Recently I’ve been part of a discussion taking part in the classroom, on the LIS Career Options LinkedIn group, and among LIS friends and colleagues about how to respond to people who bash others’ decisions to pursue an MLIS. Some of the variations:
• You need a master’s degree to work in a library?
• You’ll never get a job (or one that pays anything)
• It’s stupid to go to graduate school at your age
• What on earth are you going to do with that?
• Are there even go to be libraries anymore?
• Why would you need a degree in that, everything’s on the Internet!
Okay, my favorite was my (former) husband’s request that I not tell anyone that I was getting a master’s degree in library and information science because it “sounded like a kindergarten degree” and embarrassed him.
At the time, I was too young to know how to verbally stand up for myself (and insufficiently experienced in martial arts to whop him upside the head with a well-placed kick). But actually he was just one of hundreds of friends, family members, bosses, co-workers, mothers-in-law, kids, and others who don’t get why we’d “waste our time” on an MLIS, and would much prefer that we do something related to either 1) meeting their needs, 2) getting a job right now that contributes to family finances, or 3) pursuing a degree that they can brag about.
So I thought I’d go on the record with why I’m really glad I got an MLIS, and why I would do it again in a heartbeat.
• Information is the world’s currency, and an MLIS can position you in a multiplicity of ways to become part of the flow of that currency. You can do it in ways that pay you $38K a year or $125K a year, depending on your interests and skills. I’ve used my degree in at least 15 different directions, had a blast, and made grown-up money in the process.
• MLIS skills can be deployed in all types of organizations, including libraries, can be endlessly repurposed, and can be easily updated (we know how to find and use information to learn cool new stuff!). You can choose which of hundreds of potential career paths to pursue, or create your own.
• MLIS skills lend themselves to independent work, should you have an entrepreneurial streak. Or you can do freelance work on the side, in addition to your day job, or plan for part-time information gigs in your retirement.
• MLIS skills are broad-based rather than rigidly focused (read: MBA), so in a world where all the boundaries are dissolving and new opportunities are replacing old established structures, MLIS skills can be endlessly adaptable. With a bit of career exploration and networking, you can come up with multiple alternative ways to deploy your skills.
• MLIS skills make a terrific foundation upon which to layer or build additional expertise or specializations. In any other professional setting, you’ll always be the one who can dazzle the team with your information magic.
• Librarians and other information professionals as a community are amazingly willing to share knowledge, support each other, and generally are much more collegiate in every situation. It means you can extend the reach of your knowledge by tapping your support network.
• MLIS skills lend themselves to supporting life circumstances – you can move from part-time work to full-time work to freelance or project work, and still be professionally active and engaged.
• We always get to look smart to people who don’t have a clue how to find, evaluate, organize, or manage information. They think we can do magic (and who are we to tell them otherwise?).
• There is so much upheaval going on in the profession, so many new technology, programming, and outreach experiments taking place, that it’s like working in a constantly changing, challenging environment where we have pretty much no idea how things are going to turn out – how many career paths offer that level of adventure?
• Lastly, I believe information is the most powerful, positive change agent we have in the world, and the more effective I am at using it, the better I can serve my community and the world at large to effect positive change at every level. I learned that in my MLIS program.
Bottom line: this is a time of upheaval for the profession, and it’s easy to focus on the jobs that are contracting, the challenges in finding entry-level jobs, and the poor pay in traditional libraries. But by taking a broader view of the career possibilities, including traditional librarianship, it’s easy to make the case that an MLIS is truly an investment in a future of opportunities and solid income.
And for those who think you’re too old to go to graduate school, or you’re wasting money, or you should be at home taking care of them (like you always have), understand that they’re probably not going to change their minds until you bring in those first paychecks. That doesn’t make them bad people, it just means that you’re going to have to have the confidence and commitment to pursue your studies without their support. Easier to do if you keep in mind that you’ve got the support of all the rest of us who’ve been there and done that. Trust me: your dreams are worth the effort you’re making.
Thanks for the article. Unfortunately, you don’t address issues such as recognition of the MLIS outside of the library field (I was recently told to suppress the fact of my MLIS when applying for a non-library information mgmt job) or any sort of data about hiring rates and job trends for MLIS holders outside of libraries. As an MLIS grad who has spent the past year trying to capitalize on the enthusiasm this post embodies, I have to say that the reality out there is vastly different for me and my fellow grads.
Tomasz, you make very valid points. My earlier post, “What MLIS programs need to be telling current and prospective students NOW” addresses the issue that unless they’re preparing their students to deploy (and sell) their degree skills in nontraditional ways, they’re going to be setting those students up for substantial frustration at best, longterm unemployment at worst.
This is a terrible time for ANY graduate of ANY program to be job-hunting; my point was that even given that, I felt the diversity of ways to apply the MLIS made it a more useful degree in terms of the range of potential job applicability than a more narrowly-focused master’s. That said, we’re all going to be in the business of marketing/selling/translating our skills to a potential employer who has no clue what we can do. Unfortunately, these are skills we get little to no training for in grad school.
One of the things that might prove useful, Tomasz, is to join SLA if only to see the range of job titles their members hold – some might spark an idea of a job possibility for you (and getting active in your local chapter might help you identify potential job openings). Also, you might want to join the LinkedIn LIS Career Options Group, which is free, to both get a sense of what types of “alternative” jobs some members hold as well as to see how others are dealing with employment challenges. You can see a list of the discussions for the group by clicking on the “LinkedIn Discussions List – LIS Career Options” link listed under “Categories” on the right-hand side of this page.
The SLA career center lists only 28 positions. None appears entry level.
Thank you. I just finished the application process to begin an MLIS program online. I’m 40 and going back to grad school while I still have three young kids. I am not at all sure I’m doing the right thing, but I feel like I can’t do anything else, if that makes any sense. I know this post is almost a year old, but it is exactly what I needed to read today.
I am currently applying to an MLIS online program…I just read a Forbes article about it being the worst master’s degree. I was almost deterred, but I am definitely going to pursue. Thank you for posting.