Thursday, February 17, 2011

Not Another MLIS Post

Spurred on by a comment to a previous post, numerous posts elsewhere in the last few weeks (see below), and at least three undergraduates asking me if they should go to library school, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d tell prospective students, beyond the xtranormal video, which manages to out-cynic me, no small feat.

We all have our reasons for wanting to be librarians. I grew up in a household of academics; I saw that lifestyle and I wanted it… right up until I defended a prospectus in a political science PhD program, at which point a doctorate and I mutually decided to part ways. But let’s back up. I worked at an academic library over the summers and between semesters of my undergraduate studies, and my first three jobs, four if you count the six weeks I worked for a vendor, after graduating were at academic libraries in paraprofessional positions. I continued to work at a library during my PhD program as well, and maintained an ALA membership for part of that time, so I was well-equipped with a back up plan. As a librarian I could stay in academia. I could participate. I could, hypothetically, publish. I should publish. In 2007, I executed that plan; I’ve been at this small, academic library since then, first as a paraprofessional, then as a librarian, a title I obtained before my MLIS. And let’s be clear about why I went back for yet another degree: it’s because I knew I couldn’t advance in my career, not in my current workplace, not hypothetically elsewhere, without an MLIS. For me, it was, and is, a union card, one that needs stamping. The prospect of a better job was not the sole reason I got an MLIS, but it was pretty close. Having worked the circ desk, the stacks, cataloging, and preservation before library school left me a bit jaded. And lo, upon receiving that degree, I got a raise and a promotion. But, and this is important, I already had a job, I already worked in a library and had years of library experience, and of graduate school. I didn’t have to deal with a brutal job market. Kids, if you can get your library school degree this way, I highly recommend it.

My path isn’t everyone else’s path. Again, we all have our reasons. And we can rage against the machine that is library school, but it’s not going to do you any good. By and large, if you want to be a librarian, you’ll need that degree. What else can you get out of it?

Elsewhere you’ll read that library schools teach critical thinking, but that certainly wasn’t the case where I went. You should have learned critical thinking skills by the time you graduated from college anyway. High school, even, if you lucked out with teachers. There’s a reason so many of these MLIS programs are easy to get into, and easy to get out of, and don’t think that lack of selectivity doesn’t play a reason in why this profession isn’t as respected as it could be (and if you’ve got a Masters degree in teaching or another education-related field and you’re reading this, I know you’re nodding your head for the same reasons). Rigor is not in the MLIS vocabulary. Certainly not research methodologies, either. In fact, most of what you’ll need to know to be a good librarian you’ll learn on the job, whether it’s a cataloging shortcut or the best way to manage student workers or volunteers.

Despite the above, and excluding the union card, here is what an MLIS is good for.

  • Socialization into the discipline. Librarians are a motley bunch, but we have our standards, or so I’d like to believe. At a minimum, there’s a baseline level of intersubjective knowledge you’ll be taught, and a vocabulary to go with it, because jargon is what separates academic fields from one another. If you’re lucky, the school you choose will also focus on communication, in person, in writing, presentations, project management and the like. You more or less have to go to college if you want to some measure of economic success, but you choose to go to graduate school, to become a librarian. Molding you into one of us, that’s what this is about. Also, I’ve met a lot of people who work in libraries. Believe me, we can use all the socialization we can get.

  • Exploring your options (thanks to Wayne for this one), or what kind of librarian do you want to be. At many schools archivists and school media librarians are tracked separate from the general population, and if you’re one of them, more power to you. Most everyone else, however, will take a bunch of courses, some compulsory and some elective, to figure out if they want to work in academia, or a public library; spend most of their time out front at the reference desk, or in the back managing electronic resources; or work in a medical library (hint, this is where the jobs are), law library, or corporate library. Take courses, figure out what you want do to, where the holes are in librarianship (provided you can actually get depth instead of width), and how you might fill them.
Now, is that worth whatever you’re paying for library school? But now that I’ve asked it that’s not really the important question, is it? You’re already hooked. I can tell because you made it this far down a blog post. Welcome aboard.

Since you’ve already put the time in, put in some more. Read these far better posts, and their comments

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jake, just wanted to say thanks for the responsiveness. Keep up the great work!