MLIS: a waste of money?
November 20, 2010 7:50 PM   Subscribe

I guess I'm ready to apply to library school. Is this a terrible idea?

I got my BA in Classics (just Latin, really) earlier this year with a middling GPA from a not-so-great state university in the state where I had residence at the time. I have since moved to another state, where I have been unemployed, although I've written an online computer game with PHP/MySQL/JavaScript and have been volunteering at a local history library. I would like to work in library (not archives) full time, perhaps becoming a multi-lingual taxonomist. I have the credentials to at least go to San Jose State, which my boss recommends for somebody in my position— i.e., not a great academic record. The advantage of going to SJSU is also that the program is mostly online, which is good, because I don't really want to move, and that it's inexpensive. I would like to go to library school in the state where I am (New Mexico), but there are no information schools in the state.

Is this even remotely a good idea? Is an SJSU MLIS worth the paper it's printed on? Should I consider the MARA program? Are there even any library jobs for me to get if I graduate? Are there other programs I should consider? Should I try to find some other career path? Help! I don't know what to do now!
posted by Electrius to Education (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It's a pretty saturated field. Annoyed Librarian has some thoughts on it.

Why spend money to get a degree in a field that's packed with other people?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:10 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm repeating myself here on the green, but I earned my MSLIS in 2007, and after two years of unemployment, I now work as a mail handler for the post office. At $10 an hour, it's going to take an awfully long time to pay off that master's degree. Draw your own conclusions.
posted by scratch at 8:23 PM on November 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I got my BA last December. When I went back to school, I had intended to go on to grad school for my MLIS. Unfortunately, library jobs are so hard to come by now, especially without previous paid employment in a library, that I decided it wasn't remotely practical. If you're not willing to move, the chances of finding a library job are very slim, unfortunately.
posted by Ruki at 8:30 PM on November 20, 2010

If you want to work in libraries, my advice is to get a library job--any job, including page or IT drone or receptionist or whatever. Volunteering is a good start, but you need to start racking up experience. Think of the MLIS as a certification--when you start competing for professional jobs, every other candidate will also have one. And there will be other candidates. Think of how you'll distinguish yourself from them.

(As an aside, Wayne State has an online program with a special libraries concentration that is, I'm told, reasonably well respected.)
posted by box at 8:33 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I got my MLIS in 2008 from Drexel online. I've been very thankful and appreciative of my current job because i know how hard it is out there. It was tough before the economy, it's downright brutal now. How bad is your GPA? SJSU seems to have really, really low thresholds for admissions. You should look at other programs to see what the requirements and the costs are. SJSU has raised their costs in recent years, so it's not as cheap as it used to be. Do not ignore the costs and definitely try to find discounts/scholarships/etc. (Drexel has a discount for SLA members, so I joined before I applied. Turned out to save me thousands of dollars and most people didn't know it was an option.)

Honestly, I can't with a clear conscience say "go for it!" It's great that you're volunteering at a library currently, but I would also suggest you get a job in a library for a little bit before you decide to invest in library school. First off, this will give you a better chance to see if it will fit for you. You can also see if you actually need a MLIS to actually do what you want to do. The other thing is that it can help you get your foot in the door and network so that when you do graduate, you have more connections that can lead to jobs.

There are not many positions for multi-lingual taxonomists as such in most libraries. I actually happen to deal quite a bit with a taxonomy for a subject database, but this is quite rare in the field, unless you go for something special/corporate.

Feel free to MeMail me. I really spend a lot of time thinking about this and try not to be so negative, but it can be a harsh reality.
posted by kendrak at 8:37 PM on November 20, 2010

Unfortunately, library jobs are so hard to come by now, especially without previous paid employment in a library, that I decided it wasn't remotely practical. If you're not willing to move, the chances of finding a library job are very slim, unfortunately.

A few more comments and I'll take my bitter ass off to bed.

Library jobs are wicked hard to come by even WITH prior experience. Even with both an internship and prior paid experience.

Even if you're willing to move for a job, be forewarned that (logically) most jobs nowadays are in places that find it hard to recruit and retain employees. I myself would not like to relocate to Farmington, New Mexico, Billings, N.D., Aroostook, Maine, etc.

I agree, btw, that the place for a multilingual taxonomist is not in a library. To me, that screams corporate library or non-library setting. Also, you didn't mention which languages make you multilingual. Romance languages plus two bucks will get you a bus ride; if you're fluent in anything other than those, your chances will be better.
posted by scratch at 8:50 PM on November 20, 2010

I run a college library. I know that is is hard to actually find a good librarian to fill vacancies. The degree is easy to get and a lot of people go into it since it is easy. I can tell you that you will need experience working in a library and very good computer skills (making webpages, databases, programming) to get a librarian job at my college. A second masters would help. You also have to be super personable and energetic. The stereotypical librarian (which unfortunately does exist) will have trouble find a job.
posted by fifilaru at 9:24 PM on November 20, 2010

I'm in a nearly identical situation as scratch. From what I can tell about the people I was in lib. school with, the ones who are actually using the degree are by and large people who were already in the field of their choice when they entered the program (school librarians, etc.) and got the degree to move up in position/get a better pay rate within their organization.
posted by frobozz at 9:52 PM on November 20, 2010

My advice to anyone considering library school is to not go into debt [too much] to get a degree. People have given you good advice. I'm curious if, since your state doesn't have a library program, if you can go to a state school elsewhere for state rates? Is that what's appealing about SJSU? It's a good school and a good program, but is definitely one of the schools turning out people with degrees faster than they can find jobs, a lot faster.

There are not many positions for multi-lingual taxonomists as such in most libraries.

Indeed. Having multilingual abilities is really useful for doing original cataloging, but there are very few people doing this sort of thing and it's usually in academic environments [or other countries]. That said, only you know if you're likely to be one of the employable people in a large field of recent graduates. Some people have an easier time with this sort of thing. I will say that people with library backgrounds and solid tech skills are much more in demand than library school graduates with classics backgrounds who want to do children's librarianship.

Feel free to message me if you have specific questions. I have a library degree and I work here, which is not bad at all but maybe not what you're looking for.
posted by jessamyn at 9:59 PM on November 20, 2010

I take it you've seen these?
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:46 AM on November 21, 2010

So if I have good computer skills (which I think I do; programmer/IT job experience), can read a non-Romance language (I have some college Yiddish and German), and am willing to relocate to an extremely remote area for a job (which I am), then it's a good idea and I can find a job? Or am I missing something?
posted by Electrius at 9:08 AM on November 21, 2010

PHP/MySQL/JavaScript is good. Libraries love to see that.

Becoming a multi-lingual taxonomist is, as others mentioned, not so good in terms of employability. You could apply to places like EBSCO and ProQuest (vendors of library databases, very corporate) in addition to the really specialized academic libraries. Add in Google, Yahoo! and the other search interface types of people--I know library people who got jobs there.

Still, I worked at one of the great research academic libraries and we had catalogers who specialized in obscure Slavic languages and the like. I don't think I can overstate how rare a position like that is likely to be, and how many of the jobs would be in corporations. Nothing wrong with a non-traditional library path (in fact it's potentially more likely to help you get a job, if you play the cards right) but please keep in mind it would likely be non-traditional.

Additionally, who knows what you'd actually want to be once you graduated library school? I know a lot of folks who took a different path than intended, myself included.

I don't think as highly as I might otherwise of the SJSU program and one of the reasons is that they're a big part of why the market's so saturated. If that's the only place you can get in, congratulations, you've got some time to think about this library thing and whether you want to go down the path. I'd recommend any number of library schools (there's two mentioned in this thread alone) over SJSU if you're not planning to be a school (k-12) or public librarian.

Finally, a big reason I posted this comment is because I wanted to counter a little bit of the doom and gloom being thrown around here. It's taken me a long time to get a full time job, and I did end up in rural territory (pedantic note: Billings is in Montana and I wouldn't live there either). My classmates (and we went to the other major library school in California for comparison) and I are just starting to find jobs even though we graduated last year. But even the ones that I worried about, the ones that I thought maybe weren't going to make it in this field? Are employed. There are some who aren't, don't get me wrong, but it's not as bad as might sound (not as good as it sounds from some quarters, either).

So it's possible but it takes a lot of work and if all this scares you, please back out now. The degree is way too expensive and the job market way too intense to make a mistake.
posted by librarylis at 9:38 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're in New Mexico, check with Texas about getting in-state tuition. I went to UT and there were several classmates from neighboring states who had those rates as part of an agreement.

Otherwise, I'm not going to add to what others have already said about the value of an online degree and going into student loan debt. What I would ask is are you really passionate about doing this type of work. Or just thinking it's a way to jump start your BA into viable employment credentials?

If you're really in love with this work, try to pinpoint the people/organizations in the field who are doing the sort of work you see yourself doing with this degree & the experience you mentioned. Do informational interviews - people love talking about themselves and the work that they do. That should help you decide what you're aiming for and if the degree/personal expense is going to pay off for you emotionally.

Personally speaking, I got my degree paid for almost entirely by scholarships and would hate to think of having to be in debt for it given the salaries and job market. As for taxonomies or using 2nd language skills, if that work is around it's usually grant funded projects. Or in some situations, people are now able to offshore imaging/full text conversion or mark-up to outside vendors.
posted by gov_moonbeam at 10:55 AM on November 21, 2010

it's a good idea and I can find a job? Or am I missing something?

Hi, I'm back. Misery loves company, and it's my day off from the Bulk Mail Center.

Electrius, with the skills you've cited, I don't think library school is your best bet. This is an honest answer. I've come to believe that librarianship (as perhaps all of us on this thread would like to define it) is a dying profession. Perfecting ways of making sealing-wax, as it were. The number of jobs out there is dwindling in every kind of library. Perhaps a career counselor could help you. It's a pretty unique combination of talents you've got there, and there must be a better use for them than a dying profession. Anyway, best of luck in whatever you choose.
posted by scratch at 3:42 PM on November 21, 2010

Electrius, with the skills you've cited, I don't think library school is your best bet.

I suspected this. I guess I have to find another career path.
posted by Electrius at 7:08 PM on November 21, 2010

Hey, I went to SJSU in the early 2000s. It was the cheapest school in the US at the time, and it's accredited! Those two things are totally great. But it is a thoroughly mediocre school and its online offerings (at the time -- I only took two online courses) were complete disasters. I can only hope they've gotten better at the online thing but by all reports they're still only one or two steps shy of a diploma mill. Hell, when I was there they would trumpet far and wide that they were the biggest library school anywhere. Not sure why they thought that was a selling point.

But yes, it's indeed possible to graduate from SJSU and get a job. I got one before I graduated and while I'm not at that job anymore I am still a librarian. A systems librarian at that, even. You're at a definite disadvantage because you don't have any library experience (I was in library systems for years before I went to school) but you're at a definite *advantage* in that you're not a classics-major-going-to-library-school-because-books-are-pretty-and-I-want-to-do-reference-type. By far, the absolute worst prospects are for History/English major technophobes with no experience. But it's still no cakewalk and things are not likely to look up generally for, well, the forseeable future. So if you're really committed to it, have a willingness to stoke the tech skills up even more (PHP/JS/LAMP is nice, of course, but it would probably be a Good Idea to broaden up even further, maybe some Python or Ruby or sysadmin-y stuff or even more esoteric niftiness like Hadoop/Cassandra/NoSQL/Django/Rails/Node.js) and are willing to move to somewhere with less competition, you could probably make a good stab at it. Just don't get into too serious debt.

If you've got any questions on the systems/SJSU front or anything else please feel free to memail me.
posted by the dief at 7:26 PM on November 21, 2010

I also kinda-sorta take issue with scratch's assessment that the profession is dying and all the jobs are circling the drain. I totally dig that they feel that way -- I'd sure as hell feel that way after two years with no employment. But while a *lot* of what were more traditional library jobs are dead or dying or occupied by tenacious bunheads who will never ever retire (cataloging, full-time ref, full-time collection development) there are new positions unheard of only 5-10 years ago (emerging tech, UX) that some libraries find very difficult to fill indeed.
posted by the dief at 7:38 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't agree that it is dying. It is changing. I find it to be a very exciting time to work in a library. Where I work we are having a blast and enjoy every day.

BTW: I was a Classics major too.
posted by fifilaru at 9:05 PM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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