Q&A: Should I go back to school and get an ALA-accredited MLS, or pursue a PhD?

Q&A: Should I go back to school and get an ALA-accredited MLS, or pursue a PhD?

Q: I currently have a MS in School Library-Media from an AASL-accredited program. This program falls under the purview of the ALA, but is not listed as one of the ALA-accredited MLS programs. Basically, I got it to work as a certified school librarian. Recently, I got a job at a public library, which recognizes my degree as being the same as an MLS since the public library institution I work for is under the state department of education. However, I’d like to eventually move out of the area and work in another state. So my question is… should I go back to school and get an ALA accredited MLS? I was also considering doing a PhD in Information Sciences since I already have a masters but wasn’t sure if public libraries in other states would recognize a PhD in Information Science as the same as having the equivalent to an MLS. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

A: If you continue to work as a school librarian, or a library media specialist in another state, then the degree you have should be appropriate. If you want to move out of school libraries into other types of librarianship, then you will most likely need to acquire your MLS from an ALA-accredited program. And, unfortunately, there is no shortcut to achieving this. According to the ALA “…there is no set of courses or tests that can be taken to ‘receive’ an accredited degree. You would need to attend an ALA-accredited program for another master’s degree.” But — since your current library does recognize your degree, it is possible that other public or educational institutions in other states will as well.

As for pursuing a PhD in Information Science, that is totally up to you and your future career goals. If you want to become a library director, work in a university setting, or teach in an LIS program, then a PhD may be beneficial and/or required. If you’ve always dreamed of getting your PhD, and have a passion for research and writing, then maybe you should consider this path.

To answer your final question, a PhD in Information Science (from an accredited program) is recognized as equivalent to an MLS – however, be aware that it could make you seem overqualified for certain positions that do not require a PhD. And, if you are thinking that it might be faster to do the PhD since you already have a masters under your belt, it won’t. The PhD program will be more competitive to get into, and take more time to complete. These programs emphasize scholarship and teaching, and you will need to start the program from scratch.

My advice is to start researching accredited programs. Look closely at their requirements, their faculty, their concentrations, and their courses. Contact them to get more information, and also take into consideration location, course schedules, tuition, financial aid, and career placement programs. Ultimately you want to find a program that will fit with your current lifestyle, and help move you toward achieving the job you want, in the location you desire. Good luck!


See also:

I will have to go back to school to get a second masters, but I’d rather just do a PhD. Would it be a good idea to go for the PhD now?

How You Too Can Transition from a Librarian to a Doctoral Student by Abigail Phillips for Hack Library School, 2013.

Q: How much responsibility is too much?

Q: How much responsibility is too much?

Q: I am currently employed as a librarian trainee in an Institution of Accountancy with Bachelor Degree level of Library science. My problem is we were given some certificate and diploma courses to teach and those courses are not from the Library science field. They are mainly in Information Science. It has been hard for me to accept this kind of responsibility. Please help me.

My second question: is it possible for my position to teach and at the same time attending other responsibilities in the library i.e cataloging, shelving, etc.?

CNW: Your situation sounds quite unusual. While it is always good to stretch your capabilities, it must be overwhelming to be asked to take on more responsibility than is appropriate. It is not clear whether you hold a BA or MA in Library Science or whether you are taking courses at the same institution where you are working. Regardless of the specifics, if you feel pressured to teach courses that are out of your area of expertise you need to address the issue proactively.

Calmly discuss your discomfort with the arrangement with your managers. If it is an issue of needing support, be specific in what you ask for. You could try asking for reduced responsibilities in cataloging or shelving, for example, to accommodate the extra workload. If the problem is that you are not qualified to teach Information Science diploma and certificate coursework, state this. While there is considerable crossover between the disciplines of Library & Information Science, both you and the school have an obligation to provide a quality education to the students. Engage your colleagues in a frank discussion of the problem.

Regarding your second question: it depends. Many librarians balance part-time and full-time work, including teaching roles. However, librarian trainees are typically early-career. It would not generally be appropriate for a librarian trainee to be teaching college-level classes. Diploma and certificate programs might be okay, but you need to feel that you have mastered the content before you’re expected to teach it to others. It doesn’t appear that you feel comfortable with the arrangement, so you need to find a way to modify it. If you still feel pressured to teach courses beyond your expertise, start looking for another job.



Q: Should I enter an accelerated Library Information Technician Diploma program, or go for a Masters in Library & Information Science?

Q: Should I enter an accelerated Library Information Technician Diploma program, or go for a Masters in Library & Information Science?

Q: I have a Humanities BA, and a Bachelor of Education, but I ended up discovering that teaching isn’t my thing. My dream job would be to work in an academic library!

If I take the diploma program, I can start job hunting after only a year, and the cost will be minimal. It also seems like it provides directly applicable technical skills, as well as experience through work placements. If I later decide I want to advance my career, I could still apply for a MLIS in the future.

But it looks like the best academic librarian jobs require a MLIS anyway. So should I skip the community college diploma and just go for the Master’s degree right from the start? I’m worried that it would just put me in even more student debt without much payoff.

What are the differences between the kinds of jobs I can expect to qualify for with a LIT diploma vs. a MLIS degree?


SM: Correction: not only the best academic jobs will require an MLIS — all academic librarian positions will require an MLIS (or equivalent). While the LIT diploma may help you secure a library staff/technician position, it typically is not required for those positions. If you want to apply for staff positions, your current degrees should serve you well. If working as an academic librarian is your ultimate goal, I recommend that you go for the MLIS, rather than the diploma. I understand the economic incentive to spend the least amount of money, but if you go the diploma route, and then can’t get the jobs you want, you’ll end up spending more money (and time) for both degrees — rather than just getting your MLIS in the first place.

Spend some time perusing current job ads for positions you find interesting, and look at the requirements: degrees, background, specific skills, and experience that is expected in applicants. And then compare that to what you already have, and make an inventory of what you need to acquire.

As for library schools, do your research and look at programs across the country, including online programs. The costs will vary greatly depending on school, location, private vs. public, and specialization. And keep in mind that you may qualify for student aid and loans. You could complete an MLIS program, if you took the max workload, in under two years. I’ve known some people to finish in just a year and a half. However, it would be most beneficial to your future career as a librarian, if you could work in a library (preferably an academic one) while you are taking classes toward your MLIS. You will need the MLIS in order to apply for positions, but employers always prefer some experience, especially for academic librarian positions.

But, don’t just take my word for it. Contact a local librarian and see if you can talk to him/her about the profession and about his/her own career path. Get advice from online forums, and join local associations where you can network and learn more about what it might take to land your dream job in an academic library.


Useful Sites:

ALA JobList

Careers in Librarianship – What Librarians Need to Know  |  Becoming a Library Assistant or Technician

Directory of ALA-Accredited and Candidate Programs in Library and Information Studies

INALJ jobs!

Occupation Outlook Handbook:  Librarians   |   Library Technicians & Assistants

State of America’s Libraries Report 2015  |  Academic Libraries


Q: Should I go to library school after getting my B.A., or should I get a job in a library?

Q: Should I go to library school after getting my B.A., or should I get a job in a library?

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.

Q: How would you suggest I explain why I want a library paraprofessional position without mentioning that I want to do this professionally?

Q: How would you suggest I explain why I want a library paraprofessional position without mentioning that I want to do this professionally?

Q: I think I would like to get an MLS degree someday but would like to have experience working in a library first. Unfortunately, I’m having difficulty getting a position whether it is paid or volunteer. I think part of this is from appearing overqualified since I have a Bachelor’s degree and about five years of customer service and clerical experience, but the other reason baffles me.

When I can get them, my interviews for paraprofessional positions generally go well until I mention that I would like to get a Master’s degree. At that point, the entire tone changes and my interviewers become very negative and discouraging and end the meeting very quickly. This has been consistent for all of my library interviews in the past four years, which include several public libraries, one public school library, and one academic library.

I always include that I would like to get an MLS degree in my application and interview because it conveys why I want the position as well as that I am serious about the position. Apparently, this is the wrong thing to do. How would you suggest I explain why I want a library paraprofessional position without mentioning that I want to do this professionally?


TA: Here’s the easy answer.  Question: Why would you like to work here in this position?  Answer: Because I’m really interested in getting experience working in a library; I find libraries an integral part of any community; and specifically because the work of this position as described in the job announcement seems interesting, challenging, engaging, and in line with my skills and experience.

If you’re finding that people aren’t responding well to your MLS-ambitions, then stop mentioning it.  By your own statement, this has been something you’ve been considering for at least four years, so do not bring this up until it’s more imminent.  During an interview, the employer wants to know that you are interested in their job, not as a stepping stone to somewhere else. If you’re asked directly about pursuing the MLS, you can always say that it’s something you’re interested in, but that you want to gain some valuable experience in libraries to reaffirm this interest and to supplement the education you’ll be getting in the classroom. During the interview, keep your focus on the job, your ability to do the work, and the skills and experience you’ll bring to the position that make you the best qualified applicant.

Q: Are there any positions I can apply for with my BS in the LS field while continuing my education?

Q: Are there any positions I can apply for with my BS in the LS field while continuing my education?

Q:  I am 27 and currently employed with the U.S. Navy.  I will be receiving my BS in Human Resource Management in February of 2011.  Upon completion of my degree I was planning on continuing school and receiving my MLS while remaining military.  At this point I no longer wish to remain with the military and am planning to get out in July of 2011.  Are there any positions I can apply for with my BS in the LS field while continuing my education?

TA:  Most professional librarian positions require an MLS/MLIS and/or an advanced graduate degree in a specific discipline.  However, there are two ways that come to mind to work in the profession with a BS in the LS field, while also continuing your education.

First, many smaller institutions are staffed by individuals who may not possess the MLS.  The BS in LS could provide a strong foundation for providing access and services to that library’s constituency, and may provide an opportunity to pursue further educational credentials in the field.

Second, on the opposite end of the spectrum, larger institutions, especially public and academic libraries, will have support staff positions that do not require the MLS.  These positions may require a BS and will often focus primarily in one area of librarianship, such as technical services, access services, or public services.  The benefits of these positions are many: they provide a strong foundation in the fundamental operations of libraries; as large organizations, they may offer educational assistance to pursue an advanced degree; and because of the size of the organization, there may be promotional opportunities and room for professional growth.

I wish you the best when completing your degree and your service.  Thank you for your military service and welcome to librarianship!