Some sobering advice regarding library school expectations

I came across an interesting post from Mr. Library Dude, who offers his advice on the reality of library school and library job hunting. Although it comes across as somewhat pessimistic, I do agree with most of his points. For example, here’s #1:

Library school: if you have the time/money to find a school that “fits” you, then by all means. However, it’s completely OK to just pick the in-state/cheapest option. A library school is a library school is a library school.

I usually wouldn’t put it that bluntly, but it’s a fair point. People often ask me whether I think McGill offers a “good” MLIS program, and truthfully I don’t believe there is a significant variation in quality among schools (at least in Canada). If one program offers a certain specialization that others lack, feel free to choose accordingly, but at the end of the day, when it comes to finding a job, what matters is that you’ve (a) received the degree, and (b) accumulated some work experience along the way.

The only point I completely disagree with is #2:

If you have not worked in a library before attending  library school, why are you making such as a large financial commitment for a career that you have no experience in? A “love” of books and “I like to read” won’t cut it.

I don’t believe that anyone who has done some research and decided to become a librarian should feel they must first job hunt for a library assistant position and then work in it for a year before applying to library school. Certainly, a love of books and reading doesn’t necessarily mean you will enjoy a career as a librarian, but if you put in the research and talk to some people in the field, you can make the decision with no previous experience. The important thing is having library experience on your CV before you graduate, but you can acquire this during your studies.

I will also comment on the final point:

Don’t blame library school if you cannot find a professional job. You are an information professional. Did you not research the state of the job market?

I hope no one believes that earning an MLIS is the most challenging part of starting a library career; on graduation day, there will be no line-up of employers begging you to work for them. This is not your school’s fault. It is simply the way the job market works (as is the case with most careers). But I also hope no one is discouraged from starting an MLIS because of what they’ve heard about the library job market. As long as you’re willing to put in the extra effort (and often patience), you will find an appropriate job eventually.

In fact, many of Mr. Dude’s points are the same ones I’ve made before (don’t neglect to read the comments on his post for even more tips). Gain experience while studying, find a mentor, and don’t be shy about marketing yourself.

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3 Responses to “Some sobering advice regarding library school expectations”

  1. Rita M. Benitez Says:

    Great post Graham! In addition to the points you raised above, I’d highlight that most MLIS jobs aren’t even traditional library jobs, so while that initial library experience is definitely valuable, there are many other ways in which you can put this degree to work for you (content management, information architecture, taxonomist, metadata manager, business analyst, and more)

    For KM-ers in particular, the scope of options is pretty is wide since one could take to learning roles, “KM,” records management, and all those mentioned above.

  2. Laura Sanders Says:

    Your post echoed much of the advice I have heard on library school forums regarding the nature of the job market. However, this advice does seem to come with the caveat that if you are persistent, willing to look for jobs in nontraditional settings, and geographically mobile, chances are that you will have success in a job search. You’re right, I don’t think that most other fields are any easier (at the moment it is almost impossible to break into the teaching field in Canada, for example), so as far as I’m concerned you should do what excites you with tenacity.

  3. Julia Wagner Says:

    Hi Graham, great post!

    I must second Rita M. Benitez’s point, though I feel it applies to the general librarian/information professional stream as well: in your program, your eyes can open to an entire world of careers that have a need for information know-how. I also recommend getting a part-time job in the field you want to, or even just taking a shot in the dark with a posting that sounds like it describes your skills… even if you don’t really understand the position right away. I suggest doing this job while you’re in school so that if it’s not for you, you can be a student and look for something else that is. The experience will be valuable regardless. Plus it just might be a door to something AWESOME.

    I would say that the same applies for projects like co-ops and practicums. This is experience, it’s net-working, and it’s a great opportunity to expand what you know about the field, your options, and yourself. (Cheesy but true).


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