Infonista

On being an information entrepreneur


What MLIS Grad Schools Need to Tell Prospective – and Current – Students NOW

One has only to participate in a few LIS discussion lists or online groups, hang out at a professional conference or two, or read some of the many LIS blogs and their comments to realize that the library profession is in the midst of extensive and somewhat discouraging change.

Although the long-promised “graying of the profession” is in fact underway, the equally long-awaited results – thousands of professional-level jobs opening up and tons of great, entry-level opportunities for new grads – are simply not happening. Nor are they likely ever to do so again.

Welcome to Library Profession 2.0
Current MLIS students and graduates need to assume that although they may, indeed, find jobs in the traditional-library fields they desire, those jobs are likely to:
• take months to find
• require previous experience
• offer less-than-stellar salaries
• require relocating
• possibly require starting at a paraprofessional level

In addition, there are no guarantees that the jobs that do exist won’t get knocked out by even more budget cuts, or automation, or outsourcing. Although it would be great for all of us (as well as for society) if this were a temporary situation, the smart betting is that it is not. Welcome to Library Profession 2.0.

So If This is the New Normal, Why Should I Get My MLIS?
Despite this, why is it worth getting an MLIS? Because what you get from that degree is an incredibly valuable skill set: you know important stuff about information.

Our LIS grad schools can’t guarantee you a job – in fact, no professional school would even attempt to make such a promise. But what they should be able to guarantee you is a killer skill set that can be deployed in many different ways. Students just need to make sure that they approach their programs with an open mind as to how they will use their degrees.

If you have your heart set on being a public, school, or academic librarian, there will always be good opportunities in these fields, but you will need to be increasingly “outstanding” in order to distinguish yourself from the large pool of applicants also contending for these jobs. And you will have to be willing to deal with the above-mentioned challenges – no whining allowed.

If, on the other hand, you’re open to other career paths and ways to deploy your information skills, you have a nearly limitless number of ways to do so. Your job in grad school is to explore those options to see which ones might be good alternative paths for you if the traditional-library job you have your heart set on fails to materialize…or materializes but then goes away.

Catching a Job – And a Career
There’s a great quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it for yourselves.”

So it is with an MLIS degree – the grad schools only guarantee you the ticket you need to start pursuing a job; you have to catch it for yourself. It’s up to you to be realistic about the types of jobs you intend to go after, the dues you will have to pay to successfully land them, and the likelihood that you may need to rethink your career course should the nature of those jobs change.

It’s the same for every profession – many of the old opportunities are simply going away. But at the same time, many other opportunities based on specific skill sets are opening up.

The smart move? Make like a Boy Scout and be prepared: do your homework, be realistic about what may happen tomorrow, learn what you need to learn, and take charge of your career.

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Karen

Very good advice. I especially like your point about taking charge of your career. You have to learn how to read between the lines in employment opportunities, and figure out how your skill set meets the criteria.

Alice Zents

I appreciate your frankness! I think a lot of the libraries which are closing will be reopened, though not soon, as a lot of states and municipalities are going to have to get their houses in order, budget-wise. This could take a long time, a very long time in some areas.

So You Want to be a Librarian? A Guide For Those Considering an MLS, Current Students and Library Job Seeker | Librarian by Day

[...] What MLIS Grad Schools Need to Tell Prospective – and Current – Students Now – One has only to participate in a few LIS discussion lists or online groups, hang out at a professional conference or two, or read some of the many LIS blogs and their comments to realize that the library profession is in the midst of extensive and somewhat discouraging change. [...]

Tracy Guza

I could not agree more. In 2009 when I decided to pursue my MLIS, I had to first choose between two programs with similar offerings. Although one program was rated more highly in the US News and World Reports ratings and more of a prevalent force in my local library community, the other was more than $10K less in cost.

I chose the fiscally conservative option reasoning that for anyone, a graduate degree is what you put into it and with more LIS career uncertainty, it would be prudent to avoid hefty borrowing.

The caveat was that I needed to take charge of my MLIS experience the very same way I intend to take charge of my new career. It has been a hustle so far, but I am learning more about many topics than I ever anticipated.

I’ve lined up an internship related to taxonomy, I have been selected to be a student librarian for a temporary assignment at the public library working on digital projects and metadata, and I am presenting a segment on digital asset management for creative teams (using information from my former career in advertising) at an upcoming tech related “unconference”.

Since I started my program, I have taken each and every opportunity to reach out to different types of LIS professionals in my community. Sometimes a school assignment provides the perfect springboard to a connection – for example, interviewing a Visual Resources Manager for an Archives paper or talking to a Taxonomy Lead at a major retailer for a Vocabulary Design assignment.

Granted, it is helpful that I have an open mind about where I land and technology is my focus. However, it is just like life in general – one must take the bull by the horns and figure out how to make their passion for information translate to opportunities.

Kim Dority

Karen, excellent advice about “reading between the lines” then matching up your skill set to the need identified. And Alice, I really hope you’re right about libraries that are closing now reopenng in the future – for the sake of this country, not to mention for many of my now unemployed friends!

And Tracy, you are the poster child for being incredibly smart and strategic about making the most of your grad school years — I wish we could get you in front of every incoming MLIS cohort to describe your path so far. This is exactly the approach ALL students need to be taking! (And, needless to say, what all MLIS programs should be encouraging them to do….)

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Jayne

Wise words to those with their hearts set on public, academic, etc. These areas also fall victim to budget cuts which are prevalent in this political climate. Current employees need to think about other areas in which to use their skills. Prospective employees need to have that “last one hired, first one laid off” mentality and flexibility to apply their skills to other fields.

Michael

I think it would be wise to already be employed in a library before paying for this degree. I noticed that jobs want at least 2 yrs. experience and that the skills required are not taught.

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[...] What MLIS Grad Schools Need to Tell Prospective – and Current – Students Now – One has only to participate in a few LIS discussion lists or online groups, hang out at a professional conference or two, or read some of the many LIS blogs and their comments to realize that the library profession is in the midst of extensive and somewhat discouraging change. [...]

Kae

I got into Library Science because I wanted too. Because I felt called to help students reach their full potential and offer guidance in any area. Do I care if I can’t find a job? Sure. But I got into the field for the right reasons. I’m will to relocate – I love traveling and seeing the world. And I have no qualm starting out at the bottom and networking. I’m student teaching this fall, and love it. I was prompted by faculty to apply as their preferred sub., and also hope that next year I’ll have a job teaching LA. Being an LA I can still incorporate so many library skills into. I’m happy. I’m set. I feel I wasn’t limited. I have public, private, and academic library experience. I’ll do anything in order to help students learn. I love the job, the people, just put me in a school and I thrive. So many people pick professions for all the wrong reasons. It makes it easier if you pick the right one the first time and your hearts in it, not just your ideas.

Teesoup

It’s good to read some type of positive feedback. I will be pursuing my MLIS this coming spring and of course beforehand, I’ve had some doubt in the back of mind about it. At times I was too embarassed to tell people that I am going back to school to work on a MLIS, due to the fact that there are very few librarian positions available and that these positions are being cut regularly. I guess we are just following our hearts and passion. My dream job is to work as a Librarian in Adult Services for a public library system. I wish all of us the best!

Pigbitin Mad

“I think it would be wise to already be employed in a library before paying for this degree. I noticed that jobs want at least 2 yrs. experience and that the skills required are not taught.”

That would be great advice if the only experience that counted was not post-graduate. I had four years experience in an academic library. But it did not do me a lick of good because it was not “professional experience.” Best advice is not to get into this dying profession. Things were very bad in 2006 when I finished my degree. It is easily 1000X worse now. And it is getting worse every day. I worked for a book wholesaler and lost my job a year ago. I have been applying everywhere and have been on three job interviews the whole year. It is extremely frustrating and I really do not believe I am employable now that I have been out of work over four months (which is the magic date that recuiters believe you have lost ALL of your skills). I fantasize about wringing their necks.

My life is over and now I am too old to get hired anywhere….even McDonalds. My career plan is to wait for the money to run out and then pull the trigger. And it will happen to you once you turn 35. If you have a job now, my advice is to sabotage anyone who gets in your way (like maybe downloading kiddie porn onto their computer and reporting them to the boss. If I manage to get another job, I will seriously consider that one. Just get everyone fired but yourself.). Hold on to that job with everything you have got, because you will not get another one if you are laid off and over 35.

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[...] skills and our desire to help people are what matter. I read this article from Infonista when I was deciding to pursue my MLIS. My two favorite parts [...]

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