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60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994

Equivalency of Qualifications in Anglo/American Countries

Maxine K. Rochester


The evolution of qualifying and accrediting library associations in Britain and British Commonwealth countries and in the USA is traced. Equivalencies of first professional qualifications based on completion of courses accredited by the associations are examined. There is also reference to the problem of determining equivalencies between library schools in the same country, and the use of quali ty indicators.


The basis for equivalency of first professional qualifications in library and information studies between the USA and Canada, and Great Britain and countries influenced by the British educational tradition such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (Anglo/American library education) is the accrediting of first professional qualifications by the professional library association. To trace how this system of equivalency in the Anglo/American countries developed, some background information on the development of professional qualifications and the accreditation process in these countries will be given.


The purpose of accreditation by professional associations is to see that courses meet the professional standards of the associations, thus protecting society from poorly prepared practitioners. Schools compare their courses with the criteria set by the professional association, with an on site visit by independent experts selected by the association to check this comparison. Lists of accredited courses are published by the association.

United Kingdom

The universities in nineteenth century Britain were unwilling to offer courses in the new professional areas, so occupations such as engineering and librarianship established associations of practitioners, which began to introduce classes to prepare students to sit the qualifying examinations offered by the associations.(1) The Library Association (LA) was formed in 1877 and it quickly became a qualifying association with the first examinations being held in 1885. By 1904 there were six separate papers with a thesis giving advanced standing. In 1898 The Library Association received a Royal Charter giving it official standing.(2) The Association maintained a register of qualified librarians. After World War II schools of librarianship were established in the UK in technical colleges or colleges of further education under local education authority control. The schools prepared students who needed matriculation level entry in a one year full time course teaching to the Association syllabus. Many students still continued to work and study part time for the LA examinations. It was in 1964 that The Library Association began to review the standards in staff and students to allow library schools to conduct their own examinations which had to be based on the LA examinations. In 1966 a separate syllabus for a graduate diploma course was prepared by the LA. Thus the LA was becoming an accrediting association, rather than a qualifying association. By 1980 graduate level entry for professional membership of the LA was accepted, which meant librarians had to possess undergraduate degrees in librarianship, or hold a graduate diploma in librarianship.(3) Thus undergraduate and graduate diploma level courses were accredited in the 1980s. The current requirements of the LA are detailed in Procedures for Accreditation of Courses, and accredited courses are listed in Where to Study in the UK.


In 1876 the American Library Association (ALA) was formed and in 1887 formal education classes organised by Melvil Dewey began at Columbia University. The classes transferred to the New York State Library at Albury two years later. A two year programme prepared students who entered with high school or better educational levels. Thus the ALA never acted as a qualifying association setting its ow n examinations. By 1902 there were six schools, some in educational institutions, some in large libraries. There were also summer schools and training institutes available and on the job training continued.(4) The CC Williamson report in 1923 criticised the library training schools, saying they should concentrate on professional work, upgrade their faculty and only admit students with college degrees, as had already happened at the New York State Library School and the University of Illinois. The Carnegie Corporation of New York provided large grants to implement these proposals. The ALA established a Board of Education for Librarianship which developed standards for library schools in 1924 and evaluate them. The library qualification became a fifth year Bachelor of Library Science degree, with students already being graduates of four year liberal arts undergraduate courses. In the 1940s a Master of Library Science, still a one year qualification, replaced the Bachelor of Library Science as the first professional qualification. In 1946 an undergraduate level education for librarianship was rejected by the ALA.

The Committee on Accreditation is now the section of the American Library Association responsible for accrediting library schools. Twelve members are appointed by the Executive Board for two year terms. The current standard in the USA is that of 1992, Standards for Accreditation of Masters Programs in Library and Information Studies. There were previous ALA standards in 1925, 1933, 1951 and 1972. The Standards address six areas in accrediting Master's level programmes of library and information studies as follows:


In Australia and New Zealand in the 1930s the British tradition was paramount so in many professional areas, including librarianship, models from the United Kingdom were followed. In 1937 the Australian Institute of Libraries (AIL) was set up, with one of its major purposes being to establish professional courses and training for librarianship; it was to be a qualifying association. In 1938 a Co mmittee on Standards and Training was established to set policies on education and training. The first item addressed was reciprocity in recognition of qualifications for the proposed examinations of the Institute. To foster cooperation the Report of the Committee recommended that Council "have the power to accept the whole or part of any other examinations in place of the whole or any part of its own."(5) The qualifications of the Library Association of the UK would be accepted by the AIL.

The examinations set up by the Institute followed the British model and included a first level preliminary one followed by a qualifying examination. Students had to possess matriculation level entry qualifications. The syllabus for the examinations followed that of The Library Association closely; the first examination was held in 1944. Library schools were set up in large libraries and later in technical colleges, preparing students to sit the examinations.

The first library school in a university commenced teaching in 1961 at the University of New South Wales. With the establishment of librarianship courses in educational institutions the Library Association of Australia (the AIL became the LAA in 1949) reexamined its role as a qualifying association and accredited courses. It was 1971 before it was decided that the last examinations of the libra ry association would be held in 1980. Thus the LAA beame a solely accrediting association, accrediting both undergraduate and graduate diploma first professional level courses.

New Zealand

The New Zealand Library Association began correspondence courses in 1941 for its Children's Librarians' Certificate Course and in 1942 for a general certificate course. These courses ceased in 1946 when a school of librarianship was set up in the central Country Library Service offering graduate diploma courses on the American pattern. Later the course moved to the Victoria University of Wellin gton, and is shortly to become a first professional Master's course on the American pattern.

South Africa

In South Africa British precedents were also followed. In 1933 the South African Library Association (SALA) started correspondence courses for its own examinations. Gradually schools were established in universities. In 1955 the University of South Africa offered correspondence courses for librarianship, and in 1962 SALA transferred its courses to the University, and then acted solely as an ac crediting body. There are currently thirteen universities offering courses at the undergrduate and graduate diploma level which are accredited by the South African Institute of Library and Information Science.


Canada because of its closeness to the USA followed American models and adopted American accreditation procedures. The Canadian Library Association was founded only in 1946, so the two Canadian library schools before this time, McGill University and the University of Toronto, had been accredited by the ALA. Now there are seven schools in Canada accredited by the ALA. To ensure Canadian repres entation, there has been a Canadian member of ALA's Committee on Accreditation since 1978. For the site visit there are two Canadian members of the team for Canadian library schools. There has been a continuing debate about the Canadian Library Association taking responsibility itself for accreditation of library schools.(6)

In the former British Commonwealth countries and in Great Britain as education for librarianship became established in educational institutions the library associations relinquished their qualifying role and became accrediting associations, accrediting individual courses offered in library schools in educational institutions. The library schools developed standards that schools and courses were t o meet. They followed American models. This happened first in South Africa, then Australia, then in the UK. IFLA itself published the IFLA Standards for Library Schools in 1976.(1) They were prepared by the Section on Education and Training in an attempt to raise the standard of library education internationally. "They concentrate on basic principles and essential conditions of operations which ought to be found in any library education pogramme in any country ... these expectations have been derived from wide international consensus."(7)

The standards addressed the following areas: A. Locus J. Non Academic Staff B. Goals K. Curriculum C. Objectives L. Continuing Education D. Designation M. Admission of Students and Status N. Completion E. Organization Requirements F. Support O. Credentials G. Accommodation P. Governance H. Library Q. Records I. Academic Staff R. Planning An application of the IFLA Standards to Australian library schools in 1978 showed the usefulness of the IFLA Standards for a national review of library education.(8) Research was added to the IFLA areas. Is it time for these standards to be revised?

Anglo/American Equivalencies

Based on a common foundation the library education qualifications of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth countries were treated as equivalent by the professional associations. This was especially so in the early days when the associations set their own examinations which were closely modelled on the British system. As education for librarianship in educational institutions became the nor m there grew up differences in equivalencies between the British Commonwealth countries.

When an undergraduate education was rejected by the ALA in 1946, and American education for librarianship moved to a Master's level qualification there were increased disparities in the Anglo/American qualifications. The American Master's lengthened to a three semester programme whereas the Anglo graduate diplomas were usually of two semesters' length. Thus librarians from the Anglo tradition us ually needed to complete an extra semester's work to be equated with an accredited MLS graduate in the United States. With the lengthening of Masters courses to four semesters (two years) in Canadian schools and in some American schools, there is increasing disparity between British influenced and American qualifications.

In the UK itself library education must now meet European standards for vocational qualifications.

Equivalences within a country

After attaining accreditation from the national professional association we expect the MLS program in the case of the USA and Canada, and individual courses in Great Britain and former British Commonwealth countries to meet adequate standards so that equivalencies may be worked out between professional associations.

In Australia as well as accreditation of library and information studies courses, there is accreditation of teacher librarianship and library technician level courses by the Australian Library and Information Association. Government policy to make sure that students transferring from one institution to another, or else upgrading qualifications, for example from library technician to professional librarian via undergraduate library courses, do not repeat studies they have already covered. So not only equivalencies for whole courses, but also for individual subjects or units, need to be determined. There is also the need to determine equivalencies for short continuing education courses. Some courses do give certificates which detail length, level and content of continuing education acti vities; again library association or association approved courses carry greater credibility.

Determining Quality

Despite general standards set by accreditation procedures of library associations and national agencies, many academics and employers want to determine the quality of individual courses and schools. In Great Britain and Australia, encouraged by OECD initiatives and community pressure for accountability of public institutions, there have been quality audits of educational institutions and surveys of certain disciplines. Performance indicators of research and scholarship, teaching/learning and community involvement are used to compare the quality of individual courses, and individual academics.

In the United States there have been a series of surveys of the perceived quality of library schools. A recent study has examined quantifiable measures of quality against perceived quality levels, and shown the importance of the following variables, listed in descending order: the half life of the school's doctoral graduates, its budget and outside income, its age, its faculty's productivity an d the number of its students.(9) The importance of research productivity to determine the quality of library schools or individual faculty members has grown recently in most Anglo countries as library schools become part of universities. It has been noted that the emphasis on research productivity in the United States occurred just over twenty years ago.(10)


The complexity and changes over time in the equivalency of first professional qualifications in librarianship in Anglo/American countries has been surveyed. The important role the library associations have played, and continue to play in this matter, supported by government regulations, shows the need for continued communication between them. In a time of qualifications increasingly being seen as an international commodity, IFLA can play an important role.