This answer is provided by our guest author, Rachel Kuhn Stinehelfer.
Q: I recently started library school and I am required to pick a specific track, or focus, within the program: cataloging, reference, information technology, school librarianship, archives, or law librarianship. For the last year, I have worked in a government law library where I shelve and update the collection as well as provide some reference assistance to patrons. I love my job – especially the reference part. Originally, I entered library school thinking I would focus on reference. Now, after having finished one term of library school, I’m wondering if concentrating on reference will pigeonhole me into being qualified for only reference positions when I finish my degree. Since I’m getting reference experience in my job, should I still plan on making it my academic focus? Reference is my favorite, but should I pick something else to be more well-rounded in the job search? If I concentrate on reference, will I ever have any business applying for a job in cataloging, for example? Thank you for your wisdom and insight!
RKS: From reading your letter it sounds like you really love reference and law librarianship, so I think the question comes down to – would you want to be a cataloger? If you love reference, you should focus on reference. I doubt you would want to apply for a cataloging job if you are really a public services person as those are two very different positions. That being said, I think that cataloging is fundamental to understanding library catalogs and metadata so be sure to explore many of the courses available to you. Having work experience and an academic focus in a specific area, rather than being a jack-of-all-trades, will make you a stronger candidate.
SM: I agree with everything Rachel said. Don’t worry about being pigeonholed before you’ve even started applying for positions. Do what you love, focus on what interests you, and get as much experience as possible. Potential employers will be more impressed with your experience and skills than your concentration in library school (trust me). One of the benefits of working (in a library) during library school, is discovering what you like to do and what kind of role you would like to pursue after you get your degree. After you’ve worked for a while, you just might feel like you want to change roles, or look for something different — many people do! — and it might not be as difficult as you imagine. Check out this article that Tiffany and I wrote to address questions and concerns similar to yours:
“How do I get there from here? Changing jobs, changing roles, changing institutions”
by Susanne Markgren and Tiffany Allen
C&RL News, December 2004, Vol. 65, No. 11