Just exactly how stupid would I be to pursue my MLIS?
April 4, 2016 8:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently working as a school library technician and, to be honest, I sort of enjoy it. However, it's a really limiting position. There's nowhere to really go from here. I have a library technician diploma (Canada) and I feel really limited by my opportunities as a paraprofessional. Lately, I'm trying to figure out what my next career move should be and I am HONESTLY, SERIOUSLY considering going back and getting my MLIS. How stupid would this choice be? Is there a chance that it wouldn't be a mistake?

Okay, I know the job market is shit for library professionals, I get it, but despite how bad it is... I think I actually love working in libraries and working with information. I feel like my skills are very suited towards this field. I would love to have the opportunity to (eventually) step in to roles with more responsibility.

My end-game is to one day end up in a more corporate role in records/knowledge/information management and I know you sometimes don't need an MLIS to get into those roles. However, I'm open to working in more traditional areas of the field like public or academic libraries.

Again, I *know* the job market isn't good and tons of grads suffer. But at the same time... there are recent graduates DO find jobs in libraries. It's not impossible. It has been done and it can be done. I'd be willing to move for a position and apply out of city/province/maybe even country, I'm not too attached to my current city. I have been working as a school library technician for a year and a half (with a bit of previous experience in public and academic libraries. If I were to go to grad school. I wouldn't go until 2017 or 2018. I'd like to work at the school for a few more years and then continue working part-time while pursing my MLIS part-time. I *might* even be able to get y union to pay for some of my classes.

I almost feel like a priest who's heard god's call or something (yeah, I know). There isn't another field that really interests me like libraries and information. When I think about working in libraries and developing a career in them as an actual Librarian I feel excited. I wouldn't call it a passion, but something about it just feels "right." Should I go for it? Maybe? Maybe not? I can't decide!!
posted by modesty.blaise to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You are really into this. It may advance your career. I say go for it! Especially if you're not going to rack up tens of thousands in debt.

You have a semi flexible industrial end game. Network while you're in your classes and be open to similar to the dream jobs. Following your interests in hopes of higher employment is how this is supposed to work, imo.
posted by Kalmya at 8:12 PM on April 4, 2016

I think if you can find an affordable program, you should go for it. I am on this path- I have been a library paraprofessional for 10 years and I LOVE my work. I am currently applying to MLIS programs. I have known many MLIS students in the very pricey local MLIS program who went for the degree with no experience working in libraries, and who believed the hype the college told them about the "graying" of the profession (all the while taking 94% of applicants). I have also known people to have done the program and graduated and found very good jobs- but those people tend to be older and have had some library experience. Personally, my ultimate choice will be based on cost- I won't take out tens of thousands of dollars to get my MLIS. You are never going to make millions from library work, but it is a profession that can be adapted in many ways, and I think it is worth it if you really love it
posted by momochan at 8:16 PM on April 4, 2016

Especially if you're not going to rack up tens of thousands in debt.

Personally, my ultimate choice will be based on cost- I won't take out tens of thousands of dollars to get my MLIS.

I knew I forgot to mention something in my post. I live in Canada where tuition is significantly lower. I definitely wouldn't be taking on any debt for this (and I'm currently debt-free).
posted by modesty.blaise at 8:21 PM on April 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, the job market is apparently terrible, but you omit one line of thought.

You already *are* a library professional. This is good.

Firstly, you already work in libraries and know how they operate and who has what kind of degree and maybe even how much they make and how hard it is for them to pay back their loans. You also already know people who could help you find work, and maybe even use the degree to move up in the library you already work in.

Secondly, worst case scenario, you get this expensive degree in the field you love, and then you keep your paraprofessional job and have a bunch of loans to pay and, maybe, in the future, a better chance of moving up than you currently do. Maybe someday the job market becomes less bad. Maybe it stays equally bad but you luck into one of the rare jobs doing exactly what you want, and you're qualified for it because you got the degree.

Thirdly, working in libraries you know that you actually enjoy this work environment, including the inevitable sucky parts that you will find in any job.

I think the wisdom to not do library science degrees is for people who are working in the corporate world, aren't happy with their day to day grind, and think that getting an MLIS is their ticket to leading storytime and quietly alphabetizing things all afternoon. It's not that you shouldn't pursue career advancement or professional development within your own field.

Caveat: maybe check in with people who do what you want to do and make sure the degree you're thinking of getting is worth doing and will land you where you want to go.
posted by Sara C. at 8:23 PM on April 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd suggest, before you commit to library science, to fully explore information science and even computer science. Information science is similar but may have more opportunities that pay more.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:09 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

>I'd be willing to move for a position

This is the key to opening up a lot of possibilities.
posted by GPF at 9:27 PM on April 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm an academic librarian and I often err on the side of gentle discouragement when people bring up the idea that they might want to pursue an MLS. However, since you are flexible about location, won't be taking on debt, understand that it may be a really tough job market, are currently are working in a library and are also just really excited about it, I say do it.

My main advice would be to take advantage of any opportunities available while you are in school that align with the specific type of work that you want to do after you get your degree, since otherwise you may have a hard time transitioning into those fields (people talk a lot about "transferable skills" but in my experience HR and search committees tend to be quite literal and because it is a tight job market they typically can be).
posted by pie_seven at 2:22 AM on April 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

MLIS programs are concentrating heavily on digital processes now, so be prepared for that.
posted by nologo at 5:27 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

That you already have experience puts you leaps and bounds over the straight-from-undergrad set. Really, the MLS is just a check mark - think about how little space it has on your resume compared to your work experience! You need the check mark to move up to the next level.

Since you are open to moving and unwilling to go into debt, I'd say go for it. Be warned that the corporate librarian jobs are a dying breed - they're getting outsourced and tend to be the first cut in lean times.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:51 AM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a former academic librarian who, like pie_seven, generally errs on the side of discouragement, but you sound like as good a candidate as any. I don't think having library experience gives you that much of an edge in the job market - it's more of a bare minimum, like you have zero chance of getting a professional librarian job without it (but if you have *too* much of it, that can be a problem too). I couldn't find a librarian job I actually wanted even when I had six years of paraprofessional experience and three years of professional librarian experience (hence "former"), but I was less willing to move to someplace that wasn't a big city or at least a nice college town than perhaps you are.

I think waiting another year or two is a good thing, and don't be afraid to re-evaluate the situation when you're applying/deciding to accept a spot at library school. Two years from now you might be more attached to your location than you are now. Two years from now you might have fallen out of love with librarianship a bit.

Basically just keep testing your relationship with librarianship/IS. Don't just feel like you have to commit to this goal and follow through with it.
posted by mskyle at 8:25 AM on April 5, 2016

Since you are expressing doubt maybe there is a question in there for you to ask yourself that you can't put your finger on? I find it hard to put into words but since you mention passion (not that i believe in a job being a passion but more the person being passionate and the job is still just the job but they bring their passion to it) could it be that you are pursuing this to take away a niggling career idea that you are afraid to pursue and library decision makes that go away? What i mean is, is this a way to distract yourself from another job path that seems too off the wall or scary to go for. If that's the case then I believe that happens because there is something you are meant to discover in the other non library idea and that somehow you will end up learning it by being dissatisfied with the library gig or something along those lines, so the "solution" would be, to ask what feeling you are trying to satiate in making this move/decision and what feeling(s) might you be trying to avoid, that might give you food for thought on how to proceed.
posted by RelaxingOne at 9:20 AM on April 5, 2016

Yes, go for it. I think some of the coolest jobs in your dream arena will look kindly on an MLIS. The great thing about knowing what you want to do is that you can really tailor your education experience and take the classes that you know will help you advance in your career (vs a person not sure and "wasting" time taking classes that might not have anything to do with their eventual livelihood). Additionally, going to school offers a great wealth of networking opportunities. I secured a scholarship as a student to attend the ALA annual conference--an expense and trip I otherwise would not have been able to take on--and met a lot of amazing people there.

I agree with others that the facts that you won't go into major debt and that you are willing to move are very helpful factors to this being a successful decision for you. Good luck!
posted by LKWorking at 9:22 AM on April 5, 2016

I am another librarian who tends to err on the side of discouragement for people considering an MLIS, but it actually sounds like a great idea for you. As long as you can do it without going into debt, you seem to have a clear idea of what the job field looks like, and your interests seem to be in line with where the potential jobs are going to be in the near future. Moving forward professionally is really all about your work experience, but having the degree is one of those roadblocks that will open more opportunities for you. Go for it!
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 10:09 AM on April 5, 2016

I'm a paraprofessional librarian in the USA who isn't getting the degree. But I'm not getting it primarily due to cost. If I could get it without adding to my undergrad debt, I'd sign up today.

I say go for it. You don't have illusions about what library work is actually like and you wouldn't be taking on any debt. Worst case, you've got the degree and still work in a paraprofessional position. Not a huge loss and you can keep looking in case something good pops up. Also, ability to relocate is a huge plus in getting a professional position.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:23 AM on April 5, 2016

I find it hard to put into words but since you mention passion (not that i believe in a job being a passion but more the person being passionate and the job is still just the job but they bring their passion to it) could it be that you are pursuing this to take away a niggling career idea that you are afraid to pursue and library decision makes that go away? What i mean is, is this a way to distract yourself from another job path that seems too off the wall or scary to go for.

RelaxingOne, this is an interesting point, when I think about it... I think that librarianship *is* the niggling career idea that I'm afraid to pursue!! I hear so much doom and gloom about the field that it seriously makes me question going further into the field, but.. it's really a field I enjoy and I'd like to develop a career in it. I don't know, I'm just afraid of pursing something that might not work out!
posted by modesty.blaise at 10:51 AM on April 5, 2016

You might not get a job you want easily if you don't go.

But you will *not* get certain jobs if you don't go.

posted by jgirl at 10:53 AM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

If the corporate world is your goal, ID suggest trying to do some networking, talking to people who work for corporations about what kind of jobs exist and what education and experience they look for. I suggest this partly because I haven't got a clue myself despite being familiar with the corporate environment. Lots of stuff is stored in computer files of course, but not not so much on paper.

To take an example, I suppose a company like Pepsi COLA has a storehouse of advertising material through the years, but I don't know how it is managed.

I knew a young woman who found a job keeping track of files and papers for a law firm, so it doesn't have to be a big company. She had no qualifications besides a certain level of intelligence.

You don't want to get an MLS only to discover that some other credential would have been better. Do the research.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:03 PM on April 5, 2016

I almost feel like a priest who's heard god's call or something (yeah, I know). There isn't another field that really interests me like libraries and information

I feel you. It's also worth considering what SemiSalt says just in terms of an MLS being your main opportunity/option. The Canadian library job market is a little less doomed than the US one and if you can get a degree without getting overloaded in debt it's not a bad move. There are many good schools and many good Canadian Librarians. The Canadian Library world is in a weird place now since the Canadian Library Association basically became a federation and a lot of people are wondering what this bodes for the future.

I think the thing that makes MLSes a bad idea is

- people who think that getting the degree is a good first step to a library job, it's not. The path you are taking is much more sensible.
- people who have a low tolerance for debt or an inability to manage it or simply a situation where they can't take on more debt.
- people who have unrealistic expectations about the job market. If you can move for the right job (and have experience) you're already WAY ahead of a lot of MLS grads.

I know a lot of Candadian librarians and if you're interested in asking them some questions about the state of LIS education in Canada, please email me and I'd be happy to make introductions. Ive been doing various sorts of library things for the past twenty years and I can't imagine doing anything else.
posted by jessamyn at 5:12 PM on April 5, 2016

Nthing the other librarians who say "Normally I'd be discouraging, but you're in a pretty good position and you're being realistic about the challenges and possible compromises *and* have some signficant experience working in your favour."

Things I'd suggest:
- Do at least a couple of informational interviews with people in the kinds of records management type jobs you'd eventually like to aim for. Ask them how they got the experience that got them the jobs they have. You're looking for info that will help you pick classes and/or projects when you do the MLS that will let you be confident at interviews. (And, as discussed, making sure the MLS is actually what you want as a credential.)

- Look really hard at your current job, what your skills and projects are, and whether there's anything you can take on in the next year or two that will help you fill that out. Particularly look for things like projects you can design and lead (even if they're relatively small), plus any technology or metadata skills you can get, since both of those will be broadly applicable to future goals. (The specific tech might not be, but being able to say "Oh, yes, I learned X in six weeks to do a project that did Z" can be extremely useful.)

- Pay really close attention to what you enjoy and don't enjoy about your current job, and how that fits with MLS type jobs (at your library, at other libraries, etc.) One of the things I discovered between my last job and my current one is that I really enjoy library technology stuff in a lot of ways, but I'm much happier when my job has a solid chunk of reference question answering in it (ideally, with a mix of easier but helpful and really complicated.)

- Start paying to ads for the kinds of jobs you think you might like, and look at what kinds of skills, degree/certification, and so on they ask for. This will both help with knowing where to look for jobs later, and in making sure you're getting the right kind of experience to get those jobs.
posted by modernhypatia at 6:03 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know what you mean about "the call." I tacked on a library science minor as an undergrad and took on a lot of internships and the like during college, but ultimately decided to hold off on pursuing an MLIS until I was sure I wanted to do it.

Last September, I visited the National Institutes of Health library and talked with the cool old man librarian there and I had that lightning bolt epiphany that a) this was the coolest job and b) I'd never be able to even throw my hat in the ring for any similarly cool job without an MLIS degree. I'm working on starting back in fall 2016. :)

It sounds like you're open to relocating to work in your field, you're probably not going to rack up any serious debt to get the degree, and that you're interested enough in the field that the time and money investment would be a good one for your career. I say go for it! Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:13 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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