All about Accreditation

by Kate Kosturski, Head Editor, INALJ NYC

All about Accreditation

katekDo you know what library school accreditation is?

Perhaps you are applying to library school and heard how important it is to go to an “ALA Accredited Library School.” Or you may have perused job listings on INALJ and noticed that one of the requirements was an MLS from an ALA-accredited school. Or, if you live in New England (like me), you may have heard that Southern Connecticut State University’s library school lost its accreditation.

So let’s demystify what this means by first saying what it isn’t. Library schools that are not accredited are not akin to community colleges (a very inaccurate comparison made in the story about SCSU I linked above). You can probably compare accreditation to a teacher not having a formal teaching license, or a lawyer not having passed the bar in the state where they practice – it’s not a complete barrier to employment, but it can make it difficult.

According to the American Library Association website:

“Accreditation is a voluntary system of evaluation of higher education institutions and programs. It is a collegial process based on self-evaluation and peer-assessment for improvement of academic quality and public accountability. Accreditation assures that higher education institutions and their units, schools, or programs meet appropriate standards of quality and integrity.

“Accreditation is both a process and a condition. The process entails the assessment of educational quality and the continued enhancement of educational operations through the development and validation of standards. The condition provides a credential to the public-at-large indicating that an institution and/or its programs have accepted and are fulfilling their commitment to educational quality.”

Not only is the process voluntary (with self-review an important component of it), but it also involves both the ALA and External Review Teams, volunteers who visit each school when accreditation is up for review (normally every five years). These teams review each school against various knowledge and competency standards (including the ALA’s Core Competencies for Librarianship) and make recommendations to ALA as to whether the school should continue to be considered accredited. The school could have its full accreditation renewed, or put on “conditional” accreditation – time to bring the program up to appropriate standards, but still considered “accredited” by the ALA. (Currently, there are five schools on conditional accreditation.)

In extreme cases, like SCSU, schools will lose their accreditation – and note as well that the school has the right to appeal the final decision. When that happens, students currently in the program will have two years to finish their work to be considered having received a degree from an ALA-accredited schools.

Jill Hurst-Wahl, professor at Syracuse University’s Information School, has written a great primer on the accreditation process that proves an excellent complement to the ALA’s own website. Jill points out one very important point about accreditation, that it does not equal “sameness.”

If you have an ALA accredited library degree (e.g., MLS, MSLIS, MLIS), it means that you received your degree from a library program that has gone through an intensive review and that it meets appropriate standards for quality and integrity. It doesn’t mean that you attended the same classes as a person in another program. It doesn’t mean that you learned the same things as someone from another program. It does mean that ALA found that you program met its standards.

I encourage you to view the ALA Office of Accreditation site, and Jill’s blog post, and familiarize yourself with the importance of accreditation, for this is the body of standards that certifies us as librarians.

On a personal note, this is my last blog post as Head Editor of the New York City page, as I am switching pages to allow me time to fulfill my new role as Volunteer Coordinator for INALJ. As I bid a farewell to NYC, I do want to share some fun statistics with you: in the 16 weeks I oversaw NYC, we posted 911 jobs, which is an average of 56 jobs per week! We did see a few weeks with over 100 jobs posted, particularly in August and early September. We were also in the top 5 of pages viewed several times in this timeframe, so I hope some of those visitors found great jobs!