British Columbia Library Association

The journey of a non-ALA-accredited librarian in Canada

By Shideh Taleban

This is the story of my journey as a librarian from Iran who wanted to work in Canada with a degree not accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). In Iran, I spent four years working toward my Bachelor of Library and Information Science degree and two and a half years refining these skills through a Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) program. After achieving my MLIS I moved to Canada full of hope about my professional future. As a foreign graduate, my first step was to evaluate my credentials through International Credential Evaluation Services (ICES) to make sure that I was eligible to work in Canada. Armed with this evaluation and two diplomas from respected Iranian universities, I began the job hunt.

Shideh Taleban completed her MLIS degree in Iran before re-taking the degree in Canada.

How many times have you heard of a friend, colleague, or family member who is unable to work in his or her chosen field because their credentials are from another country? After nearly three years of applying for different librarian positions—even entry-level jobs that required an ALA-accredited degree or an ‘equivalent’ from another university—I had no luck getting any interviews.

At this point in my professional career, I was almost certain that I would not find a librarian position without first attaining an ALA-accredited MLIS. While working in a public library, I came to realize that there is no difference between the library skills I learned in my home country and the work that I want to do as a librarian in Canada; however, I did observe that I had some educational shortcomings in areas such as North American Children’s Literature, and in terms of my knowledge of some common North American reference resources.

I decided to fill the gap by going back to school: I signed up for the Community Library Training Program (CLTP) to take online courses in readers’ advisory and reference services. I found them informative and useful, but still it was not enough to change my status to ALA accredited. At first, I aimed to apply for the Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and visited an assistant professor there. Unfortunately, I came to realize that CAS, as a one-year program designed for accredited librarians, is not ALA accredited and not helpful for foreign-trained librarians like me.

After completing the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) I decided to re-do my MLIS.

Getting a (second) MLIS

As I was living in Vancouver, the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies (SLAIS) at UBC was my first choice. The University of Alberta’s (U of A) online MLIS program was my second. However, I was surprised to learn that my first MLIS degree would hamper me from being accepted into a MLIS program in Canada. As I had graduated from a very well-known university in Iran, and my MLIS was accepted by academies here based on their existing policy, they were not going to accept a person with a previous MLIS because I was already overqualified. If universities such as UBC and U of A consider my degree equivalent to theirs, why could I not get an interview? What is the reason for this inconsistency between academia and the professional world?

I felt that my world had been turned upside down. My passion was truly with librarianship, and I did not want to leave Canada. I spent six and a half years of my youth training to be a librarian, yet I could not use my training in the country I had chosen as my home, and could not gain accreditation by retaking the MLIS program in Canada. Some family members suggested I pursue another profession, but how could I? The magic of librarianship is when you feel it with your heart. You cannot easily let it go.

At this point, I knew that I had to start fighting for what I wanted and I received lots of support and encouragement from others around me, especially librarians. I started a personal campaign by contacting a very well-known and active library leader, speaker, and advocate in Vancouver, who was sad to hear about my story. He made a post on his blog expressing his support for foreign librarians’ situations.

I decided to negotiate with UBC, and inquired as to their reasons for advising me not to apply. After a few months of negotiations, I was able to persuade SLAIS at UBC that I needed their admission to pursue librarianship in Canada. I accepted the fact that the school would not approve any of my previous courses and that I would have to complete the entire MLIS program over again.

I began my MLIS degree at UBC in January 2014 and graduated in December 2015. I found those two years emotionally difficult, yet rewarding at the same time. I had the chance to do practicums and co-op positions. I learned a lot at SLAIS; however, I feel this new knowledge could have been gained on the job without requiring a second MLIS. On the other hand, this degree helped me in terms of networking, rebuilding my confidence, and applying for positions. I am truly happy that I completed the program at SLAIS, but I wonder: Was it really necessary to repeat an entire Master’s degree?

What helped me?

There were many people who helped me on this journey, and their support meant volumes to me at the time. I became a member of the British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) and realized the value of volunteering in my field of study for networking, hands-on learning, and enhancing my resume. I have benefited a lot from my BCLA membership in terms of finding a helpful mentor through their mentorship program. My mentor helped me to get my foot in the door of a public library system. In December 2011, I started to work as a Library Clerk at Surrey Public Library (SPL) and was promoted to a Circulation Services Assistant after eight months. Anyone who heard my story at SPL was supportive of my situation. The librarians I met during this time provided me with invaluable insights, advice, and support.

Why am I sharing my story?

I hope that my story familiarizes other foreign librarians in a similar position with the steps it will take to successfully work in Canada. I would not assert that this is the only path, but I believe that my story might be useful for others. Also, it may help library professionals generate suggestions based on the path that is ahead of foreign librarians. We all know that not everyone has the option to go back to school; but I hope that the fact that I could get into an MLIS program here despite already possessing a MLIS degree will help pave the road for other people who choose to do so. I would say that the key to success is perseverance. People truly value this, and if any door in front of you is closed, there should be a key that unlocks it.

During my journey, I have learned that I am not the only person in this situation. Moreover, I have realized that even though it was difficult, foreign-trained librarians who moved to Canada 15 to 20 years ago were able to find librarian positions without any ALA-accredited degree. So what has happened? Which policies were changed? Which decisions were made?

What can be done to help others?

The issue of foreign-trained professionals is not limited to librarians. There are doctors, dentists, engineers, and other professionals in the same situation, but it seems that their professional associations are offering them options. They can take exams and get accredited without returning to school.

Some suggestions for dealing with this issue:


Shideh Taleban is a librarian and Persian cataloger, currently working as an auxiliary librarian in North Vancouver City Library, North Vancouver District Public Library, and West Vancouver Memorial Library.

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Maryam
Maryam

Shideh Taleban​​khanoom i read it and it really resonated with me …i think the final section would be a food for thought for many people and dealing with this situation will improve the social emotional status of many new comers.
thanks Shide for sharing

Shideh
Shideh

Thank you for your comment Maryam! I agree with you and hope that people start to think about this issue and we all come to a solution that serves us the best!

Kathryn Sudul
Kathryn Sudul

Shideh, I am so thrilled that you’re finally where you should be! I knew that you had previously qualified as a librarian in Iran, but I had no idea about your struggles in getting into SLAIS. Kudos to you for persevering. It was lovely working with you at Surrey Libraries, and I wish you all the best going forward.

Shideh
Shideh

Thanks for your comment Kathryn! It was great working with you too! I wish you all the best and hope that our paths cross again someday soon:)

peyman karimi classmate
peyman karimi classmate

Hi shiedeh
I read the Life story . I was very sad because of the problems that you had But I was happy that his efforts did not finish and could become a member in Great Britain Library Association and i hope as soon as possible get degree in library and information science. Please continue to keep science route. The path taken is the right path . Your classmates Peyman Karimi Bachelor degree of Library and University of Shiraz and Master degree Knowledge of Science Information Shahed Chamran Ahvaz

Shideh
Shideh

Thanks Peyman!

Meriam
Meriam

Dear Shideh

How to apply for job vacancy?, I have a good resume and I want to try new job on Canada or other country (exception Iran). I’m librarian and I have M.A. certificate in library Science. if you want I will send my resume.
Thank you

Shideh
Shideh

Hello Meriam, sorry for my late reply, I just saw your comment!
Applying for a job is not that simple specially if you are not hear. If you’ve read my story, a MLIS from Iran would not be considered American Library Association accredited and would not be accepted here. Unless you choose to work as a library technician which would be a diploma. Even that root, completely depends on the organization that you are applying for.

Alireza
Alireza

Dear Ms Taleban, your story was really inspiring. I admire your perseverance and I hope you achieve your future goals.

Shideh
Shideh

Thanks Alireza!

Christina
Christina

Shideh, so much of your story points to problems with western colonial ideology. I used to rationalize the ALA accreditation, thinking that it reflects systems of thought and knowledge important to work in NA libraries. I have come to realize that it is actually part of a number of systems that limit inclusivity in our own profession. Let’s face it, we don’t deliver services that require regulatory management and, even if we did, we could invest in quality assurance measures to vet ‘foreign’ qualifications. Instead, we require individuals to invest heavily in MORE and, arguably, redundant education. It saddens me… Read more »

Shideh
Shideh

Hello Christina, sorry for my late reply as I just saw your comment.
I completely agree with you and I hope that we can do something to modify the current situation: an exam to pass, few training/courses to be offered, etc..
as the first step even the awareness about this issue and starting dialogues about it is useful…

Hanru Pienaar
Hanru Pienaar

Congratulations Shideh, your story is very encouraging and I think I’m going to re-start my journey that I have started 16 years ago. I have worked as Public Services Librarian at Maple Rich Public Library and had my qualifications evaluated by ICES. They said my qualifications was equivalent to a 4-year bachelor degree in Canada. Unfortunately, I had to go back to South Africa due to personal matters and regrettably lost my permanent residence status in Canada. Personal matters are sorted out now and I want to go back to Canada to work as Librarian. Any words of advice?

Shideh
Shideh

Hello Hanru, sorry for my late reply as I just saw your comment. Glad to hear that everything on the personal side is sorted out and you are ready to come back to Canada. I’m not sure if you are familiar with the BCLA mentorship program or not but their spring session is coming up and the deadline to apply is April 18th. They would pair you with a mentor who is a professional in our field and would help you through out the process of starting. As you’ve read in the article, I’ve also benefited from this program in… Read more »

Leen
Leen

You are an inspiration of hard work, commitment and determination. Thanks for sharing

Shideh
Shideh

Thanks Leen!

Lucia
Lucia

Hi Shideh,
I had read your story and it is exactly as mine but I doné want to study again. I have my Master degree (5 years of study) from a Spanish University and I feel it is not fair to have to study over and over again just to have a simple ALA course.
I feel now so frustrated and I am thinking what can I study to feel fulfilled.But I don´t want to study exactly the same.
Thank you for your article, it was very useful.

Nilam
Nilam

Hi Shideh,
I had read your story and I came to knew that it’s bit difficult to work in Canada, I had done my MLISC from India, its also counted as a Bechlor degree, so in that case can you guide me what more I can do ??

Lucia
Lucia

Hi Shideh,
I had read your story and it is exactly as mine but I doné want to study again. I have my Master degree (5 years of study) from a Spanish University and I feel it is not fair to have to study over and over again just to have a simple ALA course.
I feel now so frustrated and I am thinking what can I study to feel fulfilled.But I don´t want to study exactly the same.
Thank you for your article, it was very useful.

Rupinder Singh
Rupinder Singh

That’s really inspiring Shideh, I am an IT Post Graduate from MCA with the bachelor degree in Library and Information Science from India, I’m planning to pursue further with M.Lisc here in India, but also planning to move to Canada in search of better opportunities. What is the scenario for IT jobs in Canada? do IT professionals face the same kind of issue there? Since IT and Library science, both have become interlinked now, I am planning to get another master degree along with my MCA. Please Suggest, should I abandon the idea of taking admission in any Indian university… Read more »

Raihanath k
Raihanath k

Your story is well inspired and somehow a reply for my current dilemma.
Myself Raihanath from India, graduated from Central University of Pondicherry (India). I have total work experience of four plus years in both corporate library and academic library. Now i am trying job in Canada or New Zealand. But as all know they are asking for ALA accredited qualification. My question is how we can raise this issue and get solved or is there anyway we can a library profession over there?

Yves
Yves

Thank you Shideh. I realize that if I want to be a librarian in Canada, I have to redo a Master. Sad! But my concern is whether it was worth continuing in the same field of study. After obtaining accreditation, are there many opportunities? Is there currently an association of foreign librarians. Having not yet joined Canada, what can I already do to facilitate my integration?

Anahita
Anahita

Hello dear Shideh, Thank you very much for sharing your experience. It is very inspiring and educational. My father and I enjoyed reading it very much, and it increased our admiration for you. I wish you success and happiness in all aspects of your life. My father and I are very impressed with your personality as we have seen the great work you do in the Library. We resonate with your story as we had similar experiences. The experience you shared and described beautifully, is very valuable for improvement of our society. We also would like to thank you for… Read more »

Mariam Bhanu
Mariam Bhanu

Hello madam…your story is really inspiring…
I would like to know what are the possibilities of doing post doctoral research on library science in Canada. Right now I am doing PhD in library science in India which I got through cracking the National Eligibility Test/ Junior Research fellowship…so is it possible to do post doctoral research in Canada after completing my PhD in India??

Farnaz
Farnaz

Hi Shideh!

Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I’m in the exact situation, only in Toronto. Hopefully I will find my path just like you did!

Best
Farnaz Fassihi