In the first post in this series, I stated my intent to explore the logic of a Christian university offering a graduate program that equips library professionals to serve in Christian academic institutions. In my second post, I offered assessments of library science programs offered by six Christian institutions. In the process of making those assessments, I conveyed that recognition by the American Library Association’s Committee on Accreditation (ALA-COA) has historically been a significant indicator of quality in a master’s-level program in library and information science. In this post, I will assess what the ALA’s role as an accreditor might mean for a program aimed at fostering the integration of faith and librarianship.
All 55 of the library and information studies programs ranked by U.S. News and World Report have some form of recognition by the ALA-COA, and the top 30 all have “continued accreditation” status—that is, they have maintained accreditation across successive reviews. ALA accreditation is thus virtually a sine qua non for library science programs offered by American and Canadian institutions.1 Not surprisingly, ads for professional positions in academic and public libraries commonly specify that applicants must hold a master’s degree from a program accredited by the American Library Association.
Over the years, the relationship between conservative Christians and the library profession has been characterized by mutual suspicion; this has occasionally flared into outright hostility.2 Given this history, some Christian institutions minded to offer a master’s degree in library science might question the viability—and perhaps the necessity or desirability—of pursuing ALA accreditation. Failing to seek such accreditation would certainly constitute a departure from the norm. Nevertheless, this unconventional stance could theoretically be justified if evidence showed that Christian college libraries are not particularly insistent on hiring graduates of ALA-accredited programs.
In preparation for this post, I accumulated a sample of 82 job ads for professional positions in academic library settings. The ads came from four online job boards: the American Library Association’s JobLIST, the Association of Christian Librarians’ Job Postings, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities’ Career Center, and HigherEdJobs. All were published between late November 2021 and early February 2022. The sample consisted of 38 positions posted by Christian institutions3 and 44 posted by secular institutions, whether publicly or privately controlled. The following table summarizes my findings as to the credentials required of candidates. A chi square test of the data yielded a non-significant result, indicating that the two groups were statistically indistinguishable.4 Nevertheless, if differences could be found between the two institution types in a larger sample, they would likely show that Christian institutions are slightly more likely to require that their professionals have an ALA-accredited degree.
Based on this data set, it seems difficult to suggest that a Christian institution offering a master’s degree in library science should not seek ALA accreditation. Taking such an approach would presumably harm its graduates’ prospects for gaining employment in a majority of Christian and secular institutions. Nevertheless, one must also consider the hurdles that a Christian university—particularly one with a strong commitment to a biblical worldview—might face in achieving recognition by the ALA-COA.
A review of the ALA-COA’s current Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies reveals both opportunities and challenges for a Christian institution. The introduction to the standards discusses a number of principles that may be seen as opportunities:
- Commitment and procedures to avoid bias in the evaluation of programs seeking ALA-COA recognition
- Admission that a program may achieve accredited status despite its failure to comply with isolated standards or components thereof
- Inclusiveness in the definition of “research” that a program’s faculty is expected to advance
- Stated appreciation for “programmatic differences,” which could validate a Christian program’s focus on preparing graduates to serve the distinctive needs of Christian communities
- Intent to evaluate a program in terms of its stated objectives rather than in function of rigid prescriptions
On the other hand, an intentionally Christian institution seeking to demonstrate compliance with ALA standards might face challenges in areas such as those listed here (parenthetical references denote specific portions of the standards document):
- Tensions between values held by the institution’s constituencies (I.1.4; IV.1) and those that predominate within the library community (I.2.2; II.1)
- Attraction and retention of faculty members who are qualified both academically and spiritually (Standard III)
- Employment of enough full-time faculty members to cover a substantial share of the program’s instructional activity (III.1)
- Recruitment of a diverse community of faculty members (III.3) and students (IV.1)
- Provision of opportunities for faculty and student participation in research (multiple mentions in Standards III and V; IV.5.2)
- Offering a range of courses to support students’ individual interests (II.3)
- Allocating resources to ensure that students benefit from access to technology, advising, professional socialization, and career services (IV.4; IV.5; V.11)
A graduate program in library science is a specialty. In contrast with programs that aim to prepare teachers, nurses, or business leaders, it is unlikely to attract a large number of students. Library science is something of a technical field, but it does not typically lead to high earnings that are found, for example, in engineering, chemistry, or data science. Institutions that offer a library science program do so substantially on missional grounds, not with the expectation of significant revenue from enrollment or alumni donations. Christian institutions that choose to enter this arena must compete with large, public, research-intensive universities. At least in the current environment, approval by the ALA-COA assures stakeholders—especially students, employers, and faculty members—of program quality.
- To my knowledge, programs that aim primarily to prepare school librarians constitute the only significant exception to this generalization.
- Stuart C. A. Whitwell, “Special Report: Christian Conservatives Organize to Criticize ALA,” American Libraries, November 1995, 983–984, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25633767; Chris Kertesz, “The Unwanted Gift: When Saying ‘No Thanks’ Isn’t Enough,” American Libraries, March 2001, 34–36, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25645823; Matt Kubiak and Andrew Dancer, “Should Sect Meet State in the Stacks?,” interview by Beverly Goldberg, American Libraries, March 2001, 37–38, 40, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25645824;
Cheryl Makin, “North Hunterdon Book Ban Controversy Enters Another Chapter,” MyCentralJersey.com, December 1, 2021, https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/education/2021/12/01/north-hunterdon-book-ban-controversy-enters-another-chapter/8785761002/; and Matthew Barakat, “Fairfax County Library Display Pairing Bible with Explicit Books Removed,” NBC4 Washington, December 9, 2021, https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/fairfax-county-library-display-pairing-bible-with-explicit-books-removed/2904696/.
- I tagged an institution as Christian if one or more of the following conditions was satisfied: (1) The institution was known to me for its Christian identity. (2) The institution was a member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities or the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. (3) The institution defined itself in terms of an overt Christian mission/identity. (Note: A Christian heritage or cursory mention of Christian principles was generally insufficient to gain a “Christian” label.)
- A chi-square test of independence was calculated comparing the educational requirements specified in ads for professional library positions at Christian and non-Christian academic institutions. No significant relationship was found (2×3 χ2 [2, 82] = 1.309, p > 0.05).