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Peter Hepburn's picture

Educational Requirements for Executive Director



As you know, ALA Executive Director (ED) Keith Fiels is retiring in July 2017, and the Executive Board is developing a selection process for the ED search.  This review involves, among other things, an assessment of the organizational information related to ALA recruitment and hiring, a discussion of position requirements, and preferences for education and experience with Board as well as a scan of ALA’s contemporary hiring practices.


Recognizing that Council is the governing body of ALA and recognizing that there is a variety of opinion about the ALA-accredited degree requirement, the Executive Board would like to expand the conversation of whether or not the degree should be required for the Executive Director position.  Attached is a draft resolution, presented without prejudice, to open the conversation.  The draft resolution presents a single resolved clause that amends existing policy, making the degree preferred.  The test of the draft resolution is pasted below as well.


A second document is attached titled “Educational Requirements for Future ALA Executive Directors Required ALA-Masters -Pros and Cons”.  This document is a collection of notes regarding input to date on the question of requiring or preferring the ALA-accredited degree.  It is provided as information for those who prefer to contemplate decisions in such a way.


The Executive Board welcomes the input of Council in the time before we convene at Midwinter to discuss and refine the resolution that we will ultimately present to Council next month.  Council is invited to post comments to this list and through ALA Connect.


Thank you,

Peter Hepburn, on behalf of the ALA Executive Board

Megan Hodge's picture

Thank you for sharing these, Peter.

I'm in favor of this resolution--changing the degree from a requirement to a preference seems the inclusive course of action which will open the pool up the the greatest number of qualified candidates--but I am curious about Area/Issue 2 in the Pros and Cons document:  "Need an MLIS to manage an organization the size and complexity of ALA." I don't see how a library degree confers any of the knowledge or expertise necessary for managing a membership organization of 60,000; while many (most?) library schools have management courses, these are aimed at preparing students to become mid-level managers, not executives along the lines of university librarians or directors of large public library systems. There are other institutes/professional development opportunities for those sorts of positions (which, admittedly, require the MLS to my knowledge) but the MLIS in and of itself does not confer that knowledge. Area/Issues 1 and 5 make the case that #2 attempts to more logically and strongly.

Alfred Kagan's picture

I am strongly in favor of keeping the requirements as they are. Opening up a loophole makes it possible to end up with a person with a corporate background, who will want to run the association even more like a corporation that it is today. That means downgrading social responsibility concerns and upgrading activities that focus on the bottomline. In this time of great national tragedy with the election of a rightwing bigoted President and seemingly even more far right cabinet, we need to stand up for social responsibility more than ever before.

Victoria Kemp's picture

I agree with you. vck

Jodi Shaw's picture

I believe that all candidates for Executive Director should not only hold the MLS degree, but should also have several years of experience working inside an actual library.

 “Whereas much of the knowledge, skills, and abilities required in the management of an association are not part of the ALA-accredited master’s program curriculum

The ALA is not just “an association” it is the American LIBRARY Association. Libraries are unique entities. Thus, while knowledge, skills and abilities earned as a result of attending an accredited library school may not be required in the management of “an association” surely they are relevant to and should be a requirement for the management of a “library association” such as the ALA.

This proposed resolution seems to indicate that the hiring committee foresees a lack of qualified talent (MLS-holders) to fill this position. Such a perception may say more about a lack of vision on the part of the hiring committee than it does about the reality of the MLS “leadership market.”

In my personal experience, I have seen how non-MLS leaders tend to drive an organization away from core library values and steer it toward corporate-driven ones. It is difficult to adhere to library values and respond to the needs of the community one serves when one has the feeling of working at a corporate franchise (think Burger King) instead of at a resilient, responsive, people-centered community center. I imagine that, should this resolution come to pass, many ALA members would find themselves in the same boat.

If there is a serious issue finding MLS-bearing Executive Director-level talent, then the ALA might think about forming leadership-incubators for future ALA leaders or creating other systems of sustainable leadership, rather than dispensing with the one thing that differentiates people committed to the knowledge, skills and abilities of libraries from those who are simply committed to the “knowledge, skills, and abilities required in the management of an association.” 

Jodi Shaw, Children's Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library

Coordinator-Elect, ALA Sustainability Round Table

Come join us! http://www.ala.org/sustainrt/

Madeleine Charney's picture

Not requiring an MLS? How can we lose such faith in ourselves as a profession? Keeping the requirement is imperative for maintaining integrity, holding to our deepest values, and showing the next generation of librarians that there are high places for them to strive toward.  

Madeleine Charney, UMass Amherst Libraries
Immediate Past Coordinator, ALA Sustainability Round Table


Kristy Bauman's picture

I agree with you, Madeleine. I have heard it said that an MLS is not required to be a librarian so consequently, this position should not require an MLS. I was not aware that it was optional for me to obtain my graduate degree, I seem to recall quite a few job postings being closed to those without one. What percentage of the listings on ALA right now neglect to list the Masters are a requirement?

The narrative here seems to be that the degree is not, in fact, required and that degree-holding librarians are in short supply. However, where I live, the jobs are where the shortage lies, not the talent pool. Why must a librarian often hold the degree and sometimes state certification while positions we wish to advance to one day are open to all? I feel if we are moving in this direction, it should be reflected across the board, not just in high ranking positions. If the Executive Director can get by without the MLS, I don't see why we are requiring often underpaid librarians to go that extra mile. I feel it's sending a mixed message that leaves me feeling disappointed.

John Mack Freeman's picture

While my initial gut reaction was to oppose this change, upon further reflection, I think it is entirely appropriate. 

I think that there are many "librarian" positions that are advertised that don't attract the largest pool of talent that could fulfill them because of a required MLS. Whether it's in marketing, staff training, IT, or any number of related fields that are becoming more common as ancillary roles in the work of libraries of all types, an MLS helps, but as I have told my coworkers numerous times: my job as a library marketer would be no different working in any comparably sized nonprofit.

Running a volunteer-driven, membership organization is not a librarian skill; it's a management skill that requires specialized training. It doesn't devalue the librarianship label to not require the ED of ALA to have an MLS. While it would be nice to have, it certainly isn't something that should break the decision on an otherwise talented candidate.

Kathleen McCook's picture

I have been an ALA member for over 35 years. By uncoupling the key admins of ALA--WO, AL, now ED our association loses admin lifelong commitment. It might technocratically  efficient, but we have had a librarian at our helm for over 100 years and this has worked well. Please retain the librarian requirement.


Kathleen de la Peña McCook
Distinguished University Professor of Librarianship

School of Information, University of South Florida

Kathleen de la Peña McCook

Michael Gorman's picture

I am strongly in favor of requiring an MLS (and actual library experience) of an Executive Director.  Making a requirement optional is, in effect abolishing the requirement.
The relationship between the ED and the Presidents, Executive Board, and Council can be hard enough without having to deal with someone with a completely different set of experiences, value system, and outlook.  I shudder to think of  some non-profit corporate fund-raiser, lobbyist, or, even worse, IT person as ED.

I hate to impute motives without proof but hard experience over many years has taught me that, most of the time, such proposals are the first shot in a pre-determined campaign.


President of ALA, 2005-2006 and Executive Board member, 2003-2007

Patricia Hogan's picture

I want to thank Kathleen McCook and Michael Gorman for their strong statements; I also believe that the MLS should be required.  We are in difficult times especially for libraries and we need someone at the helm who understand Lilbraries the way someone with the degree and the library experience would.  Pat Hogan, Councilor for Smaller Roundtables and Past Executive Board Member, 2009-2012,On

Elizabeth McKinstry (non-member)'s picture

While I'm not a fan of the MLIS degree, it's the best tool we have to be sure that the ED has been thoroughly exposed to library values and understands the work that librarians on the ground do. Clearly, having ALA Staff who don't understand or espouse our values is already a problem. Let's not let ALA go further down the road toward simply being a generic association bureaucracy. Require the MLIS; Require actual library work experience.

Mari Hardacre's picture

The MLS and library experience should be a requirement for the the ALA Executive Director, for all the reasons eloquently stated above.

Michael Monahan-IL's picture

I, too, believe that our professional degree and library experience should be a requirement for the ALA Executive Director. I hope that welcoming the input from the rank and file is not simply a formality.

I believe this resolution wrongly frames the amendment as an opportunity to broaden the pool of candidates. Please consider the viewpoint of those professional librarians who would see the doors of leadership gently closed by inherently excluding them because they chose to become career librarians. It is elitist and wrong-headed to seek leadership from outside of the rank and file.

If this is truly a membership organization, applicants for leadership positions should be required to be members. 

Roxanna Palmer-FL's picture

"Whereas much of the knowledge, skills, and abilities required in the management of an association are not part of the ALA-accredited master’s program curriculum."

I could argue that there is much I do in my current position as a Librarian that is not part of the ALA-accredited master's program curriculum. Librarianship is such a diverse and ever-changing field. The foundations that library school provides allow us to confidently adjust to the changes.

"There are a variety of other avenues – through education and experience in libraries or related settings for example - for acquiring and demonstrating a deep understanding of the values of the profession and of library environments."

Is this not the argument used to disenfranchise professional librarians' claim to higher-level library leadership roles? Are we not constantly reminding the public every year why we still need librarians? If our own leadership does not see the value, how can we expect it of others?

Can ALA show that there is some great need for a broader pool of applicants, that the current pool is not satisfactory? I would like to see this information. 

Erin Stalberg's picture

I am perfectly comfortable with the proposed language of "strongly prefer" but not require.  I *would* very much strongly prefer an ED with an MLS for many of the reasons already stated, but I would also like to see the pool be broad enough and diverse enough to weigh the variety of criteria that are important to the association, including the ability to manage a membership association and not just a library.  

Bernadine Abbott Hoduski's picture

ALA accredits library schools and should honor those graduates by hiring an accredited librarian for ED.  Librarians have many skills and many have managed large complicated organizations and are capable of managing ALA.  We will also not have to waste valuable time in educating a non librarian about our issues.  The next 4 years will be difficult and we need someone who knows our issues and has worked on the front line in libraries.

Peter Hepburn's picture

Hi Bernadine, and happy New Year everyone!

I've seen some discussion here, on the Council list, and in social media regarding the ED educational requirements in relation to ALA as an accrediting body.  I thought it would be good to provide some additional information (with thanks to Keith Fiels, Mary Ghikas, and Karen O’Brien, director of the Office of Accreditation, for providing some context).  Since it seems you were the first to comment, let me respond to your note with a few words on accreditation and ALA as an accrediting body in hopes that it may provide a fuller picture to Council for use in considering educational requirements for the ALA executive director:

ALA is, itself, authorized to be an accreditor by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). ALA can accredit an institution, an act that is seen as a public good.  As such, ALA assures the public – those who are enrolled or seeking to enroll in the programs, as well as others – that the programs will provide a graduate education in the field.  For that reason, there must be two representatives of the public on the Committee on Accreditation.  They cannot be ALA members; they cannot be members of the field.  They are there to be the public’s voice ---not the profession’s voice.  As a reminder, the Committee on Accreditation makes decisions on accreditation of programs, not the executive director (or the executive board or Council).

It may be useful for Councilors and members to keep in mind, at least insofar as the conversation on ALA as an accrediting body goes, that not everyone sharing in the decision-making authority will have an MLIS.



Gayle Keresey's picture

I oppose the resolution and feel very strongly the ED of ALA should be required to hold an MLS. The emphasis throughout my career has been that public library professional position applicants needed an ALA MLS, and I think the ALA ED should have one to be able to understand the needs/jobs of members.

Though my 32 year career was spent in school libraries, in North Carolina, a master's level library degree (not necessarily ALA accredited because ALA limits the number of schools accredited in the state) has been a requirement to be a school library media coordinator (what NC calls a school library media specialist). When I was looking at library schools when I was an Ohioan, I specifically chose the University of Kentucky because I wanted an ALA accredited degree.

I share all of this personal history to show why I am passionate about the ED having an MLS.

Gayle Keresey

43 years of continuous ALA membership





Matthew Ciszek's picture

Professional organizations like the American Library Association are a unique animal among non-profit organizations. Executive Directors and Chief Executive Officers of professional organizations are almost always drawn from the ranks of the profession.

Executive Director of the American Medical Association? You guessed it, a medical doctor. CEO of the American Marketing Association? Yup, someone with a marketing background. Head of the American Bar Association? Sure enough, a lawyer. American Nurses Association? A registered nurse. American Pharmacists Association? Would you believe it’s a pharmacist? What about the National Association of Social Workers? You bet, this guy is a social worker. The more I did research about the credentials of those running most professional associations in this country, the more I found that these individuals are drawn from the very ranks that they represent.

I support retaining the degree requirement because I believe it's the most straightforward means to ensure that the Executive Director drawn from the ranks of the profession. I firmly believe that the Executive Director of the American Library Association must be a librarian. He or she must deeply understand libraries and librarianship in order to represent the professional interests of librarians and ensure that our shared values are supported, developed, and strengthened on the national, state, and local level. This deep understanding is not something that can be taught in a weekend “short course” or something that can be picked up “on the job” once the Executive Director is hired.

I do not quibble with those who seek to have someone with non-profit organization management experience or credentials, but this needs to be coupled with a library degree and significant experience in the profession. This is what our peer professional organizations have done, and this is the right course for ALA as well. Anything less, I fear, would be disastrous, not only for the Association, but also for the profession that we all have a stake in upholding.

Matthew P. Ciszek

Head Librarian
Lartz Memorial Library
Penn State Shenango
177 Vine Ave.
Sharon, PA 16146


Susan Highley's picture

Great example of a well-researched answer. My first impression was, "We finally have a Librarian of Congress who is an actual librarisn, and now this?"

Mark Hudson's picture

I agree with all who have argued that the Executive Director of ALA must be an MLS-degreed librarian. We are seeing a widespread de-professionalization of library services nationwide as boards and administrators with a bottom-line mentality increasingly hire non-MLS staff to do work that has traditionally been done by professional librarians. It's an easy way to cut costs and please funders who have little if any understanding of the goals, principles and ethical values of professional librarianship. In the face of this de-professionalization, ALA should be standing up for our values and not undermining them further by hiring a non-librarian to lead our professional association.

Christine Hage's picture

Generally I agree with the MLS requirement for librarians, but boards don't necessarily hire non-MLS folks as a cost cutting measure.  Our IT director, makes more than any other librarian on our staff, aside from the director.The goal is to get a professional to do the job as a professional.  Association management is a profession.  I'd be content with saying an MLS is desired, but that an advance degree in association management is required if there is no MLS.
Also we need an experienced manager.  ALA is a complex and at times convoluted organization.  This is not a job for novices.

Christine Lind Hage
Director, Rochester Hills Public Library
Division Councilor, United for Libraries500 Olde Towne Road
Rochester, MI 48307-2043

Raising a reader is: Talking * Singing * Reading * Writing * Playing

On Mon,

Mark Hudson's picture

Hiring non-MLS staff may not always or necessarily be for the purpose of cutting costs, but in most cases that's what it is. We see it happening all the time in our own libraries, as boards and administrators opt to hire non-MLS staff for reference, programming, collection development and cataloging tasks that were previously done by MLS-degreed librarians. The funders applaud because it's cheaper, and they don't understand what professional librarianship is anyway. Neither do the boards and, increasingly it seems, neither do the administrators, even the ones who have the MLS themselves. The move to drop the MLS requirement for the ALA ED is related to this larger trend toward de-professionalization in my opinion.

Netanel Ganin's picture



Netanel Ganin


Lorna Peterson's picture

Requiring our professional degree, the MLS, is not restrictive.  An excellent pool of candidates can be attracted by requiring the MLS/MLIS.  There should also be evidence of library or archives experience along with the necessary management and board experience, for the future Executive Director.   Association management is a tough enough job and it helps when the director is socialized in the education, ethics, mission, and diversity of an association's profession. I oppose the resolution as currently written and agree with those who argue that the ALA ED must have the MLS/MLIS/ or however the ALA accredited degree is named.  

Catherine Michael's picture

The Director of the American LIBRARY Association should be a LIBRARIAN.

Catherine H. Michael Communications & Legal Studies Librarian Ithaca College Library Gannett Center 1201, 953 Danby Road Ithaca, NY 14850 phone: 607-274-1293 http://www.ithacalibrary.com/info/staff/cmichael

Barbara Ford's picture

The ALA accredited MLS is important for this position. Please keep the requirement. 

Barbara J Ford

ALA president 1997-1998 

Lucia Gonzalez's picture

The ED of ALA must have wide-ranging and thorough understanding of the profession and organization that she/he will direct.  This is a serious issue, one with which we must grapple at the local level.  If our own national organization selects an non-librarian to direct its business, how can we prevent  our local governments and/or Boards from fallowing ALA’s own lead. 

It would be a great disappointment.  As a longstanding member of the organization, I believe that the ED must come from our ranks, value and know the foundation and practice of librarianship.  We have great leaders with ample experience in all fields.

Lucia Gonzalez, Director. City of North Miami Public Library. 

Lucia M. Gonzalez

Matt Ruen (non-member)'s picture

I believe it is essential that the Executive Director of ALA comes from within our profession, so that they share at least some of the experiences and values of the library community they are representing and serving.  The standard credential for our profession is the ALA-accredited MLIS/MLS degree, and it is not outrageous to expect that leaders in our professional association would be from our profession.


If it is difficult to find an MLIS/MLS-holding candidate for ED (which I find very hard to believe), then ALA should either be amplifying its programs for growing internal leaders or should be increasing the compensation of the ED position in order to be competitive.  ALA should not be supporting the depressing trend of values-driven organizations bringing in "experienced leaders" who do not share the organization's values or experiences. 


Jenna Nemec-Loise's picture

Good morning, Peter and Council colleagues: 

The ALSC Executive Committee discussed this issue at our Fall 2016 meeting in October. In early November, we convened an online meeting with the full ALSC Board of Directors, which resulted in unanimous approval of a statement supporting the recommendation, but not requirement, that the ALA Executive Director hold the MLIS degree.

You may view the entire proceedings related to this issue at http://connect.ala.org/node/259935. I've excerpted it here for quick reference: 

Fundamental to our vision and values is ALA’s pursuit of organizational excellence, an effort helmed by an Executive Director who champions advocacy, information policy, and professional and leadership development for 21st-century libraries, library workers, and library users.

ALSC remains steadfast in supporting ALA efforts to cultivate organizational excellence, especially during the search for a new Executive Director. Guided by our core values, the ALSC Board of Directors encourages the ALA Executive Board to recommend—but not require—candidates for ALA Executive Director to hold a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree.

We acknowledge the 2000 ALA Council Resolution on Requiring Professional Librarian Credentials for the Executive Director of ALA and understand its implications. However, should there be an appropriate way to exercise flexibility within the hiring matrix while also respecting the Council resolution, we ask search committee members to do so. Such measured consideration might ensure that credentials beyond the MLIS and other transferrable skills receive equal merit during the search process.

Given this statement and our careful consideration of the issues presented, ALSC supports the ALA Executive Committee's resolution to make the MLIS a preferred requirement for ALA Executive Director. We look forward to hearing additional discourse on this matter from other Councilors and ALA members.

Warmest regards,


Jenna Nemec-Loise
Division Councilor
Association for Library Service to Children


Anna Mattonen's picture

EDIT: The more I've gone over and over this, the more I just want someone with the appropriate credentials to be able to handle running an association of this size successfully. MLIS or not, that person is going to have to be very qualified, well-learned in the values of the profession, and knowledgeable in areas that a lot of MLIS holders are actually NOT very knowledgeable. I'd hope the search committee would try to find someone with some library experience in their history, but I wouldn't want the MLIS requirement to be the one thing standing in the way of the perfect candidate not getting the job. 


Todd Krueger's picture

(This was sent to the Council list but I wanted to make sure to share it via Connect, too )


Thanks to you and to the Executive Board for continuing this conversation and bringing forth a draft resolution on the Education Requirements of Future ALA Executive Directors. As has been announced previously, the YALSA Board has passed a proposal encouraging the ALA-accredited MLIS degree requirement for the ALA Executive Director to be changed to recommended rather than required. The proposal can be found here in its entirety: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/sites/ala.org.yalsa/files/content/ALAceosearch.pdf
As is stated in the YALSA proposal, "It is a widely acknowledged association industry best practice that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Elected Officer (President) work in tandem and accept the responsibility of co-leading the organization and maximizing mission-driven impact." We also strongly feel that "Industry best practice indicates the CEO position requires expertise in nonprofit and association leadership. Credentials such as the Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), a Certified Association Executive (CAE) or a certificate or degree in non-profit management are typical ways in which individuals demonstrate their qualifications in this area. These types of credentials should be sought after in ALA’s next CEO."
A candidate with considerable association leadership experience is vital to lead an organization the size of ALA. This skill may very well be even more important than the candidate holding an MLIS. Just as a "short course" in librarianship would be inappropriate for a candidate who is not a librarian, so would a mere primer on association leadership be for someone without those skills.
We are also confident that former ALA President Courtney Young and ALA President-Elect Jim Neal's Executive Director Search Committee will consist of leaders within our organization with considerable familiarity of the needs of the ALA Executive Director position, and will select only appropriate candidates for this critical role.
For these reasons, the YALSA Board supports the draft resolution set forward by the ALA Executive Board.

Todd Krueger

YALSA Division Councilor

Victoria Kemp's picture

The push to remove the MLS requirement from the requirements of the Executive Director seems, to me, to be shortsighted in the extreme. The Library of Congress has finally hired a person with an MLS as its director; why would an organization whose very function is to support libraries not require it? the director must be well-schooled in the principles and core values upon which this organization is founded. To require less does us all a disservice.

Victoria Kemp

Carolyn Caywood's picture

Many of the points I would make have been made, e.g. President Obama had no trouble finding a well-qualified Librarian to manage a large and complex organization. 

One point I have not seen is the trust that ALA staff and members must have in the Executive Director in order for that person to be effective.  Having a MLS will not guarantee that trust, but not having the degree will open every controversial decision to questions about shared values and principles.  I have certainly seen that happen in the 46 years I've been a member of ALA and I don't want to see an Executive Director hampered by constant questions because he or she is not really one of us.  Therefore I urge that the MLS remain required. 

Carolyn Caywood, MSLS, retired from Bayside & Special Services Library, 757-499-9131 cacaywood@cox.net  

Amy Brunvand's picture

"Whereas none of the ALA positions advertised in the most recent five years for the association included a requirement for an ALA accredited degree, but 56% advertised of those identified the ALA-accredited degree as being preferred;"

The statement above seems to me like a symptom of a much larger and more serious problem in the world of librarianship.  MLIS study may, as the statement says, "instill librarians with the values and principles of libraries and librarianship; values that are distinct from other related disciplines," but in recent years many in the library profession have become infatuated with the shiny objects of technology and  there is an unfortunate  trend of library futurists trying to distance libraries from the "old fashioned" values of literacy, reading and education.  This brand of futurism disparages the value of an ML(I)S degree since as with any professional degree, library education doesn't focus on specific job skills.

The 2016 election should be a wake-up call to librarians who think librarianship is obsolete and the future is all digital.   We have recently learned that fake news is a huge problem; that civics education is generally lacking; that national information networks are highly insecure and vulnerable to malicious foreign hacking; and that an information-hostile new administration is threatening the availability of online government information, not to mention the whole public education system.   Meanwhile, there has been a renaissance of small-press publishing, and independent bookstores are making a comeback as centers of localized literary communities.

Librarians should have been out front of these trends, but instead we have been busy clearing out the stacks to make room for "maker spaces" and virtual reality goggles.  As we have shifted organizational priorities away from literacy, reading and education we have been telling ourselves a story that the values and principles of librarianship are obsolete and that we need to hire people with different non-librarian expertise in IT, management, business, instructional design and so forth.

The problem that I have observed on the ground is this: as non-librarians replace librarians within an organization,  organizational values and principles change as well.

The biologist E.O Wilson in "Letters to a Young Scientist" warns aspiring biologists against becoming technology experts since any technology will eventually become obsolete.   Wilson tells young scientists that if they need specific expertise they don’t have, they should  hire IT staff or mathematicians to work for them.  He does not advocate hiring IT staff to replace biologists.   Librarians should take Wilson's advice.  We should assert that librarianship is our highest value, put librarians in charge, and hire other experts to work for us if/when we need them.  We should not fall into the trap of thinking that other kinds of expertise are somehow more important that the values and principles of librarianship.

Because I think that librarian values and principles are of overriding importance, I think it would be a huge mistake to install a non-librarian as ED of the American Library Association.  What's more, I think that ALA should take a strong position against appointing non-librarians to librarian positions. 

If nothing else, the 2016 election has convincingly demonstrated that traditional librarian values are not obsolete, and the futurists were wrong to assume that librarian expertise doesn't matter.   Librarian values and principles matter (or ought to matter) more than any specific expertise, and we as a profession need to stop pretending that other expertise is "better" than librarian expertise, reaffirm our core values, and reassert the value of literacy, reading and education. ALA should stand up for the value of library education by hiring librarians, not only for the ED position but for those other 44% of advertised positions as well.





Laura Koltutsky's picture

Thank you for your very eloquent arguments Amy. I too wonder about a professional association who so little values our own terminal degree that we wouldn't require it of our Executive Director.

I have seen in the last fifteen years a consolidation of a corporate mindset within ALA structures. Perhaps this discussion is capturing what I sense is a battle over the heart of the association. Are we a membership organization as we purport to be or are we a professional development organization? Can we be both? I believe that yes we can but we need to be vigilant about our core values being dismissed when they aren't convenient for ALA structures. We need to reinforce the value of librarians within organizations not diminish it.


Laura Koltutsky

SRRT Councilor

Susan Dillinger's picture

The ALA Executive Director should always have the MLS.  Departing from this requirement doesn't help us in the fight that the MLS is necessary for the rest of us.  Non-MLS holders do not have the background in library matters necessary to advocate for us.  We found this out in Florida.  Be an example to our profession and the state professional organizations and keep the MLS.

Karen Schneider's picture

I voted for the MLS requirement 16 years ago, but I feel differently now. It's possible to have strong library values while holding a degree from another domain, such as nonprofit management. Making the degree strongly preferred would ensure we get the best possible candidate pool.

Karen G. Schneider


Rosa Diaz's picture

Please keep the MLS requirement.  In these uncertain times, libraries need the support and the experience of someone who has worked in a library. 

Rosa H. Diaz

Holly Hibner's picture

I'd rather we require the MLS and "strongly prefer" a degree/experience in association management, but I would support a resolution that "strongly prefers" the MLS - especially if the search committee will "strongly prefer" the candidates with the MLS if there aren't suitable candidates with both degrees.
Holly Hibner

Audrey Barbakoff's picture

I so appreciate the robust conversation that’s happening around this question.  It’s very encouraging to see people so engaged with the future of our association!
Whatever the ultimate decision, I’m glad to know that many passionate and well-reasoned voices will have contributed to it.

As a related aside: what is the plan for an interim ED? With Keith retiring in July 2017, and the selection process slated to run into 2018, it sounds like we
may have a lengthy gap in this important position.

Thank you,

Audrey Barbakoff

om: ALA Connect [mailto:connect@ala.org]

Sent: Friday, December 16, 2016 7:41 AM

To: Audrey Barbakoff

Subject: [ALA Connect] ALA Council - Educational Requirements for Executive Director (new)

((( r

Peter Hepburn's picture

Audrey, Thank you for bringing that up. The Executive Board will address coverage for Keith's duties to keep the organization operating smoothly in the interim between his departure and the selection of the next Executive Director.



Mary Beth Lock's picture

I can understand the desire to have the broadest, most inclusive talent pool in looking for the next ALA Executive Director, but I believe that talent already exists withing the community of librarians with an accredited MLS degree.  Presuming that degree is unnecessary for the work of the executive director underscores the degree of separation some believe is acceptable between the executive leadership of ALA and it's membership.  We need leaders who understand the work that makes up being a librarian so that our social goals are prioritized as well as our financial goals. Please keep the MLS requirement.

Lisa Hinchliffe's picture

I didn’t know that there was a policy that the ED had to have an MLS until Keith’s retirement was announced and I am honestly surprised that it is.

I absolutely agree that ALA needs an ED who is committed to the values, mission, purposes, etc., of libraries and ALA.

As someone who is involved with the ALA accreditation of the MLS degree programs, I know that the MLS does aim to instill those commitments in those who attain an MLS.

I know from experience that the MLS is not the only path to attaining those commitments – I know many library staff, archivists, technologists, trustees, members of the library vendor community, etc. who have those commitments and do not have an MLS. (Side note – all those people I just mentioned are ALA members in many cases.)

I also know from experience that not everyone who has an MLS has those commitments (and have even been aware of conversations among MLS students at times about how to “fake” that you do so you can pass the requirements to get the degree – yes, really!).

So, I’d suggest that we put in the job ad the actual requirement – being committed to the values, mission, purposes, etc. of libraries and ALA – rather than relying on the degree as a proxy for the requirement. And, I’d like the search committee to judge the commitment of applicants by applicants’ words and actions over their careers. 

Jenna Nemec-Loise's picture

Beautifully stated, Lisa. I wholeheartedly concur.


Jenna Nemec-Loise
Division Councilor
Association for Library Service to Children


Erica Findley's picture

I agree with Lisa's comments and I am troubled by the assumption that someone without an MLS degree may not be able to or as committed to our values. I trust that the selections committee will select someone who is strongly committed to our profession without having a degree as a formal requirement.

Erica Findley, MLS

Colleen Harris-Keith (non-member)'s picture

Not requiring the degree really continues to distance ALA from its membership (in the same way that we've bemoaned long and hard about the Librarian of Congress not being an actual librarian).


We argue long and hard against appointing non-librarians to librarian positions, which is one of the first tactics when budgets are cut. Why would this be any different?

Not requiring the degree really continues to distance ALA from its membership (in the same way that we've bemoaned long and hard about the Librarian of Congress not being an actual librarian). It follows the trend in higher ed of not requiring academic experience for their presidents, assuming that commonly held values but extra fundraising and business experience will help. Largely that's been a failed experiment, and I'd rather ALA not have to go through the same difficulties of finding that out the hard way.


We argue long and hard against appointing non-librarians to librarian positions, which is one of the first tactics when budgets are cut. Why would this be any different?

I'd posit that the MLS is a necessary but *not sufficient* condition; this is where in addition to the MLS I want to see actual work done for associations and for libraries in general. Being committed to the values of libraries is not the same as understanding the hows and whys of libraries and library work.


I'll be very disappointed if they remove the MLS as a requirement. Do we not have MLS holders who are qualified for the position? If not, perhaps we should be busier wondering why we're not growing talented and qualified MLS holders--there is good research being done on library leadership gaps and why and where they exist. 


Colleen S. Harris

Information Literacy Coordinator

CSU Channel Islands


Julie Winkelstein's picture

I'm sorry to see this happening. As has been so eloquently stated by others, an MLS degree seems like the minimum we should require. I also agree the person should have actually worked in a library. The argument that we are limiting the pool of possible candidates by requiring the degree is accurate - we are limiting it to all of those highly professional, committed and capable leaders in our profession.

I spent many years as a public librarian before I went back to school to get my degree. The difference to me was that I developed a greater appreciation for my chosen profession - its history, its foundations, its beliefs. That education has permeated the work I've done since then.

I also want to add that I am saddened to see the statements from both ALSC and YALSA. As a member of both, I would like to clearly state my disappointment in them. I don't understand why requiring an MLS means a person has no management skills - that seems like a questionnable and limited assumption to make. As Matthew Ciszek has so clearly outlined, other large professional organizations - such as the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association - are led by those from within their professions. At ALA we need someone who has a deep and clear understanding of librarianship - what it means on every level - locally, nationally, internationally. Someone understands why we are a profession, who we are and why it matters so much. I don't believe that kind of commitment and understanding can come from outside the library profession. And why should it?

Julie Ann Winkelstein

Jeanne Boyle (non-member)'s picture

We were so proud to have an actual librarian become Librarian of Congress. Surely there is someone with our terminal degree - the MLS/MLIS/etc. - who has the experience, values, and talent to lead our profession's primary association! I am for keeping the requirement. Let's not sell ourselves short.

Associate University Librarian for Planning and Organizational Research Rutgers University Libraries 732-932-7505 jeboyle@rci.rutgers.edu

LeRoy LaFleur's picture

The Board of the Association of College and Research Libraries discussed this issue at our Fall Board Meeting in October and supports the continued requirement that the ALA Executive Director hold an MLS degree.  

While individual members of the Board shared a variety of opinions and perspectives, collectively we felt, as many have expressed here, that the value that the MLS brings to the person in this role, is critical to both the profession and our association(s).  


-LeRoy LaFleur (ACRL Division Councilor)