How can I make myself more competive as an applicant in the Library profession?
July 28, 2010 4:51 PM   Subscribe

I am about to enter my Master of Library & Information Science and I am curious to know which areas are of most value when it comes to employment in Library & Information Sciences? Which ones will make me more competitive in the current (Canadian) job market?

This September I will be starting my Masters degree in Library and Information Sciences. The school I will be attending (The University of Western Ontario) offers 11 "Areas of Concentration" (AOCs):

* Academic Librarianship
* Public Librarianship
* Special Librarianship (Corporate, Government, Legal, etc.)
* Health/Medical Information
* Archives/Records Management
* Information Officer/Specialist
* Developing Collections
* Services to Library Users
* Children's/Youth Services
* Community Development
* Information Policy/Equity/Ethics
* Information Organization/Design
* Information Technology Management
* Management of Information Organizations

I am interested in specializing in either one or two of these.
My theory is that the Technology & Management AOCs would be the most marketable and transferable to other areas. I also see the Technology background as giving me an edge in our increasingly more technological society. I have fears that the library in its current form will become obsolete as Internet, Google, Wikipedia, etc. become ever more popular. Also, I am afraid I may be competing with graduates of computer science who would have a far deeper understanding of IT than I would have and am cautious of specializing in this area.

I am curious to know which areas are of most value when it comes to employment in Library & Information Sciences? Which ones will make me more competitive in the current (Canadian) job market? Alternatively, would generalizing my course choices across multiple fields lead to a better employment outcome?
posted by angelaas525 to Education (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The only non-librarian job I actually know an MLS holder to have is in records management; there was also an MLS in competition with me for a researcher job at E! (the TV network.) I also know a few MLS types who are terrified and in libraries. I'm an American - and I don't know what makes your program "and Information;" they all just say "library science" when asked about their educations.
posted by SMPA at 5:36 PM on July 28, 2010

Concentrations are nothing compared to the practical experience you get; unless the concentration determines where you can do an internship or PT work, pick the one you're most interested in, and get a ton of practical experience doing a variety of interesting things. If you want to work in libraries, make sure you get to work in a library. If you want broadly applicable skills that have less to do with libraries, learn content management systems and Web dev skills. If you're not sure, hedge your bets furiously.

Look: I have an ALA-accredited Masters of Science in Information with an LIS concentration, and I develop Web products (on the customer/user experience and business side, not a software or Web developer developer.) I have done this for most of my adult life; I was a librarian for a while before that, before I got bored in my job. Obviously the information science end of the spectrum is more useful to me now than the library science end. Clearly the LIS concentration wasn't a big deal in the long run for my career. The people I know who had policy concentrations are librarians or lawyers now; some other LIS people are user experience designers and recruiters and other random things.

My two pieces of stock advice for people in library school:

1. That "librarian shortage" business is ridiculous nonsense; there might be a librarian shortage but there's an even bigger job shortage.
2. What matters on the job market when you graduate is practical experience.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:03 PM on July 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Think about what you want to do after you graduate - what do you want to do for your career? Look at some job descriptions that interest you - what qualifications are they looking for? What classes would give you those skills? What skills can you learn through a part-time job or co-op?

Seconding the practical experience recommendation above: a part-time job or doing the co-op will give you a chance to apply what you're learning, to find out if you really like working at something you liked studying, to meet people already doing the job. A part-time job also gives you some wiggle room with job postings asking for people with, say, 2-3 years experience. If you've been working through your degree, you've already got some of that time down and the experience makes you way more marketable.

I was hired for a dream job straight out of school, and have found only about three of my classes to have been really useful. Practical experience in a library was very helpful as I settled in here, as I already had an idea of how a library works and the sorts of needs my patrons have. Everything else is job-specific.
posted by kyla at 6:13 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your ability to work with technology, not in a "can regurgitate buzzwords to facilitate involvement" way, is like freakin' gold. Please, please give me librarians where I only have to meet you three-quarters of the way on technology discussions. I'm not asking for the ability to tell me why unparameterized SQL statements are bad, but if you can do some raw HTML, talk about URLs cogently, have some background on search engines, I will bring you bagels. I'm considering an MLIS myself, simply so I can better talk to my librarians about the technology I develop for them and explain my positions on why technical choice X is better than technical choice Y.

Other skills would be archival stuff, particularly in regards to either metadata (DUBLIN CORE 4 EVAR) or in video. Audio-visual resources are going to grow and grow and grow in the future. Someone who can get their hands in that is valuable.
posted by adipocere at 6:20 PM on July 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

This bears repeating, over and over again:

1. That "librarian shortage" business is ridiculous nonsense; there might be a librarian shortage but there's an even bigger job shortage.
2. What matters on the job market when you graduate is practical experience.

MLIS, 2006, here. I'm in the US so possibly a different situation that in Canada. I focused on technology in lib school (part-time school, while holding down a full-time-plus job at a technology oriented company) and was dismayed to find that once I graduated and started interviewing, the old-school librarians on the hiring committees didn't give a hoot about my technology skills. What mattered to them, consistently and above all else, was a devotion to customer service, and a willingness to work with children. And, yes, practical experience - these people expected applicants to have a ton of volunteer experience, if they didn't actually have paid work experience in libraries. My actual work experience - 30 years in the workplace, mostly computer-oriented - didn't count for squat since it wasn't actually *in* a library.

Now of course it's a moot point because here in the U.S. - or at least here in southern California - libraries are firing, rather than hiring. As for me, I remain employed in the tech sector.
posted by chez shoes at 6:35 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I do not know much about the Canadian job market but I've been paying close attention to the US job market for the past several years. Your concentration choice is important, but practical job experience is way more important. What chesty_a_arthur said is quite correct, unless it's going to affect your internships, go with what interests you and you think you could get jazzed about. In Canada public librarianship is seen as slightly less of a social work profession than in the US and there are a lot of intersting librarian and general info management jobs in government.

So, I'd think a little bit about where you might like to work. Talk to some librarians around you and see if what they describe as being their job is something you'd enjoy. Read some library blogs or twitter feeds and see what people are up to [this week there have been a lot of librarians blogging about exactly what they do at work - you might enjoy reading about some of them [mostly US but some Canadian and UK and AUS folks]. And listen to adipocere, no matter what you wind up doing, having functional knowledge of computers and how to interact with web technologies will make you a more useful and valuable employee. Even knowing how to teach basic computer skills, do some editing on a web site with a content management system or helping manage a library's facebook page or uploading images are all helpful things. On a larger scale, there are a ton of digital initiatives that seem to be getting funding lately, and not shaying away from the tech aspects of that sort of thing will be useful in the job market. There's a fun group of online librarians who you can interact with and get to know and they can help you explore options.

That said, some of the happiest librarians that I know in Canada are...

- working in McGill's library system
- public librarians in Regina
- working with the SITKA ILS project in BS
- teaching library school classes at Dalhousie
- being public librarians in Dartmouth outside of Halifax

So there are a lot of nifty things you can do. If you get a chance to do any professional development, try checking out a local library conference [OLA Superconference is sort of awesome] and poke around there too. It's a great way to meet library school students at other workplaces and get to see the professon from more of a birds-eye perspective.
posted by jessamyn at 7:22 PM on July 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

1. That "librarian shortage" business is ridiculous nonsense; there might be a librarian shortage but there's an even bigger job shortage.

The other side of this is that a lot of the librarians who retire are getting replaced by paraprofessionals.

Meanwhile, my college's library hires library students only when they can't find enough undergrads because they can get away with paying them less. We've screamed at them repeatedly for it but I think they're just doing it to piss us off at this point.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:53 PM on July 28, 2010

Yup, nthing practical experience is more important than which classes you took. Of my library school cohort (graduated 2007), the ones who found jobs quickly were the ones that had already been working in libraries in some capacity during their time in library school. The ones who graduated with no job experience in libraries... some still haven't found jobs.

FWIW, I concentrated on academic libraries thinking I would be an academic librarian (I had only ever worked in academic libraries, and liked it) then found a job in a public library after I graduated, and couldn't be happier. I would advise you to generalize, so you at least have a nodding acquaintance with what different kinds of libraries do because you never know what kind of job you'll end up with.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:12 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have an MLIS and am an archivist (currently unemployed after the place that I worked lost the grant that I paid for my position -long story). Without really being able to give you a definitive answer, I would agree that your assumption about the more tech oriented specialties being more marketable.

A couple of more data points:

At my most recent job, I had a student intern, in his first year of a joint MA/MLIS program and he had a friend who worked in some capacity in the department's office. She told him that the students' in the Children/Youth Services track (which in this particular program also included public school certification) were having the most luck getting jobs in this economy (which frankly surprised me).

As an archivist, I'm thinking to transitioning into records management, particularly working with electronic records. I think that there will definitely be an area of growth, or at least more job stability and better pay.

I've heard that Health Informatics is another area that is supposed to take off.
posted by kaybdc at 8:13 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in the US and not Canada, but I have been at my library (university) for five years, working in the Systems department, and in that time our department has grown from three employees (it was two for fourteen years prior to my hiring) to eight, and the dean has approved turning one subject specialist position (that librarian has moved to another institution) into our ninth Systems employee*.

Additionally, most of our subject specialty librarians keep blogs, and the Special Collections people maintain their own website and will be implementing DigiTool to manage digital images and other files.

So no matter what specialty you go into, my advice is to make sure you get as much experience as you can in the digital realm, as other places aren't so lucky as to have an entire department devoted to Systems, and the other librarians at those places have to handle it themselves.

* It just waits on the university administration to approve it and we'll have the job open - any systems librarian people interested can MeMail me and I'll pass on the HR website URL so you'll know when it opens.
posted by telophase at 8:25 PM on July 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Adding in case it's not clear: I think that the digital realm is where many libraries are currently headed, especially academic ones, and the more experience/familiarity you ahve wiht it, the better.
posted by telophase at 8:26 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Adding to the "practical experience" chorus here. Like rabbitrabbit, I thought I was going to be an academic librarian for ever (one day I might go back), but I have been a public librarian for almost 2 year now and I am very happy.

In my previous life as a Systems Librarian I spent much of my time translating back and forth between librarians and IT folks and it was one of my favourite jobs. So yes, get the tech background.

In the end you also really also need to think where you want to work. By that I mean, what geographic location. Do you need to work in a major metropolitan area (like TO or Vancouver) or will you be happier in a less urban setting. Your resume will probably look like every other new librarian when you apply at UofT or wherever. If you are willing to get out of the big city for a few years, you will get a hell of a lot more experience a hell of a lot faster than someone who is just an on-call librarian working a reference desk.

Good luck
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 8:31 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Personally I think for long term job markets, health & medical will get you permanent work opportunities but not necessarily the highest paid. You do need practical experience but you can get that volunteering for your local [insert health problem] support group. For that you need the technology/digital records side and that opens up a lot of avenues anyway.

I think the job market is all a lot more fluid than it used to be so any transferable skills are going to do you better than choosing an option now and sticking to it. Personally I've moved from health informatics to community literacy to local government to information systems management to research project management and back to teaching information literacy. Last time I worked in an actual library was 2004,I think unless you have a job lined up a speciality narrows your options a lot.
posted by shinybaum at 12:14 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am a systems librarian, and I am in Canada (and, really, not very far from where you're at right now) and the only thing I can really add is that while the job market in Canada doesn't seem to be as dire as that in the US, everybody in this thread is absolutely one billion percent correct when they talk about practical experience and the librarian shortage fallacy. Also, you can throw a rock at any library school and hit a history or English major; if you've got a science background or something unusual, that is double plus awesome.

A couple of locale specific points:

You are aware that UWO has a kickass internship program, right? I don't know if you're absolutely 100% required to do it, but you absolutely should do it if you're able.

Academic libraries in Ontario are highly unionized, and most of them are unionized with faculty. This can be both good and bad from a hiring perspective.

But try not to think too vulture about this. The worst thing you can do is try to specialize in something that your heart isn't in just because you think it'll get you better job prospects. If you like tech and management, fantastic! But if you don't and you try to force yourself into it, you'll probably be miserable.
posted by the dief at 4:26 AM on July 29, 2010

UWO grad here! (Hey Jessamyn, I'm a happy librarian too! U of T library system!)

That area of specialization thing never shows up on any documents (as far as I can tell) and no one ever asks you about it. Possibly this is different for archives and records management, but as everyone else says, experience trumps all.

You're not going to be competing with IT. You'll be working with and often managing IT if you want to go into systems. That sounds kind of boring but it's actually not. One of the things I really wish they'd teach in library school is project management; if you're interested in IT (and actually even if you're not), taking a good project management course would give you a unique skill set in our field. Though (highlighted by its absence in library school curriculum), I don't think project management is as highly regarded as a skillset as it ought to be. It's the one thing I wish library school had taught me, though.

Think of it this way: what do you want to spend your time doing? Barring that, what do you think you can stand spending your time doing? Don't train yourself up to do a job you have no interest in. In my experience, enthusiasm about the work and a willingness to learn is more important than having all the required skills!

That said, the #1 best thing you can do is the co-op option. It's not required, and doing it extends your degree by up to a year, but this is the #1 most useful thing you can do to get a job later (and you get paid while doing it). My job started shortly after I graduated, and I got it largely because I did a co-op in the right place and met the right people. You have the option to do two co-ops, and if you're concerned or not gelling with the people in the first one, do the second. There are a lot of government co-ops; don't disregard them. Doing the co-op with the government is a quick way in the back door to a government job, which are probably the best paid jobs out there for librarians in Canada. (On that note though: don't look at librarian salaries in the US as a benchmark if you're planning to stay in Canada. They are much lower and I don't really know why. Academic and public librarians do pretty well on the whole in Canada, much better than in the US.)

Memail me if you want to know more about UWO's program. I graduated in 2005.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:37 AM on July 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I got my MLIS two years ago and had a job a few months later at a small state university. I knew I wanted to be an academic reference and instruction librarian and got an assistantship in my MLIS program's university library. I also did an internship at the US Geological Survey and volunteered one afternoon a week at my neighborhood public library. I have other advanced degrees and college teaching experience, so I knew I'd have a good chance of landing a job. A lot of university libraries want librarians with at least another master's degree.

We're in the process of hiring another reference and instruction librarian and we're having a hard time finding someone with instructional design experience who can help faculty design online courses. I'm not completely sold on the idea of librarians taking on that role, but I have seen that skill set mentioned in other job ads.

Check out job postings regularly, see what's in demand in Canada. Your first semester or quarter will probably be devoted to general courses; see which ones appeal to you the most. Find time to shadow librarians working in different areas and see what grabs you.
posted by mareli at 6:44 AM on July 29, 2010

I'm a 2006 UWO grad (and currently a (very) happy public librarian in Regina).

I started a blog while in the program and wrote a lot about my experiences. Some of those posts are a bit dated now (I don't think they had 11 formal specializations when I was there) but there might be some information that's still useful.

With respect to your specific questions, my personal approach was to take a wide range of classes even though I wanted to go into public librarianship. My thought was that this would help keep my options open, depending on what jobs were available when I convocated.

Did you mention what your undergrad specialization is? As someone else said, if you're a non-arts major, you're going to be fairly unique right away (and I say that as one of probably six English majors in my cohort) and that can help.

The co-op option at UWO is *very* good way to get practical experience which can really help at interviews and in providing some initial contacts. But it's not the be-all-and-end-all either and I have a post about things to do if you're not going on co-op (and some thoughts on why you might not want to.)

What else? I don't think you can go wrong with specializing in technology because it's the future - whether libraries are part of it or left by the wayside (a recurring debate in libraryland these days.) My own impression is that technology skills aren't nearly as developed in libraries as they should be (at all levels - from our clerks to our librarians) and so having that understanding will be a real benefit, no matter which area of librarianship you ultimately end up in.

A related thought (again, which I think someone has already mentioned) is that one of the rea skills for a technology-based librarian is being able to be a translator - between IT folks, library staff and patrons - as needed.

My e-mail address is in my profile - feel free to contact me if you have any other questions!
posted by Jaybo at 7:43 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

A post I did on "My Perfect MLIS Program" might be informative as well (including comments from alum who stumbled across the post and had their own views on what makes/made the program worthwhile.)
posted by Jaybo at 7:54 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

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