by Sarah Porter, former Head Editor, INALJ California
previously published 4/5/13
So, you think you might want an MLIS?
A few months ago, an acquaintance thinking about pursuing an MLIS sent an email inquiring about my personal experience with earning an MLIS. Her main objective was to hear if I thought it was worthwhile. More specifically, she wanted to know how much I liked the online MLIS program at SJSU, how useful the education was in application to real life, my experiences with finding a job, and job satisfaction. Given that I finished the degree 15 months ago, and still have not been interviewed for any jobs above a paraprofessional position, I let her know it is too soon to tell if it will pay off. I did not want to discourage her, but everyone should know the reality of the job market before they make a decision. If she seemed very passionate and committed to becoming a librarian, and had library work experience, I would have tried to be more encouraging, but at the same time realistic about the job market for traditional librarian positions. While my experience with earning an MLIS online and struggle to find a professional librarian job is not exceptionally unique, I will share my experiences in hopes of helping others make an informed decision about whether or not to pursue an MLIS.
My acquaintance inquired “how useful was the education vs. application in real life?” Since I am not yet a librarian, the questions opened up new alternative questions, such as “would my education have been better if it were in person, rather than online?” and “was my education useful to my current position as a Library Assistant?”
I chose the online MLIS program at SJSU over in-person school for pragmatic reasons, namely the convenience. Going to a physical campus would require moving away from my job and family; sacrifices I was not willing to make. If I lived close enough to campus or my priorities where different and I was willing to move, an in-person degree would have been preferable. While there was a great deal of reading, writing, discussions on forums and chatting in real-time – as in connecting and communicating with other students and the professor – the lack of in-person contact left something to be desired. Honestly, I now forget the names of many of the students I did group projects with, and sometimes even the names of professors. If I needed a letter of recommendation from a professor, I would not know whom to ask, or even if s/he would still remember me. This worries me, as I hear that finding a job is more about who you know, than what you know. Regardless, the online program worked for me. I could fit school around my life, learned a great deal, and did well in my courses. Another advantage of the online program is the amount of technology you learn and use on a daily basis. Technology is currently such an integral part of library and information professional positions.
Starting at the Bottom
Like many people entering a new field, I started out at the bottom, as a Library Page, and with the intention of working my way up. The fact that I was in library school when I applied to a Library Assistant position may have played a factor in getting promoted. As a Library Assistant at a small library, my education has helped me become more effective at my job in some ways, but experience has been my main educator. In addition to circulating library materials, I help with reference, collection development, entering statistics, editing, and designing flyers for library events. In library school, my focus was on technology and reference. Some of the coursework has been helpful, particularly in answering reference questions and in understanding the community and user needs, yet, much of what I learned is not being utilized. As a public library with limited funding, we have few paid databases, so I cannot help people find information with advanced searches in databases such as LexisNexis and Factiva. And I am not designing websites and pathfinders. I hope to find a position in a library where I am using these skills.
Try It Our First
Before pursuing an MLIS, I highly recommend working in a library (or archival position, whatever your specialty is), but keep in mind traditional librarian jobs are increasingly hard to come by. Even the BLS has caught up with reality, and declares that librarian jobs are limited, but “those with library science training may be able to use those skills in other settings.” An alternative, but related career is something worth considering. Since you’re already on the INALJ website, here’s a tip: look on the left side of the window. There is a helpful list of keywords to search for these non-traditional library and information professional jobs.
Honestly what you want to do is totally up to you, the world would be boring and lopsided if everyone decided they wanted to pursue careers in health care and software development, because that’s where the jobs are right now. Who knows, maybe you or my inquiring acquaintance will go to library school with a clear goal and become the next Nancy Pearl, or there will be a lot more funding for librarians in the future. I hope so. I need to beef up my job applying efforts, and maybe soon I will land a coveted librarian job. If that happens, my opinions may change. But until that day, my advice is that only the most passionate and committed should apply.