One has only to participate in a few LIS discussion lists or online groups, hang out at a professional conference or two, or read some of the many LIS blogs and their comments to realize that the library profession is in the midst of extensive and somewhat discouraging change.
Although the long-promised “graying of the profession” is in fact underway, the equally long-awaited results – thousands of professional-level jobs opening up and tons of great, entry-level opportunities for new grads – are simply not happening. Nor are they likely ever to do so again.
Welcome to Library Profession 2.0
Current MLIS students and graduates need to assume that although they may, indeed, find jobs in the traditional-library fields they desire, those jobs are likely to:
• take months to find
• require previous experience
• offer less-than-stellar salaries
• require relocating
• possibly require starting at a paraprofessional level
In addition, there are no guarantees that the jobs that do exist won’t get knocked out by even more budget cuts, or automation, or outsourcing. Although it would be great for all of us (as well as for society) if this were a temporary situation, the smart betting is that it is not. Welcome to Library Profession 2.0.
So If This is the New Normal, Why Should I Get My MLIS?
Despite this, why is it worth getting an MLIS? Because what you get from that degree is an incredibly valuable skill set: you know important stuff about information.
Our LIS grad schools can’t guarantee you a job – in fact, no professional school would even attempt to make such a promise. But what they should be able to guarantee you is a killer skill set that can be deployed in many different ways. Students just need to make sure that they approach their programs with an open mind as to how they will use their degrees.
If you have your heart set on being a public, school, or academic librarian, there will always be good opportunities in these fields, but you will need to be increasingly “outstanding” in order to distinguish yourself from the large pool of applicants also contending for these jobs. And you will have to be willing to deal with the above-mentioned challenges – no whining allowed.
If, on the other hand, you’re open to other career paths and ways to deploy your information skills, you have a nearly limitless number of ways to do so. Your job in grad school is to explore those options to see which ones might be good alternative paths for you if the traditional-library job you have your heart set on fails to materialize…or materializes but then goes away.
Catching a Job – And a Career
There’s a great quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it for yourselves.”
So it is with an MLIS degree – the grad schools only guarantee you the ticket you need to start pursuing a job; you have to catch it for yourself. It’s up to you to be realistic about the types of jobs you intend to go after, the dues you will have to pay to successfully land them, and the likelihood that you may need to rethink your career course should the nature of those jobs change.
It’s the same for every profession – many of the old opportunities are simply going away. But at the same time, many other opportunities based on specific skill sets are opening up.
The smart move? Make like a Boy Scout and be prepared: do your homework, be realistic about what may happen tomorrow, learn what you need to learn, and take charge of your career.