Sunday, May 10, 2009

Education Schools and Library Schools: A Comparison of Their Perceptions by Academia

Education Schools and Library Schools: A Comparison of Their Perceptions by Academia

Michael Lorenzen

(This article originally appeared in Illinois Libraries 82(3), (2000), 154-159.)


The library profession has long been concerned by the lack of esteem that higher education has regarded library education. The closing of more than a dozen graduate programs in library science from the late 70s to the early 90s raised this concern to an even higher level. Many librarians assumed that higher education as a whole had no respect for librarianship when the most prestigious and well-regarded library schools at Columbia and Chicago were closed. Librarians are not alone in being taken lightly by the academy. Teacher educators also have had to struggle with the low opinions of their fellow faculty on campus. Examining education schools and library schools reveals many similarities between them in regards to status in higher education and may shed new light on the issue for interested members of each profession.

The issues involved in low status on campus for education and library schools are many and varied. No paper can hope to embrace the full scale of this problem. The issues include such matters as gender and class bias, low pay, the nature of the knowledge studied, and factors inherent to schools and libraries such as their public nature and the easy look of the professions. This paper is not an attempt to thoroughly examine all angles and suggest solutions. This paper is an attempt to compare the similarities of education and library schools in regards to status. To the knowledge of this author, this has not been attempted before.

The Image Problem of Education and Library Schools

The bulk of this article will deal with exploring why education and library schools are so poorly received on campus and what has been written in response to this problem. However, a brief review of the problem is in order before starting on the whys. Both education and library educators are viewed poorly on most higher education campuses. This has led to faculty in these schools being looked down on by other faculty on campus, being paid far less than comparable faculty in other fields, and it has led to in the case of library schools closings.

It is easiest to discuss the low esteem is in the case of library schools. Universities are making a real effort to eliminate library schools. If universities valued library schools, they would not close them. Wrote White, "A serious threat to library education comes from our academic colleagues, who do not know us, do not appreciate us, and do not understand us."1 This statement seems hard to dispute as library schools continue to close.

The lack of academic prestige has hurt library schools in a major way. There have never been an abundance of library schools in the United States. Now there are less than sixty. Library schools have closed at Alabama A&M, Ball State, California State at Fullerton, Case Western Reserve, Columbia, Chicago, the University of Denver, Emory University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Mississippi, the State University of New York at Geneseo, Oregon, Southern California, Vanderbilt, and Western Michigan in the last twenty years. The programs at Chicago and Columbia were considered the best in the field. Their closure meant that the quality of the programs was not the problem. The problem was that they were library schools and the university did not want them.

Many library writers believe that library schools have been closed because administrators needed to show that they were financially responsible to trustees and state legislators. White and Paris both take this view.2 Library schools were small, lacked prestige, and had few allies in the state legislature to defend them. Closing the schools saved little money. Yet, it allowed the administration to show that they were belt tightening. The administrators could not close other programs that perhaps could have saved money. These programs were too prestigious and too powerful. The library school thus became the sacrificial victim. The fact that this has happened repeatedly across higher education is a pretty clear indication that library schools (and by extension librarians) are not valued highly by the academy.

The case for the low status of education schools is harder to make. Few education schools have been closed. It is unlikely that many education schools will be closed in the future. Yet, education school faculties are constantly under attack not only on campus but also by society as a whole. No other discipline on campus draws the criticism that education schools do. Something (or multiple something’s as the bulk of this paper will cover) makes society and academia dislike education schools.

The Gourman Report on Graduate Programs (1996) is a book that evaluates and ranks programs in every academic discipline.3 The report has been criticized heavily by librarians because it refuses to reveal how it evaluates programs. Of interest is that education is one of only two fields (the other is criminal justice) that the report writes is worthless. The book goes on in great detail to describe all programs of education as being without any redeeming academic value. It concludes that all education programs at all institutions of higher education should be abolished. It then lists every program of education in the United States and page by page gives each one a 0 evaluation. (It is interesting to note that library science is considered "Real" by Mr. Gourman. However, his book lists the Columbia University program as being number 1 in the United States even though the program closed several years before the latest edition of his book was published.) This book is popular and used by many in higher education to compare programs. It is particularly popular with students. Yet, every edition of the book completely trashes all education schools. It is hard to imagine medicine, philosophy, law, biology, or most other fields getting this kind of treatment from a well-known reference book. There is something different about the general view of education schools that is being reflected here.

On campus, even associating with education schools can get a faculty member in trouble. Wrote Lanier and Little, "It is common knowledge that professors in the arts and sciences risk a loss of academic respect, including promotion and tenure, if they assume clear interest in or responsibility for teacher education."4 It is hard to imagine faculty getting in serious trouble for associating with other fields. Cross-disciplinary collaborations are usually welcome on most campuses. Again, the question arises, why is education getting such different treatment?

Perhaps the best way that education schools are viewed on campus is summed up by David Labaree. He wrote, "The university views colleges of education as nothing but trade schools, which provides vocational training but no academic curriculum."5 The university wants the money that the education school brings in. Yet, it does not respect the expertise that the education school has. It is tolerated because it is necessary but few respect it. And, like library schools, they are constantly under attack. Why does the academy have such low esteem for education and library schools?

Reasons for Low Esteem in Higher Education

It is difficult if not impossible to give a single reason as to why faculty in education and library schools are not viewed as the equals of other faculty on campus. This is due to the fact that many different factors are influencing this belief. No one may consciously recognize any of the factors when considering education and library faculty but these factors have almost certainly shaped the beliefs and views of those in higher education. Gender bias towards women appears to be a factor as both education and library science are fields dominated by women. The low to moderate pay that most teachers and librarians receive is also a factor as education and library school alumni have less incomes to donate to the higher education institutions that they graduated from. Social bias may play a part as many teacher and library educators come from working class backgrounds in contrast to more privileged backgrounds for many other faculty. The tendency for education and librarianship to focus on practical rather than theoretical matters also does not sit well with faculty in more theoretical disciplines. Finally, the public nature of schools and libraries leads many to believe that education and library faculties have no special knowledge that any one could not learn independently.

Unfortunately, society does not regard work done by women as important as work done by men. This gender bias has lead to wage gap between men and women that has women making considerably less than men in the United States. Those professional fields dominated by women (librarianship, teaching, and nursing for example) make less money than those professional fields dominated by men. Because education and library school faculties teach primarily women, they are subject to this bias. Perhaps unwittingly, other faculty do not value those who labor to teach women about subject matter which is seen as feminine. Attacks on teacher education and the closings of library schools could well be manifestations of continued gender bias in higher education.

Related to gender bias, the low pay of teachers and librarians hurts education and library schools. Most beginning teachers and librarians make less than thirty thousand dollars a year. Few librarians or teachers ever make more than fifty thousand dollars a year unless they move into administration. Even teacher and librarian administrators make less than administrators do in other fields. This has a very real effect on education and library schools. Alumni of these programs have less income that they can devote to donating to their alma mater. This then gives education and library schools less political power on campus in relation to other academic departments who have graduates making more money and donating more of it to the higher education institution. Of course, teachers and librarians make less because each is a field dominated by women, so this skewing of academic power in favor of departments with higher income graduates is yet another manifestation of gender bias in higher education.

The role of social bias can not be overlooked either. Wrote Prichard et al, "A much larger number of incumbents enter the field of college teaching of education from homes of skilled and unskilled laborers than have been found for incumbents in other areas of academic work."6 While this study is over 25 years old, the conclusions still are true today. Teaching and librarianship are much easier for the children of the working class to break into than most other professional fields. Becoming a teacher or librarians takes less time and costs less than becoming a doctor or lawyer for example. Most education and library school faculty started as teachers and librarians before moving into higher education faculty roles. They share this blue-collar background in most cases. Faculty in other fields tend to come from more privileged backgrounds. This sets faculty in education and librarianship apart from their peers.

Education schools and library schools are also scorned by other higher education faculty for their focus on practical rather than theoretical knowledge. Education and library literature are full of examples of "how I teach good" and "how I run my library good" articles. Even more research-oriented articles tend to have a practical component to them as well they should. Yet, these types of articles do not garner respect from the vast majority of faculty who focus on theoretical knowledge and let others draw the practicality from this knowledge. Wrote Labaree, "In the commodified setting of U.S. education, usable knowledge is low-status knowledge. The more knowledge is removed from ordinary concerns and the more closely associated it is with high culture, the more prestige it carries."7 Yet, education and library knowledge needs to be usable. No one wants teachers and librarians who are unprepared to do their jobs. This has not helped the image of education and library school faculty despite this need.

There is also some resistance to doing research in education school faculty and it is probably safe to write in library school faculty as well. Ducharme and Agne wrote that education faculty "have difficulty in adjusting to and accepting the norms and expectations of academe."8 This usually takes the form of resistance to doing research and publishing in peer-reviewed journals. The two researchers traced this back to the working class origin of education school faculty. Failing to emulate the academic lifestyle properly is a hindrance to education and library school faculty. Of course, it begs the larger question of how much these faculty should emulate the academic model.

All of the previous reasons are part of why librarianship and education have image problems in higher education. However, the root of the problem may come down to two reasons. The public ultimately controls both schools and libraries and most everyone feels entitled to venture their opinion on how to run them. Faculty in the majority of other disciplines are considered the authorities in their fields and the public does not expect to question them. In addition, most faculty in higher education learned to teach by teaching. They never went through a formal education on how to teach. These faculty can then imagine that education is a simple field if they could master it without having attended an education school. Although the average faculty member does not acquire considerable library experience, it is easy to imagine that most higher education faculty believe they are qualified to run a library.

The accessibility and public ownership of education is one of its biggest assets and perhaps largest liability in higher education. Wrote Cusick, "Individual freedom runs all the way through the system. Parents may or may not support the school board; superintendents may support or oppose the state department, state department staff may alter the intent of federal policy makers. People make and exercise personal decisions, enter and take part on their own terms, and regards those as their rights. Students mix their classes, cultures, and friendships with school requirements; teachers adjust their curriculums to their predilections, create their student relations, and support or oppose principals as they choose. Reformers decide schools need accountability, or principals decide their teachers have too much or too little power. Teachers decide students need more freedom. Each member of the system is free to make his or her own decision and set a course of action."9

It is precisely for this reason that education schools and library schools are not considered intellectually rigorous. Everyone in society including the student, the politician, and the local businessman are allowed to have opinions on how schools and libraries ought to be ran and expect to voice these opinions whenever they feel like it. Since everyone is allowed to be involved in running schools and libraries, the process of running them appears to be simple to other university faculty. This is in contrast to their own fields in most instances. Most individuals do not feel that they can give opinions to the math or physics professor on how to function in their disciplines. The faculty member can rightly feel they are the authority. But, like other members of society, these same authorities in math and physics feel fully qualified to lecture teacher and library educators on their subjects. This creates a definite inferiority view in higher education for library and education schools.

Adding to this problem is that most faculty in higher education learned to teach on their own. They never attended a college of education. They may have never read a book on teaching. Yet, most faculty believe they are good and effective teachers. Hence, they believe that the process of teaching must be easy. After all, even their international teaching assistants with poor English can teach. The knowledge that teacher educators have must not be that important if this reasoning is followed fully. Labaree wrote, "Compounding this resistance to the notion that teachers have special pedagogical skills is the student’s general experience that learning is not that hard—and therefore, by extension, that teaching is not hard either."10

Librarianship is slightly different. Most faculty have had to use a library. Most have not had to function in library roles. Yet, the perception in higher education is that librarianship is easy academic work. Wrote White, "What faculty members see, or at least what they think they see, does not require a graduate degree in librarianship, although a graduate degree in a ‘discipline’ might help make the librarians more collegial."11 Most faculty probably imagine they could be librarians if they wanted to be and that their PHD’s ought to qualify them for these roles if they wanted them.

Responses to Academia’s Scorn

Not surprisingly, even if attempts at gaining equal recognition on college campuses is futile, teacher and library school faculty have responded to the low status they have on campus. In many cases, this response has manifested itself as an attack on higher education itself. In other instances, it has led library schools to disguise what they do by dropping the word library from their titles. Regardless, few faculty in education or librarianship have acknowledged the validity of the prevailing view in higher education.

There have been some suggestions to respond to this criticism by strengthening the scholarly output of both education and librarianship. There is merit in these arguments. However, even an attempt to increase the amount of high quality theoretical research will not convince most that education or librarianship are valuable academic fields due to other considerations already detailed in this paper. No one in education or librarianship is seriously suggesting that either field should limit the number of women who become practitioners in their field to deal with gender bias in academia. Many do call for better pay in each field but few expect that this will result in either field being drawn even with other professional fields with better pay. No one can expect that the public will lose its control on schooling or libraries either. Finally, there is no way that higher education faculty can conceivably be made to achieve teacher certification. Hence, the main responses to the low status of education and librarianship in higher education have been reluctant acceptance, an attack on the values of higher education itself, and in the case of library schools an attempt to "disguise" the nature of the programs by dropping the word "library" from their department names.

Wrote Berry, "Maybe it is time to remind the state that it has a responsibility to educate people for public service, and that libraries are a fundamental public service. If the university administrators won’t hear that message, maybe it is time to take it to the legislatures and governments that support them. By fighting these pernicious academic values we might save our library schools. We might even return our universities to teaching, service, and real research."12 Berry and many library educators see it, the problem is not that librarianship is a low paying profession dominated by women that is engaged in practical matters serving the community. The problem is that higher education does not value public service in low paying, less "prestigious" fields. The solution is to alter the values of higher education and realign the university to its original public service mission.

Stieg shared a similar sentiment. She wrote, "Signs of dissatisfaction with the priorities of the research universities are beginning to appear…If the concept of social responsibilities of universities can be extended to the educational realm, disciplines and programs less advantaged than law, medicine, and business will be helped."13 This approach by Berry and Stieg not only rebuffs the university for not valuing librarianship (and by extension education) but also holds that the values that these schools hold actually should be emulated by everyone else in the university. This is a bold approach. Recognizing that the values of academia are hopelessly out of line with education and library schools, Berry and Stieg have suggested changing these higher education values because they do not really benefit higher education or the communities that higher education serves.

The Holmes Group, an organization comprising the deans of education of many top ranked education schools, responded to this issue by attacking higher education and those in education schools that emphasized research to the detriment of training new teachers in an attempt to emulate corrupt higher education values. The Holmes Group wrote that "the generally negative attitude in higher education towards matters relating to elementary and secondary education" was corrosive to faculty in education schools.14 The Holmes Group wants education schools to abandon what it sees as the bad values of higher education such as an emphasis on research. Instead, the Holmes Group wants education schools to dedicate themselves entirely to preparing teachers. In this way, the education school can still function as it was meant to as a professional school without losing itself to what is wrong in higher education.

While Labaree does not agree with much of the Holmes Group report of 1995, he like others echoes the attack on higher education values. Wrote Labaree, "In some ways, ed schools have been doing things right. They have wrestled vigorously with the problems of public education, an area that is of deep concern to most citizens. This has meant tackling social problems of great complexity and practical importance, even though the university does not place much value on the production of this kind of messy, indeterminate, and applied knowledge. Oddly enough, the rest of the university could learn a lot from the example of the ed school."15 Many in education and librarianship agree, the problem is not in education and library schools. The problem is a higher education that does not properly value public service. It is higher education that should change. In reality, faced with scorn and budget/program cuts, this may be a hard sell in academia. But it may ultimately prove to be the correct response.

Some library schools have tried to fit into the current values of higher education better. They have done this by attempting to hide what they do. Surprisingly, may library schools are dropping the word "library" from their titles. Several schools, including the University of California/Berkley and the University of Michigan have done this. They have replaced their titles with phrases like the School of Information Sciences or the School of Information Science and Technology. The word library does not confer status on campus. However, "information" and "technology" do. Obviously, library schools are schools of information and technology as well. Some library schools hope that by eliminating the word library and replacing it with something more respectable, they will garner more prestige on campus.

This strategy has problems. To begin with, most practicing librarians have responded in anger to the perceived shame that these non-library "library" programs seem to have in educating librarians. It is not a good idea for a professional school to alienate the members of the profession it serves. And the academy is not fooled by the word change either. Wrote Crowley, "Unfortunately, the march of information loyalists to drive the word ‘library’ from graduate education will continue. Equally likely, historians and physicists -- if they care, and they may not-- will note which department still produces people who work in libraries. The existing views of status will remain, and those trying to seize new prestige will be ignored."16

However, as bad as the idea may sound, there may be some benefit in changing the names of library schools. Information and technology are part of the library curriculum. Librarians are information managers and web page masters. Asserting the right of the library school to teach these subjects is important. It is time academia realized librarians and libraries are not just about books. Changing the name clearly asserts this. Information management is powerful in higher education now. Therefore, other academic departments such as business and computer science do not want library schools into what they see as their turf. However, why do the library schools feel they have to abandon library from their department name and degree titles? It does not benefit the image of the library profession and it does not really enhance academic status. Everyone still knows that the school is a library school.


Education and library schools have a perception problem on college campuses. The reasons for this are many and varied as has been shown in this paper. No paper can hope to embrace the full scale of this problem. As has been demonstrated, the issues include such matters as gender and class bias, low pay, the nature of the knowledge studied, and factors inherent to schools and libraries such as their public nature and that the professions look easy. This paper could not hope to attempt to thoroughly examine all angles and suggest solutions. This paper instead was an attempt to compare the similarities of education and library schools in regards to status. To the knowledge of this author, this has not been attempted before. Hopefully, this comparison may prove useful to others and some solutions to what seems an unsolvable problem may begin to emerge.


1 White, H. (1991). "Politics, the World We Live In." Library Quarterly 61(3), pp. 264.

2 Paris, M. (1990). "Why Library Schools Fail." Library Journal 115(4), pp. 38-42.

3 Gourman, J. (1996). The Gourman Report. Los Angeles: National Education Standards.

4 Lanier, J. E. and Little, J. W. (1986). "Research on Teacher Education." In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed., pp. 527-569). New York: Macmillan, pp. 530.

5 Labaree, D. F. (1999). "Too Easy a Target: The Trouble with Ed Schools and the Implications for the University." Academe 85(1), pp. 39.

6 Prichard, K. W., Fen, S. W., and Buxton, T. H. (1971). "Social Class Origins of College Teachers of Education." Journal of Teacher Education 22(2), pp. 227.

7 Labaree, D. F. (1997). "The Lowly Status of Education Schools." In How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning: The Credentials Race in American Education (pp. 223-249). New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 240.

8 Ducharme, E. R. and Agne, R. M. (1982). "The Educational Professorate: A Research-based Perspective. Journal of Teacher Education 33(6), pp. 33.

9 Cusick, P. (1992). The Educational System: Its Nature and Logic. New York: Addison-Wesley, pp. iv.

10 Labaree, "Too Easy a Target: The Trouble with Ed Schools and the Implications for the University." pp. 38.

11 White, "Politics, the World We Live In." pp. 264.

12 Berry, J. N. (1991). "Fighting Academe’s Corrupted Values." Library Journal 116(4), pp. 108.

13 Stieg, M. F. (1991). "The Closing of Library Schools: Darwinism at the University. Library Quarterly 61(3), pp. 271..

14 Holmes Group. (1995). Tomorrow’s schools of education. Racine, Wisconsin : The Johnson Foundation, pp. 169.

15 Labaree, D. F. (1995). "A Disabling Vision: Rhetoric and Reality in Tomorrow’s Schools of Education. Teacher’s College Record 97(2), pp. 39.

16 Crowley, B. (1998). "Dumping the ‘Library’." Library Journal 123(12), pp. 49.

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