definitely on the fluffy side. Nevertheless, I gained a lot of very valuable insight and knowledge into my chosen profession. I learned more about the history, the foundations of librarianship, the underlying ethics and philosophies. I had worked in libraries for 11 years, but despite that experience, I had never really understood the Big Picture. My graduate degree taught me to look at librarianship and libraries in a completely different way, and because of this, I can view my field in context, I can look at the past, and I can think positively about the future.
In my own experience, I've known several people who have decades of experience working in libraries, but have never been able to put their work into a larger context, have never been able to see how their particular cog works on their gear, and how that gear helps the whole library machine keep running. I believe that that education, that graduate degree, is vital to truly understanding librarianship as a profession and libraries as an entity. Does it need to be a library degree? I'm not so sure, and I think that the library degree, in general, has a long way to go to be a more valuable graduate program.
Now, I am certainly not saying that experience ISN'T important. To me, the most impressive thing about John McCain's resume is his 22 years as a United States Senator. This experience says to me that he understands how our government works, he knows the system. I've no doubt that he is fully competent to be president, even if I disagree with him on most issues. I'd hate to see someone with no experience in Washington or no understanding of how the governmental machine chugs along become president.
Similarly, I see a trend, in my library at least, that concerns me about experience. Librarians, in general, do not have supervisory responsibilities below the department head level. Most of the supervisors in the library are paraprofessionals - very compentent, intelligent, and capable people, and I want to emphasize here that I think they're excellent at what they do. What concerns me, though, is that librarians frequently get promoted or moved into leadership positions without having had to supervise anyone before. Just because someone is an excellent reference librarian, or departmental liaison, or acquisitions librarian does not mean that they will be a great Department Head. In this case, it doesn't matter if a librarian has a great idea or a clear vision of the library's future if they don't know how to communicate it to their staff. It's meaningless for a librarian to understand the underlying ethics behind a library's service mission if they can't write a disciplinary evaluation for a slacking employee. Library leadership is more than just a degree and mad l33t googling skillz. Having good management skills is something that requires experience. It seriously frightens me that a department head, library director, or dean can be placed in those positions of authority WITHOUT ever having supervised someone before.
I think that this is something that our current leaders really need to consider when looking at the future of our library, and of libraries in general. I'm not sure what the answer to this problem is - but I don't think promoted inexperienced supervisors past middle-management into library administrative duties is the right way to go.
I also don't mean to say that just because someone has a graduate degree, it means they are excellent critical thinkers, or more open minded. While I believe that advanced education teaches students these skills, everyone is different. Some people go through grad school without ever learning how to present an argument, or ever looking at more than one side of an issue. Or, after being out of school for a period of time, they become lazy and complacent in their thinking. After all, our current president has an M.B.A. from Harvard, and it doesn't seem to have honed his mental skills particularly well.