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.