How to know if you should go to library school

How to know if you should go to library school

Are you thinking about applying to library school? Wondering how to get into the field? I’m summarizing some of the advice I’ve passed along to mentees and prospective students here, with tips on places to look for more on libraryland.

Start reading blogs in the field.

Get a sense of conversations in the field, especially around technology, privacy, diversity, trends in librarianship, the costs and benefits of library school, and ways to prepare for the workforce. Some blogs where multiple authors contribute:

And individual bloggers include Barbara Fister, Meredith Farkas, the Library Loon, the Annoyed Librarian, and Beerbrarian and more. (Feel free to share other suggestions below!).

Start researching the field.

Research, it’s what we do.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has an Occupational Outlook Handbook with standardized information on librarianship. It also reports regularly on librarian wages and numbers. AFL-CIO likewise reports on librarian earnings and benefits. Do note that average salaries of $57,000 include senior librarians, and you may start at $20,000-40,000  for a few years. Library Journal’s yearly Placement and Salaries Surveyalso reports on how MLS grads are doing in the market.

However, these national statistics hide a lot of regional differences in hiring and salaries; I’ve posted a chart of income ranges by state here. As I point out in this post, many grads aren’t surveyed, leave the field, or otherwise aren’t counted in these stats. From my informal survey of 300+ MLS grads on Facebook, here’s a more realistic look at salaries after library school (and a few takeaways in infographic form):

Chart of income by age at MLS
Median income before and after MLS, by age of respondent at time of MLS.

Similarly, research ALA-accredited grad programs closely, eyeing the costs, required courses, faculty interests, and support available for distance students (as more and more MLIS students are going that route). I’d recommend you not do distance unless you’re already working in a library, however, as opportunities for online graduate assistantships  or paid work are much slimmer, and you’ll want the experience.

Read about a day in the life—and then shadow someone.

Many librarians have posted about a day in their kind of library, as a way of giving others a sense of what it’s like to work in this field. Read these and read up on the specialty first, then look up nearby librarians in your preferred type of library and role, and see if you can shadow for a day. We’re all busy, but librarians, by nature, are happy to help if we can do so in a defined and not-too-onerous way!

Here are good day-in-the-life posts to start with:

Visit conferences early in your MLIS program.

Membership and registration rates are much lower ($100 vs $500) if you go while still a full-time MLIS student. To keep costs down, find classmates to share a hotel room with and pack snacks for breakfast to cut down on conference hall food costs. There are also a few scholarships.

While there, attend sessions of interest. As you’re listening, write down a question to ask during the question and answer portion. Or, walk up to a speaker afterwards to ask a question, express interest, and/or introduce yourself. Explore the exhibit halls and ask exhibitors about their products (or about jobs, if you’re at that stage!). All of this will help you get used to conversations in librarianship, and prepare you to join the profession.

Start with ALA Annual for any type of librarian. ACRL is great for college librarians, and RDAP or IASSIST for data librarians.

Do internships—but keep them focused.

I’ve written on this before. Internships are useful, but keep them time-limited and focused on a specific project for your portfolio. It doesn’t help the field for you to take on a part-time or full-time job for free. Do explore a variety of options through internships and volunteering, though, so that when you get on the job market you can show familiarity with what libraries are looking for. (Similarly, take on papers and projects in library school that showcase e.g.. your specialty with young kids, public library programs, information literacy in psychology, digital archiving skills, etc!)This will let you come in confident about the direction you’re heading and how you’ll benefit that library.

Never go into debt.

Who am I kidding? This is America, and millennials aren’t exactly swimming in financial capital, right? But minimize your debt, if you can. (I speak from the experience of my partner’s substantial student loans…) I hear again and again from MLIS grads that the most expensive programs aren’t necessarily worth it. See also my post on debt and grad school here. Suffice to say, look for the most affordable program that has classes in your specialty. If you can work as non-MLS staff for an employer willing to pay for grad classes, that’s ideal.

Read job postings.

Don’t stress about meeting all the requested qualifications—nobody does! As someone who’s served on academic hiring committees, I can tell you that friendliness, competence, eagerness to learn, and some cool projects or experience will take you a long way.

But it’s good to know what kinds of qualifications you’ll need after grad school. Save copies of interesting jobs now, as these will shape what courses you take and internships you build skills in. I’d separate entry-level jobs (what you’re aiming for now) from more advanced dream jobs, and figure you can build skills for the latter over time.

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on where and how often your preferred jobs show up. ALA joblist is a good place to start for this, along with Vitae jobs for academic library jobs.

Join the conversation.

Quora hosts discussions about Librarians and the profession, and Reddit also has active subreddits (message board pages) for Libraries and Librarians. Either site will give you plenty of opportunity to read job- and school-related questions from other prospective librarians, as well as engage with questions of your own.

Finally, there are some great Facebook groups, including ALA Think Tank, with over 28,000 members (!), and Databrarians, for budding data or quantitative-focused librarians. Posts are public, so keep it friendly and professional. I’ve covered  library hashtags for use on Twitter before, which is a great way to follow active librarians. You can also connect on Tumblr with hashtag #tumblarian.

Have further questions?

Once you’ve explored these resources and looked at available library schools (or taken a class or two), feel free to come back to me with more questions! If I can’t answer you, I may well know a librarian who can…

Thoughts? Leave a note here!