Q: What specialization do you feel is the most marketable?

Q: What specialization do you feel is the most marketable?

Q: I searched your site but didn’t find an answer already on this subject. If I’m wrong, could you point me in the right direction?  My question:  I recently graduated with my BS in History. I have four years’ experience working first as a library page, then as a collections processor in Archives, and now I’m working as a Digital Projects and Oral History assistant in the Digitization Department of Special Collections. My next step is to get my MLIS. However, I am unsure of what to specialize in. I have most of my experience with Digitization and Archives but think I would be happier in a different area. I’d like to work with people more and love the hustle and bustle of reference and circulation. However, I am also in love with children’s literature and would love an opportunity to work with kids, set up reading programs in the library, etc. I feel that I can be happy in many capacities in the library. So I guess my question is what specialization do you feel is the most marketable? With library jobs being competitive, I’d like to choose a specialization in library school that will be widely marketable when I begin looking for permanent positions, but that will also be something I will enjoy doing for the long haul.

TA: I totally understand your question about finding ways to be most marketable upon graduation, but you also want to find a specialization that works for you.  You can be marketable and terribly unhappy, and that’s not where you want to end up.  Employers look for experience and potential, and library school is a great time to explore different areas of specialization and to try things on to see if they fit.  From taking a variety of classes, to different internships and volunteer opportunities, you can spend some time exploring librarianship.  According to ALA, the amount of academic credit hours required for an ALA-accredited MLS can vary from 36 semester hours to 72 quarter hours—this is both a lot of time, and time that flies by too quickly.  You should talk with an academic advisor at the school to chart your course, including which classes to take, how and when to register for field experiences, and identifying volunteer or paid work experiences.  Above all else, leave library school with the degree AND work experience.

Now is also a great time to join a few professional discussions lists.  You see if the discussion topics strike an interest.  You can also monitor the vacancy announcements that come across the lists.  Even though you aren’t on the market right now, you can see what’s in demand in terms of types of jobs, regions of employment, and desired skills and experience.  This information will be really useful when you are in library school and are deciding which classes to take or how to gain certain experiences.

Also, remember the power of the informational interview.  Elisa Topper, in her October 2003 “Working Knowledge” column in American Libraries, talks about all the potential benefits of the informational interview.  Her list includes: building a network of contacts; gaining information about internships, practicum experiences and other positions in the “hidden job market”; exposure to terminology and issues relevant to a specific field; and a glimpse into different organizational cultures.  Informational interviews are a great way to explore different areas of librarianship through the real-life experience of someone who’s doing it.  Be sure to read the rest of the Topper article, and refer to our other columns on Informational Interviews to learn more about conducting these types of interviews.

Q: Will the school, or graduate program, I choose to attend affect my job chances after I graduate?

Q: Will the school, or graduate program, I choose to attend affect my job chances after I graduate?

Q: I’ve been accepted to several different LIS programs, one from the top ranked university in the nation. But I haven’t received money offers from any of them and I’m not sure I want to take on all of the debt from my first choice (it’s out-of-state). I could go to the in-state graduate program, save a lot of money, etc., but I’m wondering how much which graduate school I go to will affect my job chances after I graduate? I’m so confused and my adviser has not been much help, as she has no experience in this field. Any suggestions or advice?

SM: This is a tricky question to answer, because the school you go to will definitely, absolutely affect your future career and your job prospects after you graduate – but not due to its reputation or ranking (so much). And, a degree from a highly ranked library school, even the top-ranked one, will not guarantee you a job. Each school has different classes, different instructors, different opportunities, different specializations, and different locales. The things that will influence your library career will be just those: instructors, student jobs, internships, classes and projects, mentors, classmates, groups or clubs, career centers, and the educational, professional and social climate you will immerse yourself in, wherever you choose to go to school. You’ve probably heard from others that library school is just something you need to endure to get the degree in order to get the job. It makes me kind of sad to hear this (even though I understand the mentality), because if you are going to pay a lot of money for it, you should get something that will give you way more than a piece of paper. The program you attend should provide you with skills and experience and support and guidance and mentors and friends that will enhance your life, arouse your ambitions, and jump start your career.

As for the money issue — we are opposed to spending lots of it on library school, and we’ve said this before. It’s no secret that we (librarians) don’t make a lot of money, especially when just starting out, so…  don’t put yourself in tons of debt (really, don’t). However, as you are probably aware, many of the higher ranking library schools are in public universities and out-of-state tuition for those programs may be (quite a bit) less than paying in-state tuition at a local private institution.

You will need to weigh your options and think about the different opportunities you might have at each of the colleges you are considering. If possible, you should visit the campuses and the departments and speak with the director and with instructors and students to get a better feel for the program and the environment. Ask questions about jobs and assistantships and internships at the college, and in the city. And ask yourself if you are willing to move out-of-state for school, and for jobs. Being geographically mobile will always help your job prospects, because you will be able to apply for more positions.

If you really want to attend an out-of-state program, I recommend calling the admissions department and asking about graduate assistantships and other financial opportunities. If you are an accepted applicant, they want you there and they should be willing to work with you to try to figure out how to make that happen. Best of luck!

These are similar questions we’ve answered on this topic:

Q: Does the chance of finding a job increase or decrease depending on where you get your degree?

Q: How do I find the right library school for me?

Q: Do I have any chance of getting into one of the better-ranked library schools with a GPA of 2.8?

Q: Do I have any chance of getting into one of the better-ranked library schools with a GPA of 2.8?

Q: I have been fighting the desire to be a librarian for years, after working at both academic and public libraries, and I’ve decided that I truly want this degree to obtain a library/information-related career. Yippee!

So, though I have about four years of previous library experience and am excited about a reference career, I am very nervous about my chances to even be accepted by an accredited library program. My GPA upon graduation eleven years ago was about 2.8, which puts me out of the running at first glance. I think I’ll have solid GRE scores (verbal section and writing will be successes based on past experience), but I’m hung up on my grades. Beyond some type of personal statement, I cannot think of how to get past this major strike against me.

Any encouragement would be appreciated, especially based on observations that you’ve made. Do I have any chance of going to one of the better-ranked schools? Would you recommend taking a few courses to pump up my GPA? Thank you!

SM: Don’t beat yourself up about things you cannot change. My advice to you is to choose the library schools that you would like to attend. Choose several, if possible. Visit their web sites and find information on their admission requirements. They will all have slightly different requirements. Some schools do not require GRE scores and some do. All, however, will want your college transcripts. And some will say that they only want the GRE scores if your GPA is under 3.0. So, you will most likely need to take the GRE regardless of its necessity for admission.

Also, your GPA isn’t the deciding factor in acceptance to a particular school. Letters of reference and your statement of purpose are extremely important. And admissions departments in library schools know that librarianship is often a second or third or fourth career choice for people, and they will hopefully work with you to figure out how to get you enrolled. It is to their benefit to enroll motivated individuals who will complete the program.

I don’t think you need to take more classes to prove that you are a good student and that you can get good grades. Wait for library school. And yes, you do have a chance of getting into one of the better-ranked library schools.

If you are still concerned (or if you cannot find information on a school’s website for applicants who have lower GPAs) you should contact the school(s) you want to apply to and talk with someone in admissions. You can ask about being put on academic probation. Some schools will do this and it is essentially a trial admission until you prove that you can maintain your grades. Be honest and up front, and don’t let your (past) grades stop you from pursuing your dream.

Examples of admission requirements for GSLIS programs that offer options for those with lower than 3.0 GPAs:

Graduate School of Library and Information Science, The iSchool at Illinois

Wayne State University, School of Library and Information Science

Catholic University of America, School of Library and Information Science

Queens College, Graduate School of Library and Information Science

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee – School of Information Studies

Q: How do I find the right library school for me?

Q: How do I find the right library school for me?

Q: I recently became interested in the library profession, but can’t seem to find any schools that offer the library sciences degree. What schools would you suggest?

TA: This opens the door, not only to answer your initial question (how do I find a school?), but also to address the broader question: out of all of the programs, how do I decide which one is right for me? Answering your initial question is pretty simple: Go to the ALA web site for a lengthy list of accredited schools. But, with so many options, how do you evaluate which school is “best?” Let’s back up and look at the broader picture.

What To Look For

A quick Google search on “selecting a graduate program” yields many results. Glancing at some of these articles (many of which are listed below), you will see many common themes. Most advise students to look at the location of the school, the cost of the program, and the types of courses and degrees offered. In addition, when comparing institutions, most recommend looking at both academic qualities (differences in curriculum, academic requirements, faculty interests and research) as well as “quality of life” benefits (the campus, community, housing, distance from family and friends). Other factors to consider when researching and comparing graduate institutions include:

  • Accreditation
  • The cost of the program
    Tuition, housing, books, student fees, travel, cost of living
  • Financial incentives Fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships
  • Selectivity of the program
    Compare the number of applicants to the number accepted
  • University and department reputation
  • Diversity
    Of the faculty, students, university, community
  • Faculty interests, research and ranking
    What is the student to faculty ratio?
    Do full-time faculty teach classes? What percentage of the time?
    Are faculty members conducting research?
    Are they published?
    Are they respected by others in the field?
  • Does the program emphasize theory or practice?
    Are there specific courses of interest to you?
    Availability of internships and field experiences
  • Flexibility of the program
  • Quality of facilities and resources
    Library materials in your subject area, classrooms, technology, endowments that support student research
  • Are there opportunities to teach? To publish? To attend conferences?
  • Where do graduates typically find work upon graduation from the program?
    Do most graduates go into academia or into professional positions in the workplace?
    How much assistance is offered to job-seeking students (and/or alumni)?

ALA-accredited Schools

At the top of this list is accreditation. On its accreditation web site, ALA states that “ALA accreditation indicates that the program has undergone a self-evaluation process, been reviewed by peers, and meets the Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies that were established by the Committee on Accreditation and adopted by the ALA Council in 1992.” During the accreditation process, a program is evaluated in the areas of mission, goals, objectives, curriculum, faculty, students, administration, financial support, physical resources, and facilities. While accreditation is by no means a guarantee of quality or an indicator of “best fit,” graduating from an ALA-accredited program will allow greater career mobility and flexibility in your professional pursuits. Most major institutions call for an ALA-accredited degree when seeking candidates for professional positions. For a complete list of ALA- accredited schools, please visit: http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=lisdirb&Template=/cfapps/lisdir/index.cfm


Never underestimate the power of research when deciding on the graduate program that best meets your needs. The definition of “best” is completely subjective. For some, it may mean attending the top- ranked program according to US News & World Report; for others, it means attending the ALA-accredited program in their area because of limited geographic mobility. Regardless, when making your assessments, do your research. Talk to current students and alumni. Speak with administrators and faculty. Look at department web sites and class offerings. Visit schools and look at the fit of the campus and the surrounding community. Last, but not least, use the following resources to help formulate and answer some of your questions. Good luck!

About.com Graduate School: Questions & Answers:

ALA’s 2004-2005 Directory of Institutions Offering ALA-Accredited Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies

ALA’s Office for Human Resources Development and Recruitment (general information about scholarships, placement, salaries and general career information)

The Directory of Graduate Programs (published by the Graduate Record Examinations Board) contains information on U.S. graduate programs in over 80 major fields

Financial Assistance for Library and Information Studies (an annual compilation available from the ALA Committee on Education)

The Guide to American Graduate Schools (describes post-BA study opportunities at more than 685 accredited institutions)

Hansen, Randall S., Ph.D. Criteria for Choosing a Graduate Program

Hiatt Career Center Things to Consider When Selecting a Graduate School

JOBTRAK Selecting a Graduate School: Look Before You Leap!

Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. Choosing Among Graduate Programs

Peterson’s Annual Guides to Graduate Studies (profiles over 1400 accredited institutions offering masters and/or doctoral programs)