How can I use my MLIS and my language skills?
August 3, 2010 4:55 PM   Subscribe

What are potential career options for an MLIS graduate interested in using language and translation skills on the job as well? I am a 21-year-old undergraduate student who will be graduating one quarter early in March 2011. This summer I'm applying to the UW's iSchool MLIS program and hope to start Autumn Quarter 2011. I am very interested in traditional library work, but in the last couple years I have worked hard to learn Spanish. I'm currently training to be a Spanish-English translator and interpreter as well, as this will help pay for my MLIS degree. I would really love a career that could incorporate my growing interests in linguistics and translation, as well as my interests in the research and service-oriented aspects of librarianship. Any suggestions? I know the State Department has some positions that would incorporate all these skills, and I'm looking for other options, too.
posted by wansac to Education (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I work in a public library, and I can tell you that Spanish skills are a very useful thing when dealing with our patrons who don't speak English very well, as well as other work such as programming for the Latino community, translation for signs and web pages, etc. -- but that's plain old librarianship, and I can't tell from your question whether you'd be interested in that or not.

BTW, we also have a 3% pay differential for Spanish language skills
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:58 PM on August 3, 2010

You could also specialize in academic librarianship and hope to get a position at a library that specializes in Spanish Language materials, such as the library at the Institute for Latin American Studies at UT - Austin (just one example, I'm sure there are several others). However, it wouldn't necessarily take advantage of your translation skills and it would help if you were also a subject specialist in Latin American Studies (or whatever the focus of the hypothetical academic library or collection that would make use of your Spanish skills.

I didn't take any cataloging classes, but I image that your language skills would also come in handy cataloging Spanish language materials. However in a lot of places, cataloging is a very separate and distinct job that is included in the technical services department and does not include any interaction with the public. I suppose in a smaller institution where you have to wear many hates, you'd be able to combine cataloging with reference and other areas of librarianship.

I'm sure that there are several other ways in which your Spanish would be a huge asset (such as the example rabbitrabbit provided). You should make your adviser aware of your career goals when you start the program. They should be able to offer more suggestions both to possible career paths and the courses that you should focus on to get there.
posted by kaybdc at 5:20 PM on August 3, 2010

Thanks, rabbit. I definitely have some interest in that, although if I do go into traditional librarianship, I think I might like the academic setting better (although it's really hard to say, as it seems like in public libraries there are more opportunities to create/work in programs that do more community outreach and service...).

It would really be great if there were something in which translation/interpretation skills were integral to the job... but I'm not really sure if that exists.
posted by wansac at 5:21 PM on August 3, 2010

Just a heads up that a lot of academic library positions require or at the very least strongly prefer a second masters degree. Is there any way that you can combine an MA in Spanish, History (focusing on Spain, Latin America, or some aspect of history that would make use of your Spanish) with your MLIS? At University of Maryland they have the HILS program which allows students to jointly pursue an MLIS with an MA in History. It takes an extra year and you have to get accepted by both academic programs.

Just mentioning because I worked with a very smart colleague who wanted to work in academic libraries and had no idea until after she graduated and was out in the job market that the lack of a second masters was making it almost impossible to break into that area of librarianship. She did eventually get a job at a small, private, liberal arts college where she hopes to pursue a second masters taking advantage of the tuition remission benefits.
posted by kaybdc at 5:37 PM on August 3, 2010

Thanks, kaybdc. I have heard that, although at the UW there are actually quite a few librarians that only have their MLIS (and also many that do have a second Master's). I am sticking to the MLIS for now, but I may or may not end up going on to get another Master's as needed/desired.
posted by wansac at 5:53 PM on August 3, 2010

I have just a overview idea about this, but I would think a good thing to think about would be non-library work doing taxonomies or some other sort of thing. Being able to be a multilingual taxonomist would be a big deal, very useful. A simple idea of what I'm talking about is something like AskMe. We needed to pick a few top-level categories to put all the questions into. We had a friend help us create the top-level lists and then people can drill down via tags and other options. If this site was multilingual, we'd need this in a number of languages, and it's great if one person can take care of multiple languages. There are a lot of projects, knowledge bases and other databases that people need to access, that can benefit from human-created taxonomies. Microsoft used to have some taxonomists on staff doing this sort of thing for some of their online products.

My undergrad is in linguistics and I got my MLib [back in the stone age] from UW, so ping me if I can be of any additional help. With lots of Q&A sites popping up like Facebook's and Quora, I think this sort of thing -- knowledge of multiple languages and how to create a controlled vocabulary -- are going to be bigger and bigger deals moving forward.
posted by jessamyn at 7:02 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jessamyn, that's a neat idea that I hadn't thought of; thanks for sharing!
posted by wansac at 7:52 PM on August 3, 2010

at the UW there are actually quite a few librarians that only have their MLIS

These people were probably hires from the 80s and early 90s. My library is like that: there's a strata of librarians with only the one master's degree, all hired before 2000. Everyone hired afterward has two master's degrees. Academic libraries are strongly trending in that direction, so if academic librarianship is high up on your wishlist, consider the second master's degree.

Librarianship is a pretty multi-disciplinary and flexible profession, so there probably are ways you can use your Spanish skills. But translating long texts is probably not one of them. You could find library work speaking Spanish, or reading Spanish to catalogue Spanish works, but libraries aren't the ones who do the actual translation of works.

I'm not sure why this is, but many of the people I work with take on weekend jobs doing other things. Not because they need the money; just for the enjoyment of it. Perhaps you can take on some translation projects freelance.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:36 AM on August 4, 2010

Pure translation is a good career. My mother and her husband are both translators and they do quite well for themselves. Granted, this is in Canada where everything the government produces for the mostpart must be in French and English, so there's no shortage of work. But still, it's a great career, very mobile. One word of advice that I've gotten from both of them and any of their colleagues: Never translate from your mother tongue into your second language.

As far as interpreting goes, keep studying like mad. It takes a high level of fluency to do that well, but if you can get there there is great money to be made.
posted by fso at 6:04 AM on August 4, 2010

Court translator / interpreter? Would you work in a legal library and also take on some interpretation / translation there for lawyers working with Spanish speaking clients?
posted by WeekendJen at 8:16 AM on August 4, 2010

You might also be able to do some freelance indexing or abstracting - I don't know much about it but surely there must be some level of demand for bilingual indexers/abstracters.

Also, I'm a health sciences librarian, and you might want to consider getting involved in that area. Depending on where you work it can be more academic or more patient-outreachy and public health oriented, and there are also lots of interpreting opportunities in hospitals, etc. Not in the libraries, usually. Just throwing stuff out there!

And don't worry too much about not having the second Masters - I just got an academic job with only my MSLIS, and plenty of the people I graduated with (in 2006) are working in professional academic positions without second degrees (there are also plenty of them who are unemployed or underemployed, but it's a crappy job market, what can you do?).
posted by mskyle at 11:59 AM on August 4, 2010

Thanks for all the new comments!!

On the question of the second master's degree, not all of the librarians I know of at the UW seem old enough to have been hired in the 80s or 90s, although I could be wrong. I interviewed with one in particular when I was researching going to iSchool that was only a few years older than I am and is working as a reference librarian full-time (I don't doubt that she had an outstanding academic record and/or other experience to bring to the table, though).

As far as doing legal work, being a law librarian requires a law degree, which I have not desire to get right now.

And funny you should mention a hospitals, as I work in one right now answering phones and use my Spanish fairly often; its one of the experiences that got me interested in that work in the first place!!
posted by wansac at 7:41 PM on August 4, 2010

Side note: law librarian for a library affiliated with a law school usually requires both MLS and a JD. Librarian for a law firm frequently does not require---or sometimes even desire---a JD.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 11:07 AM on August 18, 2010

I just saw this job posting on a mailing list and remembered this thread:
The University of Notre Dame seeks a Latin American Studies Librarian for the Hesburgh Library. The full position description is here.

The job description is quite long and detailed. It includes this summary: "The Subject Librarian will have responsibility for building basic reference collections in the area as well as crafting special collection strengths in nontraditional areas of Latin American Studies that are particularly focused on local faculty and student interests."
posted by dmo at 3:17 PM on September 7, 2010

« Older Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes   |   High Quality California Flag Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.