So, you think you might want an MLIS?

by Sarah Porter, former Head Editor, INALJ California
previously published 4/5/13

So, you think you might want an MLIS?

sarahporterA 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.

How Useful?

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.




Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ has had over 18.5 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 & 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro. She presents whenever she can, most recently thrice at the American Library Association's Annual Conference as well as breakout talk presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa and as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting, at the National Press Club, McGill University, the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has relocated to being nomadic. She runs her husband’s moving labor website,, fixes and sells old houses and assists her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food as well. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


  3 comments for “So, you think you might want an MLIS?

  1. Harold Rougeux
    July 2, 2014 at 7:50 am

    I think the author should get back in touch with professors and ask for a couple reference letters. I agree that in-person classes are preferable to online only, and I also had the advantage of having met all my professors in person before ending up with all online classes for my last semester, but their continued encouragement now that I’m in the field has been helpful. I can’t imagine any professor not being willing to crank out a reference letter for a good former student, and some jobs require reference letters even to apply.

  2. Anonymous
    June 30, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I literally just got home from ALA in Vegas and after a visit to the Resume reviewer….this was at least nice to know that someone is in the same boat. I am having a heck of a time finding a full time job in order to pay my student loans. At this point, especially after a semi discouraging visit to the job placement center at ALA, it is making me question whether or not my passion for this profession, (and I have a deep passion for it) is worth being in debt for the rest of my life. I want to stay in this profession. I do. I love everything about it and love the fact that I do not hate my life everday but it’s incredibly disheartening with the longevity of job hunting…I just don’t know what to do. So, thank you for sharing your experience because it at least makes me feel a teeny bit better that I am not the only one struggling.

  3. Cat
    June 26, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    I agree 110%! I wish I’d had someone like you to talk to when I was considering applying to an MLIS program. Instead, most of what I read and heard about LIS degrees said that they were so useful and coveted (this was juuust before the economic meltdown in ’08). If I’d had a trusted source already in the field, I’m sure I would have pursued something different. I graduated with an English/History bachelors and knew I had to go back to school at some point. I thought an MLIS would be a perfect continuation of my degree, in line with my interests, and a field where I would somewhat easily find a position after graduation (and one that paid higher than $10/hr). As the reality sets in I’m left with a bit of regret, and what I find most frustrating is that many positions are looking for someone with a secondary post-bachelor degree, be it in law/business/health/etc. But I’m still hoping it turns around or that I can figure out how to translate my LIS degree for another career path. I haven’t been looking quite long enough to throw in the towel! Good luck to you on your job hunt as well, I hope something comes your way soon!

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