Q: I am getting ready to graduate with a BA in English Literature. I know I want to become a librarian (preferably public), but I am not sure how to get my foot in the door. Would it be best for me to continue on to graduate school now or get an entry level job at a public library and work my way up, eventually getting my MLS?
SM: It really depends on your situation, so I’m not going to tell you to put graduate school on hold, but I will tell you that you need to have that experience under your belt before you graduate. So, if you do decide to pursue your MLS immediately after getting your BA, then plan on working in a library while you attend school.
I do think that working in a library before going to library school can be beneficial because it gives you a better sense of what the profession is like and you will (most likely) figure out what you like to do and what you don’t like to do, what you are good at and what you are not so good at; which will help you to design your curriculum when you enter library school, and help you to be more selective with future job prospects and/or internships. When looking for jobs, keep your options open and get as much experience (in different areas, different roles, different technologies) as you can. You may even be drawn to a type of role or type of library that you hadn’t even considered.
Another benefit of getting a job before going to graduate school is that you might be able to keep your job while you attend library school. And, another good thing about getting that first library job is that it makes it so much easier to get your next library job. Even if you work in a public library for a year or so, and then move to another state for library school, you will have that necessary [public] library experience which will help get you a job in your new location. We can’t say it enough: the degree is necessary, but it really comes down to experience, experience, experience.
3 thoughts on “Q: Should I go to library school after getting my B.A., or should I get a job in a library?”
I love being a Librarian, however with this economy there are no jobs. I suspect it will be like this for a long time to come. Public libraries are hiring “library assistants” to do professional librarian work. They pay them $10 an hour with no benefits. I know many librarians that are not able to get a full time job for years now. Some have as many as 3 part time jobs just to get by. School libraries are worse. In most states school librarians are not mandated and jobs are being cut all over the country. Having said all this, if I were you I would seriously consider whether getting your MLS is a sound financial decision. Do some research and you will see that the job market for Librarians is abysmal. You might want to check out a Linkedin Group “librarians in the job market” very telling as to what is going on with librarians in the trenches. Good Luck!
The job market isn’t exactly great for English lit majors either. I have an English BA and started library school a year and a half after graduating. This was during the aftermath of the .com bubble, and at the time I started library school the only jobs I had been able to find were lifeguarding and telephone surveying for the national parks. (Though I was able to get a very part time circ/page position before starting LIS classes, it was after I applied).
What really might be beneficial if you think you’re pretty set on going is to start doing your research on what regions have a variety of programs or programs that address more than one interest area that you’d like to study (even if your interests change later) and see if you can time a relocation with your graduation so you can get in-state tuition at your program of choice.
One of the reasons I went ahead with library school so soon after I finished my undergrad is because you can combine a library degree with many other specialties as you advance in your career to advance your career (for example, if you decide public isn’t for you and you’d like to to do sci tech or corporate librarianship you could do a second master’s, sometimes with funding depending on your institution), and it will always add value as a part of your background, even if you decide to pursue another career entirely in 10 or 15 years.
Things are going to change a lot in the next few years for the early career set (myself included), and there are no givens. But, provided you can keep the spending down on tuition, more education is never a bad idea.
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