I have had two co-workers in the last week tell me that they are thinking of going to grad school to get an MLIS (Master of Library and Information Science) degree so they can pursue librarianship. Many people are surprised this degree even exists, but if you want to be a librarian pretty much anywhere in the United States you eventually will end up needing to get this degree. It’s one of the standard minimum requirements for a lot of places, but not all, especially the more private or special interest libraries or museums.
My two co-workers are very different people with very different interests, but the degree seems to fit well for both of them. One works at the public library, she focuses on children’s services, and the other works at the University mainly focusing on tech services. My advice to both of them… GO for it.
When I first decided to go to grad school about 7 years ago, it was a big decision. I didn’t know anybody who had been to grad school before; I had never even so much as volunteered in a library, so I wasn’t sure if it was a good investment. I didn’t get in my first year, since I applied late, but got in the next year for fall 2011. It seemed to start out well; I felt a bit underachiever-y compared to my classmates, some of which already had successful careers in libraries, with blogs and volunteer projects. All I had done up until then was work in a totally unrelated field of real estate investment and stone shipping. In 2012, after my first full year of the program Forbes magazine released their annual list of the worst master’s degrees. Guess what #1 was?? Yep, the MLIS. In fact, even last year in 2016 Forbes still thinks that it’s in the top 5, rounding out at #4. So, am I sorry I chose this route? Nope, not one bit, not at all. If I were to listen to Forbes I would be somewhere getting a degree in statistics and being miserable. It’s just not me even if it appears to be profitable.
2012 Forbes list here
2016 Forbes list here
It seems that the things that I love in life most won’t make me any money (according to these list and most people I talk to). The MLIS rounds out at 4 and creative writing at 12. But you know ,even though it can seem bleak at times; I wouldn’t trade pursuing my interests and the things I love for a bigger paycheck, or for something that seems more “secure”. Everybody is different, some people don’t find fulfillment through their careers, and they choose to just work to get money and support families, and find joy other places in life. Which also works, but when I hear that a student here is pursuing a particular degree just so they can make money, it just makes me a little sad.
So where am I going with all this? Well, number one; always follow your dreams people! Two, as I’m having this conversation with my co-worker at the public I look up at the new bookshelf directly in front of me and find a book titled: This is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries and Access to Information by Kyle Cassidy.
It’s a collection of pictures of actual librarians from all walks of life across the United States talking about why they got into librarianship and why they love it. It also includes excerpts about libraries by authors such as Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin. Obviously, as somebody who shares a passion for libraries it was great to read what like-minded professionals like myself had to say in defense of our libraries and how they affect the communities that they serve, so I get it, but if you are one of those people who doesn’t understand why libraries exist then maybe it could shine some light on it for you.
A while back I applied with the California Department of Corrections with the thought that maybe I would like to be a librarian in a correctional facility. After talking with some people in my life and researching online I don’t know if it’s a path I am interested in any longer, but something about being a librarian makes you want to help out those that need it most. There’s a Correctional Facility Librarian from Colorado named Sam Leif that put it into words that really touched me the most, he said:
“Libraries can help stop a generational cycle of abuse, victimization, or anger. They can rehabilitate, help people grow and change in life.” (p. 112)
One thing that I’ve noticed in this profession is since we don’t generate revenue we are constantly keeping stats on how many questions we answer. We need to generate reports that remind people that we are still relevant and to fund us (pleeeassseeeee??). As much as we have proof on paper in the form of tick marks or computer generated data from online sheets I think that our biggest success stories can be in the form of the lives we change and opportunities that we can provide for people who otherwise might not have had a chance.
Can you think of any ways that a library has changed your life, influenced you positively, or just gave you a place to hang out for a little away from it all?
Cassidy, K. (2017). This is what a librarian looks like: a celebration of libraries, communities, and access to information. New York: Black Dog.