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October 15, 2008 5:12 AM   Subscribe

Looking into graduate school. With my skill set and interests, would I be better off in urban planning or librarianship?

I speak English and Russian fluently, and French on an intermediate level. I am really into details and planning/organizing things. I like to research one aspect of something extensively, resolve it, and then move on. On good days, I even enjoy explaining things to people. I like interacting with people and public speaking. I also like cooking, yoga, and biking but I don't think those are relevant.

If I went into urban planning, I would want to focus on environmental/sustainable issues or on (public/bicycle/pedestrian) transportation. (This school sounds appealing.)

If I went into librarianship, I do not know what I would want to focus on but I would want to ideally have a job that had some sort of international component so that all of my language knowledge won't just be for naught. (I know that the government sometimes hires....)

Either way, I do not want a job that forces me to be alone at a computer for 9 hours a day with no human interaction. Also, ideally, I want a job sometime after graduation. (Er, and I want to go to a grad school that offers some sort of funding and that will help me get internships during school?)

I have a degree in Slavic Language&Literature and have work experience in IT (help desk) and in teaching English (in France). I am going to take the GRE in early November, my undergrad GPA was around 3.15 (though, 3.85 in Junior/Senior hours).
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel to Education (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I am kind of amazed with the number of people going into urban planning. Perhaps it's the new Journalism? If they make an Almost Famous style movie about a young boy who sets out to build a bridge in eastern Connecticut, loses his virginity to a trucking groupie, and then gets same woman off of meth, then I know the way the story will end for you.

Anyway, I have lots of friends who are urban planners and their pay and happiness both suck serious (serious) ass. Librarians = best job on planet from all the MeFite librarians I've met. Dude, you work in an awesome job and you might become a moderator on this website too!

The problem is that private firms tend to hire on prestige and then you are left with city and non-profit jobs. As it takes more than genius to be Robert Moses, most city jobs are kind of a pain and more technical and involve a lot of rules/variable oversight discussion that you may not want to do. Non-profit planning jobs are more of the same.

Good luck anyway.
posted by parmanparman at 6:02 AM on October 15, 2008

Become a Transportation Librarian! These folks exist, I promise.

I am a technical services librarian meaning I spend a lot of time with a computer and only have my co-workers to talk to. I have found that the way to ensure that I get face time with the public/patrons is to work in a small specialized library. While I mostly focus on web issues and cataloging I get to do reference and flex my info seeking muscles.

Foreign languages help a lot in getting jobs in cataloging but that might put you behind a desk more times than not.
posted by collocation at 6:19 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here is a link to an earlier answer about Urban Planning career. Actually, there seem to be a lot of questions about going into Urban Planning on the green. I think Librarianship is more fun but the suggestion above to go into Transportation Librarianship is a good compromise.
posted by jadepearl at 6:29 AM on October 15, 2008

Best answer: The most important advice I can give: First figure out what your career interests/goals (at least medium-term) are, then determine whether you need to go to grad school for it.

I used to* work for one o' them private urban planning firms pretty much right out of undergrad (I had a bachelor's in geography and a few planner-y internships in my background) and my colleagues with relevant master's degrees were unabashed about saying that yes, they had more of a technical background, but the majority of the expertise comes from on-the-job learning.

*The burnout rate for planning-related careers is plenty high, just so's you know. Especially given poor management situations.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:03 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've got a BS in industrial engineering and masters' in urban planning. I got into planning out of an interest in transportation systems. Now I work for a large academic health system doing facilities planning, which turns out to be about as close to planning as you can get without having to go to city council meetings. I also took a few classes at the school of information here as a grad student. There's actually a fair bit of crossover, in that the data management requirements of planning are fairly monstrous, especially once you get into working with GIS data.

Librarianship is definitely a more geeky lifestyle, but planning is an excellent degree/field with a few caveats.

First, it's a BAD time to be working for most governments. BAD. They just don't have money. I've got a lot of friends who are facing layoffs right now. Flip side is that there are also a lot of baby boomers getting ready to retire from gov'ts, and so there will be jobs eventually. Not that all planners work for cities, but other people who hire them (non-profits, think tanks, etc) aren't exactly rolling in dough.

Second, planning is a degree for generalists. It's not particularly specialized when taught at research universities. It's fluffy, as professional degrees go. If you're interested in transportation, especially non-motorized stuff, planning school is really fun. It makes you into a great advocate, but when you get out you'll get no respect. Transportation planning is done by engineers, period. It's frustrating if you can't talk to engineers about technical issues. "Oh you're a cyclist. That's great. Now how do we get traffic flowing at a LOS C during peak hours? What does the 20 year model predict?" There are exceptions, but that's how it'll be in most cities.

I'd consider something on a tangential path. There are huge crossovers in transportation with public policy and public health. Huge. There's money out there for people who want to figure out how to make people live more active lifestyles and/or clean up the environment to make people healthier. Non-profits probably prefer public policy/health degrees to urban planning anyway, simply because the (incorrect) assumption is that planning programs are all about little technical details like zoning and whatnot.
posted by paanta at 7:16 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Look into federal government jobs as well. Those have good stability and pay growth.
posted by waylaid at 7:44 AM on October 15, 2008

I don't know what the market for librarians is like, but I have a master's in urban planning and I'm having a rough time finding a job in my field (suburban Chicago). My ex-classmates have told me that most practical training is on-the-job, so I'd also question whether grad school is necessary. It is a rather fluffy degree, and at least at my school (UW-Milwaukee) the sustainability material was thin. If I were going to go the environmental route, I'd get a hard science degree in environmental engineering or somesuch. In your situation (with an unrelated bachelor's degree) I'd pursue another bachelor's, which should be enough to get you into the field. My schooling did provide me with a solid foundation in statistics and social research methods, which will serve me well at many jobs (and life in general). I doubt you got this as a slavic language major (I could be wrong, but I considered a French major and there weren't any required stats courses).
posted by desjardins at 7:56 AM on October 15, 2008

While I enjoy my job as a planner, most of my bright-eyed optimism, developed prior to and even during school, about how much I could truly accomplish was squashed fairly quickly upon entering the professional world. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a fulfilling job, but if you work for a city planning department you are generally going to be spending more time reviewing variance requests and what not instead of blazing bicycle trails throughout the city. This may not be a bad thing depending on what your mind set is, but it’s something to keep in mind.

This isn’t meant to deter you from planning, because like I said, I actually enjoy it quite a bit. It’s just a common problem I see in people entering the field, a vague realization of what you will probably be doing day to day. You aren't really a decider, and depending on the mind set you enter the field with, your “earth shattering ideas to what you can actually do” ratio may stay pretty high, and it can be frustrating.

I suppose my suggestion would be talk to some planners. I know that sounds cliché, but you’d do well to get some descriptions of day to day affairs in the office. There is a lot of variation on what you can do with that degree once you get out, but you likely won't be laying tracks for light rail and planting rooftop gardens right off the gun. Just talk to some folks.

As for librarians, my mother is a librarian. She seems pretty happy, but she’s generally a happy lady, so who knows?
posted by gordie at 8:17 AM on October 15, 2008

If I went into librarianship, I do not know what I would want to focus on but I would want to ideally have a job that had some sort of international component so that all of my language knowledge won't just be for naught. (I know that the government sometimes hires....)

You should work for a year in a library to get a feel for the environment/job and try to bash out an idea of what sort of librarianship you want to do--or whether it's right for you at all. Librarian positions can be very tough to come by these days if you don't have both the MLS and experience, and if you can get a job to pay for library school, that's a great thing because entry level library salaries aren't great considering you need a Master's for the door to even be open to you.

I did just that, and then decided that I didn't want to go to library school immediately and went away to get my MFA instead. I'll probably return to the field, but I'm still debating whether or not the expense and time of an MLS/MLIS is worth it, particularly because I've heard that the grad programs can be mind-numbing on top of expensive. YMMV, of course!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:21 AM on October 15, 2008

Knowing a second or third language can be very helpful for academic librarianship, or cataloging Russian materials might be a good job for you. It's a lot of computer work, but there should still be some socializing, and you said you enjoy detailed work.
posted by booknerd at 9:18 AM on October 15, 2008

I'm a librarian and I love my job, so take this with a grain of salt. I'm in Canada and the market for library positions and pay is very good. Most of my friends who graduated two years ago have have a job in the field.

From University of Western Ontario's MLIS Placement Survey "Within six months after graduation, almost 80% of respondents were employed (not including those who had employment before entering the program)."

One of this things I enjoy about working in client services doing research for employees in my organization is the fact that I have new projects all the time with a short turn around time and work with people. I don't know about planning but I would expect that the planning process would be long and full of delays. I think Librarianship might be better suited to your desire to "research one aspect of something extensively, resolve it, and then move on"

Also, librarianship definitely values attention to details. Good luck with your future career!
posted by Gor-ella at 12:23 PM on October 15, 2008

The languages would be a bonus for academic librarianship, but wouldn't mean much of anything to a public library. If you'd like to avoid being alone at a computer, you should run screaming from cataloging-type jobs and market those skills toward a "subject librarian" position. In such a job, you'd be associated with several academic departments, in your case, probably Modern Languages and English, and you would likely help the library develop its collection specific to those subject areas, assist faculty and graduate students with research issues, and do some basic library instruction for undergraduates. At a university with a strong graduate program, it would be an interesting and wide-ranging career, and you'd have the opportunity to do research, publish, and present on specific topics that interest you.

Here's a link to a position pretty much exactly like that which I posted on Jobs in 2006.

Also, you'll need library experience beyond schooling to get an academic job, so maybe a paraprofessional position in a library near you now would be a good thing to check out while you make your decision.
posted by donnagirl at 2:54 PM on October 15, 2008

Best answer: It sounds like you'd do great at either, and both are perfectly awesome, so here's A Psychological Tip by Piet Hein:
Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,
and you're hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No—not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you're passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you're hoping.
posted by eritain at 5:03 PM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm an academic librarian and I mostly work on projects, though it did take me a few years to get into a job like this from my more traditional subject librarian role like donnagirl mentions above. I've also enjoyed that type of work.

Languages are a good asset, not just for a subject specialist job, but because there really are a lot of opportunities to work overseas as a librarian if you want to.

I have a good friend who is a town planner and loves it. His specialty is policy around vibrant cultural centres and entertainment. He gets to work with legislators and government on high-profile projects.

Whichever you choose, they're both good choices, good luck!
posted by wingless_angel at 5:04 PM on October 15, 2008

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