Q: I have been considering a library or archives career for many years now; during college, I had a brief internship at the Smithsonian in digitizing archival photography, plus I spent a year working the reserves and circulation desk at our university library. I loved both experiences (although different) and have always been a huge supporter of public libraries. I am now considering a career change after six years working in Silicon Valley in online community management, a job I started immediately upon graduation. I feel my experience would greatly benefit a local library, but I am not sure if I should dedicate myself to an MLIS degree yet. The good thing is: if I do decide to get my MLIS, I live in the same city as an ALA-accredited university. What advice do you have for someone like me who has gotten my feet wet but is afraid to jump in?
CNW: Let’s see: you have been thinking about working in libraries for years, you love the work experiences you have had, but something is holding you back from committing to librarianship. That is very reasonable. An MLIS is an expensive investment to make if you aren’t sure you want to make a career of working in libraries. A career change, on the other hand, is generally reversible.
Start by looking for job opportunities with your local public and academic libraries. Public libraries in particular often have community-oriented roles. You may find your path to career satisfaction bypasses the MLIS, at least for now. Be realistic in your expectations. Jobs usually require an MLS, and the salaries may be substantially lower than what you are accustomed to. If you find a job that is a good fit, you will probably find that an MLIS is required for advancement at some point in your career. You will then know whether the investment is worth it. You may decide that supporting libraries with a Silicon Valley salary is a better way to fit for you, and that is a perfectly fine outcome as well.
As you look for job openings, you will want to network with professional librarian groups and request informational interviews. You can also consider auditing some MLIS classes at your local university to see if you’re interested in the theory as well as the practical aspects of library work. In the meantime, be honest with yourself about what is really holding you back from committing to a profession that you profess to love. That nagging feeling won’t magically disappear if it goes unacknowledged.