From the CJCLS Listserv: What advice would you give to someone considering library school?

ORIGINAL EMAIL:

A friend asked if I had any advice to give to her daughter, who is thinking about getting her Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS).  What advice would you give to someone in their mid-20s who is thinking about going to library school?

Respondents strongly recommended gaining library experience because of the advantages it gives to an applicant:

I receive applications from MLIS graduates without any library experience, except possibly an internship in library school. If the person has an opportunity to work part-time or in a work-study position in a library during their undergraduate education, that would be great.

I just finished writing a letter of recommendation for my practicum student. The letter was much easier to write because she also works for us as a library assistant and I know she is prepared for the job market.

Many respondents drew from their own professional experiences:

It is difficult to get an entry-level job without experience, even with a MLIS, which was the case for me in 2005.

Hands-on experience helped me land me my current job, along with having an MLIS.

Experience is indeed the key. I started off being a library office secretary while I attended graduate school for art history.  I progressed to becoming an acquisitions assistant and then held 2 different positions in government documents before going to library school while working full time.  Almost everyone in my library school cohort was already working in a library; the only one who did not was a recent Bachelor of Arts graduate without library experience, and she was very lost.

Experience is big. I did not have any library work experience prior to applying to library school, but I had some good conversations with librarians beforehand which helped inform my decision to apply.  During library school, I had some excellent experiences in many library settings and in various roles.  It helped me decide which department I wanted to work and also helped my resume so I could get that type of job out of college.  I do not think I was at a disadvantage by not not having prior experience before library school, but the experience during library school was critical.

Respondents agreed that the candidate can make a better informed decision to attend library school if she first gets experience, whether as an intern or employee.  Some respondents said this may help the candidate discover desirable positions or roles that do not require a MLIS:

I might suggest alternatives to the MLIS degree like certificates, diplomas, or Associate degree programs in Library Technology.  Check a community or 2-year college for such programs.  We appreciate the paraprofessional staff in our library who did not have the time, money, or interest in earning their MLIS; they are still outstanding members of our library team.

My son is a public services library clerk at Denver Public Library. It seems that DPL has more opportunities for skilled paraprofessionals than for MLIS librarians.  Because of this, he decided to hold off on library school (and the accompanying student loans).  He loves his job, has the same benefits as a MLIS employee, and is able to explore what to do next.

Other than experience, a level of comfort with technology was highly recommended:

One has to be engaged with technological changes taking place. Technology has attached itself to the core of our profession, and to not embrace or be good with it dooms a new person.

Embrace technology.  You do not need to be on the cutting edge, but you do need to stay informed and relevant.

Be as knowledgeable about modern online technology as possible.  Be cognizant of social media such as Facebook (or the next great thing), understand Google tools, and be able to create and maintain a webpage.  I probably would not hire myself for a job in my library because I am not up to date on what is out there; I will hire the fresh graduate to do it for me.

Another repeated suggestion was to look at job announcements or positions:

Forward some job announcements to her so she can see what kind of positions are being hired. I see a lot positions in electronic resources, electronic access, digital libraries, and more that are being advertised.

Read some job advertisements to see what skill sets are desired for certain positions.  It might help identify other related degrees and credentials to pursue.

Other suggestions included to be geographically flexible:

When she is ready to graduate and look for a job, she should be willing to relocate and be open to taking jobs in less desirable places.  The competition will not be as great and she can eventually return home if she wants to.  My first professional job was in the back of nowhere Kansas, but I learned a lot and met wonderful people who are still my friends 30 years later.  10 years and 2 jobs later, I moved back home to become a library director.

A couple respondents said the candidate should research the profession and also complete an inventory of her interests and personality traits.  The candidate should also look at some of her soft skills:

What do I want to be when I grow up?  What do I want to do when I grow up (not really the same question as the first question)?  Where do I want to live in the short or long term?  How do I want to live in the short or long term?  Then, ask these same questions with “don’t.”

She should read an excellent book by Lauren Pressley, So You Want to Be a Librarian, published by Library Juice Press.

People skills are very important.  Like it or not, librarianship is about a positive, interactive experience. Think customer service!

You need to be someone who really enjoys helping people. I am sure we have all been told by someone, “you’re a librarian, so you must love books!”  However, my interest in books is pretty irrelevant to what I do.  In my role as a reference and instruction librarian, helping others is the biggest part of my job.  Beyond that, it is also having patience while helping people because sometimes it takes a lot!

Some respondents expressed caution about the costs of library school.  One suggested not to pay for it with student loans, while another recommended getting a graduate assistantship that would pay for it, and also help with gaining valuable experience.

Respondents suggested the importance of professional networks, and to cultivate them early in her education and throughout her career:

Always remember the axiom regardless of the field: who you know gets you in the door, and what you know keeps you there. Plan to make as many quality connections with people in the field as possible when you go to school.  Use LinkedIn and other means of networking.  You never know who can help you.

Once in school, connect with people who can give you good references.  Work experience will help with this, but find professors to use as references.

Flexibility was also a key suggestion:

Do not pigeon-hole yourself in your learning path, or you might get trapped into being qualified only for certain types of positions.

Plan to work hard on your studies.  Be involved in pre-professional activities like student organizations and poster presentations.  Join state and regional library associations.  Read and listen to as much as you can; the information you get will help you contribute your expertise to conversations because it is easier to get known than you would expect, for both good and bad reasons.

Be flexible.  What you are doing now will probably not be the same in 5 or 10 years.

What other pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring library and information science professional?  Share yours in the comments!

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About Kristy Padron, MLIS

Kristy Padron coordinates library instruction and provides information services for the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Libraries in Boca Raton, Florida. Prior to her work at FAU, Kristy served a broad range of communities. She held positions at Miami Dade College, The University of West Florida, and Wayne State University. When Kristy is not busy with being a librarian, she likes to travel, be outdoors, and hang out with her pet mini-dachshund.
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