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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

Nina Lindsay's picture

I appreciate Lisa Hinchliffe's comment and agree.  A statement to "recommend, but not require" the degree does not repudiate the values of our profession, or of the degree itself. Rather, it turns the focus to the skills, knowledge, and values that a candidate demonstrates for this very unique and critical position, still recommending the MLS.  I expect the Executive Director to demonstrate a commitment to the values and mission of ALA, and a deep understanding of and passion for libraries and their place in our democracy. While I imagine it is likely that the most qualified candidate will hold an MLS, I can also imagine candidates without the degree who still come "from within."

Nina Lindsay

2017-18 ALSC President



Rachel Crowley's picture

I believe that we can find a librarian who has the skills, knowledge, and values that we need. We have wonderful leaders/managers now.

James Rettig's picture

ALA has had effective executive directors with the MLS; it has also had less-than-effective executive directors with the MLS.  As Lisa Hinchliffe has articulated, ALA needs an ED committed to ALA values, etc.  I have known librarian who have the MLS who acted contrary to ALA's values, e.g. by refusing to have books in their collections that they disapprove of or to avoid community controversy.  What matters is how an individual, with or sans MLS, has demonstrably embraced those values through action and public statements.

Managing an organization as complex as ALA and facing the challenges it has faced in recent years (e.g., declining membership, revenue channels less reliable than in the past) requires knowledge, experience, and insight that MLS programs do not necessarily impart. 

The Executive Board has responsibility to hire the best candidate it can find to serve as our next ED.  It needs the freedom, and the trust of the membership, to conduct a search that will facilitate that process.  It needs to be able to consider candidates who have the experience, knowledge, and commitment to ALA's core values, whether or not they have developed those in part from earning an MLS. The proposal to remove the MLS requirement, but retain it is a preferred experience factor, will give the EB that freedom.

Jim Rettig

Former member of the Executive Board and ALA president 2008-09

ALA needs an ED who is committed to the values, mission, purposes, etc., of libraries and ALA - See more at: http://connect.ala.org/comment/84592#comment-84592
ALA needs an ED who is committed to the values, mission, purposes, etc., of libraries and ALA - See more at: http://connect.ala.org/comment/84592#comment-84592
ALA needs an ED who is committed to the values, mission, purposes, etc., of libraries and ALA - See more at: http://connect.ala.org/comment/84592#comment-84592

Jim Rettig

Retired Academic Library Administrator

Happily living in Williamsburg, Virgina


Paul Bond's picture

Our leader needs to be one of us. I understand and appreciate the reasons for supporting a change, but the degree isn't exactly a high bar. It's just one of several baseline requirements for such a position.


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

If many different kinds of people in various professions will be qualified, then I don't understand the argument for *not* requiring the MLS as a factor to narrow down candidates. if we require an ALA-accredited MLS to work a service desk and represent our institutions, surely we can require one for a position that will be running our professional organization and serving all of us? Surely with an abundance of possibilities, narrowing down to those who think so much of libraries and their values that theyve been trained in the actual work of libraries should be seen as incredibly valuable?

If the MLS is unnecessary as an indicator of dedication to the profession and its values and work, then why don't we just all agree that you can have whatever degree, or none, and we can just train you on the job, not just for this position, but all positions in libraries? It's yet another nod toward the idea that the MLS is worth little to nothing to libraries as institutions, and to the profession. If that's the case, then let's be honest that it's just a money-maker degree for higher ed and stop pretending that you need the union card to have the skills necessary to do the work and hold the values. 

A big thank you to Mr. LaFleur who notes above that The Board of the Association of College and Research Libraries discussed this issue and supports the continued requirement that the ALA Executive Director hold an MLS degree. 


Colleen S. Harris

Information Literacy Coordinator

CSU Channel Islands


Melora Norman's picture

The only people who can thoroughly understand and support this profession are those who have acquired the appropriate professional qualifications.  There are a great many highly-qualified, intelligent and capable people who have this requirement and who could perform the job admirably; arguments asserting that we need to enlarge the pool of candidates are completely unconvincing and without evidence to support them.  The only way that I could support removing the requirement would be if the profession decides to morph considerably, for instance to merge with some other profession such as computer science.  Otherwise I think it is extremely inappropriate to consider further weakening of support for the accredited MLS which is still at this moment a cornerstone of the profession.  If we as a profession no longer believe that the MLS is important then let us begin discussions regarding what defines us and who we are.  Otherwise, please ensure that we hire one of the great many competent and capable qualified librarians in our midst to lead us.

Faye Roberts's picture

I’m a former Executive Director of a state library association. I have an MLIS degree and more than 20 years’ experience working in libraries. While I appreciate the arguments for requiring ALA’s Executive Director to have a degree in library science, I think that making this requirement mandatory could shortchange the association by eliminating other, better qualified candidates from consideration.

A library science degree can provide an excellent overview of challenges facing the profession.  Similarly, library employment can bring an understanding of what is involved in working in a library setting. On the other hand, most library education programs and few library jobs prepare one to run a not-for-profit association, especially not one as large and diverse as ALA.

Guiding a not-for-profit association requires different knowledge and skills from those needed to run most libraries. Serving as Executive Director of a very large, national organization requires administrative ability that only some librarians have the opportunity to develop. The elected leadership and staff of ALA and its subdivisions comprise a world of experience in all facets of the library profession; no one ED candidate can hope to possess such a range of knowledge. And why would she or he need to possess that knowledge when it’s already available elsewhere in the organization?

ALA’s next Executive Director should be the most qualified individual who has a proven track record in the management of large membership associations and who can support the values of our profession. If this person also has an MLIS degree, that’s even better. 

Lisa Hinchliffe's picture

I was revisiting this today and realized that the current policy is an MLS or an NCATE. What's the rationale for dropping the NCATE completely? It wouldn't even be one of the preferred? 

Peter Hepburn's picture

Lisa, thank you for the excellent question.  I will be sure that the Executive Board is aware of it, especially in case we need to revise the resolution draft before it comes to the floor at Council.



Lisa Hinchliffe's picture

Thanks Peter. I think this is a critical clarification because a lot of the arguments I'm seeing are about affirming the MLS as THE degree for the ED because ALA accredits it - I think because of the resolution as stated only allowing for the MLS. But, if the policy stays as is, the MLS is not affirmed as THE degree but rather one of the degrees. The pro-con grid doesn't engage this either.  So, ultimately people who are arguing to keep the MLS as the required degree may be frustrated to discover that the policy as stands isn't an exclusive affirmation of the MLS. 

Carrie Fishner's picture

I firmly believe that as an organization, we cannot have an ED of the American Library Association who is not a LIBRARIAN. Yes, other skills are necessary to direct such a large and diverse organization, but at the heart of the organization is Libraries. To fully understand and honor that, the ED must come from there. 

Jeremy Johannesen's picture

This conversation hits close to home.  For the past four years I have had the privilege of serving as the Executive Director of the New York Library Association (NYLA).  NYLA is one of the five largest state chapters in the nation, with over 5K members, representing all library types.  Prior to becoming executive director, I severed as deputy director for three years.  All totaled, I have over a decade of experience working in professional membership organizations.

Since I have assumed the executive director's position, NYLA membership has increased by over 25%, and NYS Library Aid Funding has increased by over $15M.

I passionately believe in the core values of librarianship, and have built a career around empowering members of the library community to connect, share and advocate for libraries.

All that being said - I do not hold my MLS.  I don't believe for a moment that I am qualified to run a library.  I do believe that my record of success demonstrates that an association professional without an MLS has the capacity to effectively run a library association.

A hard-line requirement for any specific degree may exclude truly viable candidates.

Scott Walter's picture

I have taught for the past 15 years in MLS programs at San Jose, Illinois, and Dominican, so my comments regarding the requirement are grounded in my experience as an MLS-holder, an LIS educator, a supervisor of MLS students, and someone who has been able to hire dozens of librarians over the years (where some positions required the ALA-accredited degree and others did not).

I have also taught for the past 4 years in the M.A. in Nonprofit Management program at DePaul University, so my comments regarding the requirement are likewise grounded in my experience of the fact that non-profit management is also a credentialed field that, like librarianship, involves a commitment to a core set of professional values as well as core competence in areas of critical concern to Association management.

My thinking about this requirement has also been shaped in recent weeks by the debate over the ongoing commitment of the Association to the core values of the profession engendered by a series of press releases issued by the Association since the November election in the U.S. In this regard, I have been thinking about the complementary roles of the Executive Director, the ALA President, and the other elected members of the ALA Executive Committee in ensuring a values-centered approach to ALA leadership (where "value" is understood as the commitment to certain shared beliefs about the role of libraries and librarians and library staff in society, and not solely in the bottom line).

With those caveats:

1) I believe that there are certain core competencies required in this position in regard to its responsibility for administrative leadership of the Association, stewarding Association resources, committing to professional development and support for the Association's staff, etc., and that these competencies are not tied to the completion of an ALA-accredited degree (which includes degrees other than the MLS, of course). These may be found in those who have completed degrees in Nonprofit Management, for example, or who have served in leadership positions in libraries, other cultural heritage organizations, other nonprofits, or other Associations

2) I believe that it is absolutely critical in today's environment that the ED be able to demonstrate his or her commitment to the core values of the LIS professions. This commitment seems to be what many assume may be assessed, by proxy, through the possession of the MLS degree, but I do not believe that assumption is wholly accurate. There are many who have shown their commitment to the values we embrace through their work, inside and outside of cultural heritage organizations, who do not hold the professional degree. And, there are those who hold the professional degree who I might question in terms of what values actually guide their decisions as librarians and as leaders.

3) I believe it is critical that the Executive Director, sharing a commitment to our values, understands how to best make use of the professional expertise represented by the elected leadership of the Association, including the President and President-Elect, of course, but expanding to other elected leaders at the Executive Board, Divisional, and Chapter levels. For many, a gap seems to have opened up between "Big ALA" and the work they are doing to advance our profession and our shared values at the local, state, and other levels. A new ED should commit to a deeper engagement with the professional leadership in shaping his or her work in administrative leadership.

4) I note that ALA is a professional association, and not a library, itself. Thus, my comments regarding educational requirements for leadership positions in a professional association should not be assumed to reflect my thinking about educational requirements for the position of library director (we can have a side discussion regarding what I think about trends in librarianship and in higher education, more broadly, regarding the recruitment of senior leaders from outside the fields represented by the organizations they have been recruited to lead)

If those commitments are the ones guiding the selection of the next Executive Director, we can craft a much more strategic and meaningful recruitment effort than one where so much is assumed through one's possession (or not) of the MLS (or other ALA-accredited degree). Rather than depend on the degree as proxy, let's search for the skills, values, and commitment to professional engagement (and respect for professional expertise) that we need. There are many excellent librarians who might fit this bill, but there are also many excellent Association professionals who are not librarians; I'd advocate allowing as many excellent candidates into the pool as we can, and then focusing on finding the one who has the best combination of core competencies, values, and commitment to collaboration. 

So, the short answer for the tally: I recommend making the MLS (or ALA-accredited degree) no more than a preferred educational requirement, but I could even see an argument (in the context of a very well-written position announcement) for making it a desired requirement.

Scott Walter, M.L.S., Ph.D.
University Librarian
DePaul University

Rachel Rubin's picture

I had a wonderful conversation about this last week with a colleague. She and I disagree (I think the MLS should be required for the E.D., she does not.) We wondered if some of the issues with the requirement could be resolved with more flexible language. Doing this would not address the crux of the important conversation we are having, but it may allow us to move forward with a compromise. (Suggestion in italics.)

"Required Qualifications: A Master’s Degree from a program accredited by the ALA, OR a Master’s Degree with a specialty in school library media from an educational unit accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), OR an equivalent combination of knowledge, education, skills, and experience."  

This would require trust in the search committee to identify what, if any, alternative experience would truly equate to what we expect from a degree-holder. It also means that we very clearly would have to define what we are looking for in an ED.  I know this suggestion is not a solution, and it is a lot to ask of the search committee,  but it might be worth considering.

Take care, all.




Peter Hepburn's picture

Rachel, thanks for this message.  Between this and what Lisa Hinchliffe had to say about the NCATE, as well as other comments, I feel certain the Executive Board will be discussing how to revise and refine the resolution for presentation to Council in Atlanta.  Thanks, and Happy New Year!


Diane Chen's picture

During the fall AASL Executive Committee meeting and during our December AASL Board call, we decided to support requiring a “Master’s Degree from a program accredited by the ALA or a Master’s Degree with a specialty in school library media from an educational unit accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for the Executive Director of ALA.”

We believe it is essential for the executivedirector of the American Library Association to have the educational training and degree in the field.  This educational background and degreewas also valued when choosing the new Librarian of Congress this year.  Having an MLS does not prevent any candidate from also having managerial and association management experience.

Respectfully, Diane R ChenAASL Division Councilor Sent from my iPhone

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Diane R. Chen

School Librarian, Stratford STEM Magnet School, Nashville, TN

Melora Norman's picture

Peter has encouraged me to share my view that the existence of other (non-degreed) points of view built into the system actually provides excellent support for why we should continue to ensure that our ED does have one, bringing the experience and vision that only a person who has worked through the process can share.  Arguably support for the degree has been dwindling to the extent that it seems almost preferred at times to hire non-degreed candidates, thereby limiting opportunities for people who have worked hard to get the degree that we propound as central to defining us as professionals and further lessening any case to be made for any employer to require the degree for any library-related position anywhere.

If the ALA-accredited degree is not producing fantastic library leaders perfectly poised to lead the Association, we should immediately begin asking ourselves why not.  If it is the case, then our best pool of candidates lies within what in my experience is a really fantastic, large and highly-qualified group of accredited degree holders.

Simply enlarging the field so as to include a "larger pool" seems like an extremely weak and unconvincing reason to change the requirement for a job. Is it typical for lawyers to welcome non-lawyers into the leadership positions of their associations? There are, as others have pointed out, myriad opportunities for non-degreed people to get involved with ALA.  If we value the ALA accreditation process, why would we even consider not taking an opportunity to actively prove our commitment?

Chris Corrigan's picture

I respectfully disagree with the argument that you need an MLS to fully care about libraries and the function they serve. I further disagree with the premises that having a business background means you won't have our interests at heart. Andrew Carnegie didn't have an MLS, but his passion for public libraries are why there are so many in cities large and small today.

Felton Thomas's picture

Dear Peter,


Thank you for sharing the draft resolution on education requirements of future ALA executive directors. The PLA Board discussed this matter at our fall board meeting and was unanimous in agreeing that the ALA-accredited MLIS degree requirement be changed to recommended from required. PLA supports the YALSA statement that “an MLIS be recommended, but not required, in the job requirement for the next ALA CEO; that the applicant be able to demonstrate familiarity with the current library landscape and its values; and that relevant nonprofit and/or association credentials (such as the Certified Association Executive) be strongly considered.”

Draft minutes (to be approved at Midwinter) from our PLA Board meeting follow:

“The board agreed that the requirement for the position be MLIS recommended not required. The PLA Board sees great value in casting the widest net possible to attract the absolute highest quality candidates to lead positive change and to help resolve significant challenges for ALA and for libraries. Specifically, the PLA Board looks for these competencies in the new ALA ED:



The ideal candidate will demonstrate skill leading complex organizations through periods of change and growth, as indicated by competency in:

--Strategic vision

--Deep understanding of core library values and library advocacy

--Change facilitation



In addition to understanding and trusting the work of all ALA units, the ideal candidate will demonstrate high-level management competencies in:

--Association operations, governance, and structure

--Strategic planning

--Development, policy, and advocacy



To ensure a successful transition to new leadership, the ideal candidate will demonstrate personal competencies in:

--Building and motivating internal teams

--Building sustainable partnerships inside and outside the association

--Clear and consistent communications”

As YALSA eloquently states, talented, mission-driven nonprofit leaders will want to be part of our organization because they value libraries and the great work we do. The pool of qualified candidates should not be limited. While ALA represents libraries, ALA is not a library. The Board of Directors and Council are composed of librarians, who work in strong partnership with the Executive Director and other staff to ensure the highest commitment to our core values, to our members and to libraries more generally, and to advocacy on behalf of libraries. The position of ALA ED calls for an individual with the commitment, knowledge and skills to move our complex association forward at a critical moment in time. Let’s seek out all the opportunities available to us to find that leader.

LeRoy LaFleur's picture

As an ALA member, my personal opinion on this matter is that strongly preferring rather than requiring the MLS/MLIS is sufficient for the ALA Executive Director position.

That said, I am curious about the context in which the original 2000 Midwinter-San Antonio resolution requiring the MLS was made.  It strikes me as odd that we should be considering overturning a resolution that was seemingly made to address this exact situation, and which ostensibly yielded Fiels, shortly after it's adoption.  I assume there are still some folks who were around during the debate on the 2000 resolution? 

Doug Archer's picture

Yesterday, on "Here and Now" I heard NPR's Lisa Mullins interviewing Curt Nickisch, Senior Editor of the Harvard Business Review ( http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/01/05/boss-do-your-job ).

The topic was "If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to Be Happy at Work."  Nickisch described a recent study that showed that coders whose managers can actually code and, therefore, know the problems faced by their employees, were more satisfied in their work than those whose managers could not code.  Nickisch then referred to an earlier study that found that hospitals administered by physicians significantly out performed hospitals led by non-physicians in national quality of service assessments.  See Amanda H. Goodall's "Physician-leaders and hospital performance: Is there an association?"  Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 73, Issue 4, August 2011, pp 535–539.

The message I took from this was that sharing the experience of the people one manages is crucial for effective leadership.  Therefore, while an MLS is certainly a very strong indicator of commitment to librarianship and its values, significant successful experience as a librarian AND similar experience as an administrator are the essential qualifications for ALA's Executive Director not the degree per se.  A candidate with an MLS but without a strong track record as a librarian wouldn't qualify for our position just as a person without an MLS but with successful work as a librarian (someone who came up through the ranks so to speak) most definitely could.

If the requirement is to be changed, I hope that any new wording will stress the equal importance of successful library and successful administrative experience.  "Strongly preferred" doesn't quite do it but I have yet to come up with a better suggestion.   Perhaps adding text such as "the successful candidate must have demonstrated significant, successful library experience AND significant, successful administrative experience" would work.


J. Douglas Archer Reference & Peace Studies Librarian 246 Hesburgh Library University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN 46556 574-631-6656 voice | 574-631-8887 fax archer.1@nd.edu | www.nd.edu/~jarcher

Pauline Manaka (non-member)'s picture

MLS is an important requirement, I agree for all the stated reasons but also because I believe that the education/training of librarians is continuing to evolve to meet 21st century expectations of library leaders in society.