DEI and De-Credentialization: Why Dropping Degree Requirements Won’t Make Academic Law Librarianship More Diverse But Will Make It More Inequitable

Guest Post by Anonymous

In the last year, there has been much talk of de-credentialing (dropping degree requirements from) academic law librarian positions. While possibly driven by the shortage of new law librarians, many of the individuals advocating for this change assert that doing so would improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field. For instance, a poster at the AALL Annual Meeting and Conference in Denver entitled “BA in Law + MA LIS: Creating New Pipelines for Law Librarianship” described a new program at the University of Arizona designed to “decreas[e] barriers to entry” (presumably by eliminating the need for a J.D.) and “increase[e] diversity throughout the profession.” Formerly a top program for training academic law librarians who hold a J.D., the University of Arizona Law Library Fellows Program recently eliminated the J.D. requirement (the University of Washington Law Librarianship Program, on the other hand, continues to require the J.D., recently revamped its curriculum to meet the needs of today’s law libraries, and is now in the process of creating an online option for attorneys interested in making a transition to law librarianship who are unable to relocate to Seattle). 

But the drive to de-credential academic law librarian positions does not stop with the law degree. At an AALL webinar recorded in May and entitled “We Are All Professionals: Inclusion, Othering, and the Changing Nature of Library Roles,” one panelist, an academic law library director, stated that she is “[not] worried about hiring a librarian who doesn’t have a library degree;” another panelist compared graduate library education to a loaf of artisan bread that has been sitting in the cupboard for ten years and a Lamborghini that one drives to McDonald’s; and yet another panelist ascribed credential-based distinctions in law libraries to white supremacy culture.

To the extent that diversity, equity, and inclusion is indeed the genuine objective of those who wish to de-credential academic law librarian positions, the intention is good but misguided. This is because the beneficiaries of de-credentialization will primarily be white and male, those whom society has instilled with the confidence to apply for positions they are underqualified for. Meanwhile, people of color, especially women and LGBTQ+ people of color, will feel the pressure to continue to obtain expensive educational credentials to prove to majority-white hiring committees that they are qualified. Furthermore, one can imagine a situation in which white male law librarians continue to disproportionately serve in managerial roles even when they lack the traditional educational credentials, managing the very law librarians of color who hold the graduate degrees that they do not. As Critical Race Theory teaches us, American history is full of examples in which reforms intended to benefit communities of color have been turned against them and used to benefit the white population.

To prevent this situation from arising and to ensure that law librarians continue to have the knowledge and skills necessary to serve law school communities, academic law libraries should keep the M.L.I.S. requirement for law librarian positions and the J.D. (or non-U.S. equivalent) requirement for law librarian positions that involve teaching. There are, of course, talented instructional law librarians who do not hold a J.D. but whose years of experience in law libraries qualify them to teach legal research without one. However, these individuals are the exception rather than the rule, and the J.D. remains essential for new academic law librarians who aspire to teach legal research. The alternative will lead to the permanent degradation of law librarian status and security, as well as the further deflation of salaries.  

That being said, the related issues of high student loan debt and a lack of diversity are indeed major problems for academic law librarianship. However, law librarianship is not the only field facing these problems. The solution is not to drop degree requirements but to make these degrees more financially accessible, improve the diversity of the pipeline, and undertake efforts to retain law librarians from underrepresented backgrounds. Ways to do this include improving salaries, supporting and growing AALL’s George A. Straight Scholarship and Fellowship Program, promoting law librarianship as a rewarding profession committed to racial justice at diverse educational institutions like HBCU law schools, and fostering more cross-institutional mentorship opportunities for early-career law librarians of color. Undertaking these efforts is certainly more challenging than simply dropping a degree requirement from a job posting, but this is what doing the work looks like in our field.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to DEI and De-Credentialization: Why Dropping Degree Requirements Won’t Make Academic Law Librarianship More Diverse But Will Make It More Inequitable

  1. Michael Slinger says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the comments expressed in this post. Eliminating educational requirements such as have been expressed by the examples provided in this post will not meaningfully improve diversity in the profession, but what it will do is devalue the profession in the eyes of decision makers at law schools and Universities. Our profession faces assaults from many quarters that has led to position eliminations, loss of status and draconian budget cuts. Law librarians have often proven to be our own worst enemy in responding to these sad events by voluntarily taking actions and doing things that further weaken our status and ability to do our jobs. I urge the profession to wake up before it is too late. Let’s fight to retain reasonable credentials that have served us so well in the past and let’s take actions which can actually work to our benefit by doing the kind of things that the author of this post suggests: “The solution is not to drop degree requirements but to make these degrees more financially accessible, improve the diversity of the pipeline, and undertake efforts to retain law librarians from underrepresented backgrounds. Ways to do this include improving salaries, supporting and growing AALL’s George A. Straight Scholarship and Fellowship Program, promoting law librarianship as a rewarding profession committed to racial justice at diverse educational institutions like HBCU law schools, and fostering more cross-institutional mentorship opportunities for early-career law librarians of color.”

  2. mkoulikov says:

    “Furthermore, one can imagine a situation in which white male law librarians continue to disproportionately serve in managerial roles”

    Is this actually true. Do you think this is actually true? Disproportionately to what?

    The other part to all of this of course is still the question of whether a JD by itself actually prepares anyone to any extent for to be an effective *instructor* and teacher. Then again, neither does the MLS – I can certainly think of several professors in my MLS program who were probably perfectly qualified as librarians, but frankly, who had no business standing up in front of a classroom.

  3. Joyce Manna Janto says:

    Eliminating the JD requirement will limit the career options for those law librarians. The article mentions that there are many non-JD librarians who are qualified to teach legal research. But that is not true in all institutions. Law schools do not only have to comply with ABA standards; they must also comply with the standards that govern the entire university. And many of those accrediting bodies require that the teacher of record in any class hold the terminal degree in that field. I.e. to teach legal research, you must have a JD. I would hope that the programs that are dropping the JD requirement are informing their prospective students of this limitation.

    I agree with both Emma and Michael that the way to improve diversity in our profession is to improve the financial resources available to potential law librarians. Last month was “giving Tuesday.” How many people donated to AALL’s scholarship fund or the Strait Scholarship fund? How proactive are we to alert people thinking about law school/library school that there are programs where you can complete both degrees at the same time; a distinct financial advantage.

  4. KekoF says:

    I mean it’s one law degree, Michael. What could it cost? Ten dollars?

  5. Karen Westwood says:

    I agree that this is an important discussion to have. In a county law library setting I established a new Outreach Coordinator position and gave a lot of thought as to whether a JD or library degree was necessary for the position. This involved a long process of evaluating the actual job duties I anticipated, etc. In this case, I dropped the degree requirements and required an undergrad degree and experience, with JD/MLS as “nice to have.” I ended up with a much more diverse pool of really excellent candidates and the person I hired is excelling. However; and to the author’s point, I had to work really hard to find an appropriate job classification in which the salary range was comparable to a librarian position, and not too far below an attorney position. The possibility of of salaries being depressed if credentials aren’t required is a real concern and certainly worth robust discussion. I realize that my situation in a county law library is different from an academic setting, but thought it was worth sharing nonetheless. Thanks to the author for this post.

  6. Susan Gualtier says:

    WOW.

    It has been shown that eliminating degree requirements results in greater equity across professions, not only for BIPOC students, but for rural students, economically disadvantaged students, and a lot of other marginalized groups.

    All I see in this post and comments is white people refusing to give up status in favor of equity, and claiming that more equitable hiring practices will result in the “degradation” of the profession. All of the examples given here are purely speculative. Listing jobs with more flexible hiring (and retention/promotion) requirements are ONE thing we can do, ALONG WITH raising salaries, creating scholarships, making the degrees more financially accessible, etc.

    This is seriously disappointing. Do better.

    • Tom Kimbrough says:

      I agree with the librarian at U. Penn. who has the Yale/Georgetown educational background that eliminating degree requirements would be a good thing and most definitely result in greater equity across professions (as “has been shown”). Yes, let’s put an end to elitism! Wait, I’ll come in again…

      I apologize in advance for seriously disappointing with this post. I wish I could do better and will keep trying. [No, I’m not the anonymous poster but now I understand why they chose to be anonymous.]

  7. Marcelo Rodríguez says:

    What’s the intention behind an anonymous post? Sadly, we will never know. Instead, what we can be sure of is the visionary and bold intentions of Teresa Miguel-Stearns and her team at University of Arizona Law Library. Call me biased for working there. I don’t care. I’m very proud of being part of a team led by an outstanding human being willing to try new things and to make them a reality. This is the same University of Arizona Law lead by Dean Marc Miller that started accepting GRE alongside LSAT. Accepting non JDs to these programs and academic jobs requires hard work and a new thinking, not just for the non JDs themselves but for everyone else too. I strongly believe that that same hard job will be key in making our profession more welcoming, relevant, inclusive and ready for the current and future challenges. It will also be a key into making our students more a more holistic and interdisciplinary mind, practice ready and culturally competent. This ain’t a hypothetical. I’m a non JD academic law librarian teaching and getting positive feedback from my students every day. Personally I’m incredibly proud to be part of the solution, a forward-facing solution which aims to value and include everyone with their experiences and expertise, with or without a JD. It shouldn’t be difficult to work towards a law librarianship fully welcoming everyone. That’s something we all can and should do.

    • Lawbrarian says:

      Did Teresa ever consult with alumni of the program before she made this change? Many past fellows I know seem pretty critical. A colleague of mine, an alumna, recently told one of our 3L students exploring law librarianship to reach out to Washington (my program) and stay clear of Arizona because “it isn’t for J.D.s anymore.” I was really surprised, but now I sort of get it. I wonder what Mike C. makes of all this.

  8. Yasmin says:

    As a POC, I wonder what would emerge as the substitute for credentials in a decredentialed profession. Will it be how well you network? Who you know? A perception that you “can do the job” or are a “good fit”? A perception that you have the experience needed to do the job? All of these things can and do cut against POC and marginalized communities.

    I have always wanted to enter a profession that requires licensure and/or credentials. It is one thing I can hold that is solid and not subject to the biases of the people in the profession.

    • Olivia Smith Schlinck says:

      I just wanted to say thank you for this comment, Yasmin–this is a really important, insightful addition to the discussion that I hadn’t thought about. Removing the credential adds murky layer to librarian hiring that almost reminds me of the federal clerkship process.

  9. In our structurally racist society, I think it is always right to worry about the unintended (or perhaps intended (always ask who benefits)) consequences of…well…anything, including any initiative aimed at increasing the participation of POC and Black people in schools/jobs/professions. This debate is, of course, part of the larger debate going on in society which has recently led to the ABA dropping the LSAT requirement, some schools no longer requiring SAT scores, some law schools dropping out of the US News & World report rankings, pressure on state bars to drop bar exam requirements, etc. As such, removing the degree requirement for academic law librarian positions is subject to the exact same critiques lobbed about in this societal debate, many of which appear in the initial post and comments, all of which make perfectly valid points.

    As a cynic I generally expect things to go a bit sideways, and agree with the post author that CRT shows that reform frequently has a straaaange way of benefitting the dominant group. Therefore, I hope that this doesn’t work too well as a DEI initiative, because I fear that would create an employment ghetto (area occupied primarily by a minority group or groups) of law librarians who are more likely to be passed over for advancement due to law librarianship NIMBYist protectionists/folks who sincerely consider them less qualified due to lack of a degree. And it could definitely increase the experience of imposter syndrome among those lacking a degree…

  10. Pingback: Response to DEI and De-Credentialization – Cas Laskowski

  11. Olivia Smith Schlinck says:

    I’m thankful for this post opening the doors for this discussion. As the author and other commenters have pointed out, programs without ill intent (or with the specific intent of diversity, equity, and/or inclusion) can nonetheless have a negative impact on marginalized groups overall.

    But I am also inclined to agree with any position that posits (as Susan mentioned) the more temporary fix — here, relaxing credentials for some positions — while also making more structural changes.

    What frustrates me is the lack of those major structural changes that folks have advocated for for decades like higher salaries, less expensive degrees, and the like. It’s on all of us to continue to push for these changes, yes, but those with the power to adjust hiring requirements are also often those with the institutional power required to raise salaries, create and promote scholarships, and push for tuition reductions. There is also the problem of time: even with lower tuition and scholarships, actually getting a JD or MLS takes several years.

    Perhaps there is a middle ground? Could eliminating the MLS requirement for JD holders who would be teaching or the JD requirement for MLS holders who would not be teaching (subject to individual law school rules and bylaws) for a few years help bring in new, diverse candidates while we simultaneously offer more scholarships and fight for lower tuition? To make sure this doesn’t result in less opportunities for those hired in the meantime, candidates without the degree could have their coursework supplemented by their new employers?

    • Julia says:

      I’m a new law librarian, a woman of color, a first generation college student, first generation american, and came from a low-income background and the only reason I ended up in my position was because my employer dropped one of the degree requirements. I would have never considered changing professions otherwise (and I was not even looking for law librarian positions in general). I’ll also add that the job posting was specifically written in a way that invited candidates who may not feel qualified to apply anyway – and that was also one of the only reasons I considered applying. Without that language urging me to apply even if I didn’t feel qualified – I probably wouldn’t have.
      However, I also have a JD and years of experience being an attorney (so not just a degree, but degree plus experience) – which has been invaluable in the classroom. In some instances, I have more on the ground experience litigating than doctrinal professors – so I am able to answer nuanced and complex questions from students and provide them with real world examples of how legal research is handled.
      But then again, to a point made earlier, whether someone is qualified if they don’t have both degrees could potentially fall into murky biased territory where candidates are chosen based on a perception of whether or not they can do the job. Am I qualified to do my job or was I just perceived to be because I have way too much confidence in myself? Would this scenario have worked for any other candidate?
      There’s also the added issue of ensuring that candidates that are chosen are set up for success. If candidates with only one advanced degree instead of two are hired, and especially if that candidate is a person of color, there has to be support and training to ensure their success – otherwise, institutions are just setting up people of color to fail.
      I think this is an important conversation to have and the solution is complex, nuanced, and in the end the real solution is a much larger systems change than credentials.

  12. Pingback: Response to DEI and De-Credentialization | RIPS Law Librarian Blog

  13. Sarah says:

    This author does a wonderful job of pointing out the unintended consequences of decredentialization. The point of this post is that there is a real threat that taking the J.D. away from our profession hurts our overall status and security. There are other ways to increase diversity in the profession, as the author notes, that does not invalidate the hard work that goes into obtaining our credentials. I find the argument that stripping the J.D. from librarian-instructors will make the profession more equitable dubious.

    As a J.D.-holding academic librarian, I have seen how integral it is to hold onto our credentials for job security and to maintain (and even improve) our status. The reality is, and I’m sorry to be blunt about this, that we will not be able to be seen as peers to our law faculty colleagues without our law degrees. If we are not peers, then we will not seem deserving of faculty status. There is also an implication that the importance of legal research as a whole is deemphasized when those that teach it are not qualified for faculty status.

    I find that holding the J.D. is important. Having a J.D. is important is how my students perceive me as an instructor and in turn how they legal research’s place in the curriculum. Having gone through law school, I can truly understand their experiences in law school and what they will experience as a legal practitioner.

    Furthermore, I think it is alarming how little AALL has said and done to protect the academic status of our profession. The Association often avoids the issue of decredentialization entirely, or if it does speak on it, it sponsors programming that invalidates the work that so many of us have put in to earn our law degrees. I realize that it requires tremendous effort and expense to earn a law degree. However, I believe that the value it has provided to my career, to my students, and to the profession is worth the time and effort I have invested. It is hard work, but it is what the profession calls for and what it needs to be if we are to sustain our place in legal academia.

  14. Sarah says:

    This post does a wonderful job of pointing out the unintended consequences of decredentialization. There is a real threat that taking the J.D. away from our profession hurts our overall status and security. There are other ways to increase diversity in the profession, as the author notes, that does not invalidate the hard work that goes into obtaining our credentials. I find the argument that stripping the J.D. from librarian-instructors will make the profession more equitable dubious.

    As a J.D.-holding academic librarian, I have seen how integral it is to hold onto our credentials for job security and to maintain (and even improve) our status. The reality is, and I’m sorry to be blunt about this, that we will not be able to be seen as peers to our law faculty colleagues without our law degrees. If we are not peers, then we will not seem deserving of faculty status. There is also an implication that the importance of legal research as a whole is deemphasized when those that teach it are not qualified for faculty status.

    I find that holding the J.D. is important. Having a J.D. is important is how my students perceive me as an instructor and in turn how they legal research’s place in the curriculum. Having gone through law school, I can truly understand their experiences in law school and what they will experience as a legal practitioner.

    Furthermore, I think it is alarming how little AALL has said and done to protect the academic status of our profession. The Association often avoids the issue of decredentialization entirely, or if it does speak on it, it sponsors programming that invalidates the work that so many of us have put in to earn our law degrees. I realize that it requires tremendous effort and expense to earn a law degree. However, I believe that the value it has provided to my career, to my students, and to the profession is worth the time and effort I have invested. It is hard work, but it is what the profession calls for and what it needs to be if we are to sustain our place in legal academia.

  15. Pingback: ChatGPT Chatbot Weighs in on Law Librarian De-Credentialization | RIPS Law Librarian Blog

  16. Pingback: A Top Program for Training Law Librarians – Cas Laskowski

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s