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: I’ve been in my job for almost a year. I love it, but my husband’s job is taking us elsewhere. How do I tell my current supervisor and will it look bad on my resume?

Q: I’ve been in my job for almost a year. I love it, but my husband’s job is taking us elsewhere. How do I tell my current supervisor and will it look bad on my resume?

Q: In February 2013, I finally landed the public library job of my dreams. I had been working as an on-call substitute for two years before landing this professional, permanent, full-time job. I love what I am currently doing, and I love where I work. Sure, there are difficult days, but as far as jobs go, I am really content with where I’m at. I am grateful to my supervisor for hiring me and for giving me this amazing opportunity to be a public librarian.

My husband’s job is eventually going to take us 60 miles north of where we currently live. The commute would be terrible if I stayed in my current position. Ultimately, we will end up moving north; it’s not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when.

A professional, public library job in this northern city has just opened up, and I’m tempted to apply. Problem is, my resume will say that I have only worked in my current position from February 2013-present, which is obviously a little less than 12 months. Normally I like to stay in a job for 2 years or more; I was in my last two positions for 2-4 years before moving on to new opportunities.

My question for you is: How do I go about telling my current supervisor about my family situation? I am new at this, and I know things come up in life, but how do I do this when I have only been in my current position for 12 months? I feel guilty. Thank you for your help.

SM: If you know (I mean, you are absolutely certain) that you will need to leave your current position, then the sooner you talk to your supervisor, the better. You feel guilty because you are a nice person and you genuinely care about your job and the people you work with; and you feel like (if you leave) you are not fulfilling your obligation to them. I get it. I’ve been there. I left a job after six months, not because I wasn’t happy, but because I decided (a bit spur-of-the-moment) to move to another state – to go to library school. I was terrified of telling my supervisor that I was leaving because she was so nice to me and spent so much time training me. But, lucky for me, she took it quite well, and ended up writing a very nice letter of reference for me, which helped to get me a new job in a public library in my new city.

You need to remember that you don’t have any kind of obligation to stay a certain amount of time at your job. And, one year is a pretty decent amount of time – enough time to get to know your job well, to learn new skills, to build new relationships, and to make long-lasting connections.

Our professional lives are often times interrupted by sacrifices and decisions that we didn’t expect to make; decisions that may change the course of our careers… but life happens and moves on around us, and we need to move with it. We can learn many great things in a short amount of time, and it is important to get the most that we can out of each and every job, because you never know when life will throw another curve ball and everything (unexpectedly) changes, once again.

So, here’s some advice on your current job:

Ask to meet with your supervisor and tell her about your situation and why you need to leave. If she is a reasonable person, she will not only understand, but be supportive of you during this stressful time. She may ask for a specific date of departure, so you should have something to tell her – not just “I will be leaving at some point in the future.” If you don’t have this figured out yet, then hold off on talking to her until you have a more specific time frame, but plan on giving her enough notice (at least four weeks, if possible) to prepare.

By telling her early, she can start searching for your replacement. And you can stop feeling guilty as you help her plan for your departure by completing projects and paperwork, writing up documentation on your job duties, and training others. By easing into your departure, you can continue to cultivate good relations with your supervisor, which is important because you need her to be a good reference for you as you seek out a new job.

On the other hand, if you think she might take it badly or make your life miserable while you are still employed, then I would hold off on the conversation until you have an exact date of departure (but still giving as much notice as you can, or is required — in this case you may want to contact your HR department).

As for the new job opening in the new city – you should definitely apply for it. Keep in mind that they may have a specific start date and if you don’t know when you are moving, or when you could actually start the job, then that might put you in a difficult position should they offer it to you. Don’t worry about being at your current job for only a year. This shouldn’t hurt your chances, as long as you explain it in your cover letter. Let them know why you are leaving your current position (moving for your spouse’s job), and let them know that you’ve done your research on their library and their city – and convince them that you are excited about all of it. And hopefully, with the support of your current supervisor, you’ll have an excellent reference to help with your job applications.

It can be both invigorating and nerve-wracking to start fresh, in a new place and a new role. Take time to get to know your new locale and meet new people by reaching out to professional networks and organizations and groups. Best of luck!

Here are some articles that might be useful:

An Employer’s Opinion on How to Quit Your Job
by Akhil Gupta

How Can I Quit My Job on Short Notice Without Burning a Bridge?
by Adam Dachis

The Librarian Has Not Yet Left the Building: Resignation After-Effects
by Doreen Sullivan

Q: Can you suggest any ideas for how a relatively new reference librarian might acquire the experience necessary to cross over into collection development post MLIS?

Q: Can you suggest any ideas for how a relatively new reference librarian might acquire the experience necessary to cross over into collection development post MLIS?

Q:  I’m a recent LIS graduate and have been a reference librarian for two years, but I have long been interested in collection development. Prior to that, I worked as an assistant in a special library doing copy cataloging and collection maintenance, and in a university law library, also doing collection maintenance. Unfortunately, due to limited availability of a collection development class in my program, I never took it and only learned in my last quarter before graduation when I asked to have my practicum in collection development that the class was a prerequisite. Thus I was pushed into reference, and while I’m content in my role, I still often wonder about a career in collection development. I have no clue how I might one day make the transition, especially since it’s such a specialized area of work. Can you suggest any ideas for how a relatively new reference librarian might acquire the experience necessary to cross over into collection development post MLIS?

TA:  Several ideas come to mind when I think about your question of how to get into collection development after a couple of years as a reference librarian.  Here are a few:

  • Seek specialized training through a professional association; attend workshops and professional meetings in the area of collection development.
  • Take a continuing education course in collection development through an ALA-accredited library school.  Or, consider the possibility of a Certificate of Advanced Study (a post-MLS program) and specialize in collection development.
  • Reference librarians know a lot about the collection, so look for ways to build opportunities into your current position.  In many libraries, the lines between reference and collection development are being blurred by the liaison or subject specialist role, where librarians are arranged by subject and not function.  If your current employer doesn’t offer enough opportunity to explore collection development, and you’re willing to dive into the job market, maybe a subject specialist or liaison type position is your bridge to a position that has exclusive responsibility for collection development.
  • Look for a professional mentor who is already a collection development librarian.  And how do you find that kind of mentor?  Well, since you asked…
  • Conduct a few information interviews—Ask others who have the job you want how they got there, what they love about their job, and what they would change.  Be sure to watch your vocabulary when describing your current situation.  What you’ve described above can be heard as a bit negative (I was “pushed” into reference) and perceived as less-than-careful planning in library school (I “only learned in my last quarter before graduation…”).  Focus on the future and your career aspirations.
  • Pursue an additional degree that would support your move into a collection development position.  Many librarians engaged in collection development have an additional degree beyond the MLS that allows them to specialize deeply in a specific subject or discipline.
  • If your current employer offers a sabbatical or research leave, develop a research project around the intersection of reference and collection development.  At the end you’ll know more about your areas of interest and have a deliverable that you can share with others.
Q: Do I need to relocate to get a job?

Q: Do I need to relocate to get a job?

Q: Do I need to relocate to get a job?

We’ve been following a recent discussion on the NEWLIB-L list about the necessity to relocate for jobs. Relocation can certainly enhance your chances of getting a job, because it allows you to apply for more positions. We wrote a similar post a while back on the benefits of geographic mobility when job searching. However, relocation is not possible for some and not desirable for others who want to stay where they are. We have been on both sides of this “debate” and want to share some advice on this topic.

TA: Having moved around a lot when I was growing up, I would have never predicted that my perspective in this debate would be from the side of “staying where you are.” Of course, maybe some would argue that’s precisely why, but psychoanalyzing my childhood is a whole other discussion.  Anyway, here I am, sharing my thoughts with you about finding a job without relocating.

As we’ve said a number of times in our column posts, experience is a key factor to your “employability”. The more experience you have that relates to the job you’re applying for, the better position you’ll be in during the initial review of applications. There are a few approaches to gaining this experience, but the first four that come to mind are:

Get a library job while you’re in school—be sure to supplement your academic education with some real world, practical library experience. You’ll be surprised at how different these two can actually be!

  1. Take advantage of internships, practicums, field experienceswhatever your school calls them, be sure to make use of the programs where you are assigned to work on a real-life project, while earning classroom credit. Even though it’s not paid work, it still counts as experience and it is something you can draw on and discuss in your cover letter, resume and interview.
  2. If you are fortunate enough to work in a library position while also attending school, be sure to take advantage of professional relationships to build a professional network; remember that your experience on teams, committees, and other library work groups are all opportunities for you to demonstrate leadership, and effective interpersonal, communication, and project management skills, etc.
  3. Don’t undervalue any experience you may have had prior to library school just because you weren’t working in a library, doesn’t make the skills you’ve gained any less relevant. Managing (people, resources, budgets, etc.) in one setting can oftentimes easily translate to managing in a library context.

Personally, I tried to take advantage of all of the above, as well as the personal connections I built before, during and after the MLS. Undergraduate student library experience led to a support staff job in a corporate library after getting my BS. I then took a job back on campus that had tuition support as a benefit so that I could work full time and take classes toward the MLS (half of which were paid for by my employer). After graduating with the MLS, I applied for and was hired in a permanent librarian position, in large part because of all of the library experience I had as well as the professional network I had established through my employment and education. I had the good fortune to serve on library-wide committees, work with others throughout several library departments, and the opportunity to establish a strong and positive professional reputation.

If you’re planning on staying in a geographic area, be sure to remember that as you chart your course, every step builds on the next. The library profession is small, and we have good memories. A favorable impression from the beginning will only serve you well as you progress in your career.

SM: I did not move at all as a child and maybe that’s why I crave it as an adult. I relocated shortly after getting my MLS, which was always my intention. I had the advantage of being mobile, and better yet, I was working as a librarian in a temporary professional status which allowed me more time in my job search. I was able to get this position because I worked my way through library school –mainly in reference assistant positions, and even prolonged library school to work full time in order to advance within my (academic) library system.

I am a wanderer at heart. I moved to a different state the day after I got my BA. A few years later I moved across the country to pursue my MLS and to experience a completely different lifestyle in the South. However, it had always been a dream of mine to live in New York City and so, once I had my MLS, I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

Here is my advice to those who are eager to relocate, and to those who are perhaps slightly less eager, but willing and able to relocate:

Before you begin:

Be choosy! Just because you are mobile doesn’t mean you should take any job anywhere. Do your research on places before you go there. Make sure you can live in an area before you agree to move there. If you are not happy living in a particular city or region, then you probably won’t be happy in your job for too long. If you are mobile, you can focus your search on any city you want. It might be tempting to send out resumes to every open job, in every state (or province), and see who wants you. I would recommend focusing your efforts on one or two locations. Interviewers will want to know why you want to move and you need to have a better answer than I’ll go where the job is. Show that you are committed to moving to that area, and talk about why. I know you are thinking “Now, now, I need a job now!” but try to envision the future, and picture yourself living there in 5 or 10 years.

While looking for jobs:

Use your current connections. As Tiffany mentioned above, it is important to be involved in the profession as much as you can while in library school. Once you know that you want to relocate, ask around to see if your employer, professor, colleague, or friend, knows anyone or knows of any libraries and/or library organizations in your target region. Ask advice from others who have relocated.

When you get the interview:

Find out about travel expenses for interviewing before agreeing to interview. If a place is not willing to reimburse you for coming in for an interview, how much do they really want you? Think hard before you spend your own money. I have turned down interviews because they did not reimburse for travel expenses.

When they offer you the job:

Find out about relocation money. Will they provide you with any money that will cover part or all of your relocation expenses (moving companies, rental vehicles, storage, etc.). Many places do not offer money or assistance for relocating, but it can’t hurt to ask. I know of places that were not in the habit of providing money for this purpose, but did so anyway after a candidate asked for it. Just as you might negotiate your starting salary, you can (at least attempt to) negotiate moving expenses. If they really want you, they will at least try to get you something. Relocation is a difficult and expensive process.

Finally, don’t rush into moving and don’t uproot yourself (and potentially your family) until you have done your homework on the area, have visited at least once, and have given a lot of thought to what the future might hold in a new setting.

So, after eight years, I am still in the New York City area, although no longer living in the city. I didn’t think that I would stay this long, but life happens whether you’re standing still or moving. Two kids and two jobs later, I am still thinking, or dreaming, of my next move.

If you’re looking for information on cities across America, check out these sites:

Q: I got a job, but it isn’t in the right city. What do I do?

Q: I got a job, but it isn’t in the right city. What do I do?

Q: I am e-mailing because I’ve been having the hardest time finding a librarian job in Atlanta, yet I can easily find jobs elsewhere. I have my application in at a few colleges and public libraries in Atlanta, but I haven’t heard from any of them. I finally snagged a job in Albany, GA, at a college library. I’m trying to figure out what I should do: I would rather be back in Atlanta, but I know I can’t leave until I find something else. Need some advice. Thanks.

TA: It must be very frustrating for you to have a job in a city other than your first choice. I can hear the chorus of recent grads now, so let me just go ahead and acknowledge the obvious – at least you HAVE a job and are gainfully employed, which is more than some can say. And at the very least, you have something to do (and a way to pay the bills) until you find the job of your dreams, or at least a job closer to Atlanta.

One thing we tell all of the graduating MLS students we work with is that geographic mobility is one of the best things you can have working for you when looking for a job. Let’s face it, there are just some places that are more appealing to live than others. But what’s so great about human beings is that some people like snow, while others like the beach. Some folks prefer the mountains, others, the plains. Another great thing, we can also usually endure more than we think, so in the interest of the greater good (or just getting the first job) we can do what we have to do, not just what we want to do. Let’s think of Albany as a learning opportunity and a time for personal growth (What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right?).

Here’s how to make the most of your time in Albany, while still planning your exit strategy:

  • Do a great job in your current position. The one thing I didn’t hear you say about Albany was that you were unhappy in your work. That’s a good thing. A great job can go a long way to compensate for a geographic location that’s lacking. While you’re in Albany, work hard, impress people, and make yourself invaluable. Learn everything that you can and continue to grow professionally. Look for opportunities for professional development, to attend professional meetings or conferences.
  • Network, network, network. The more people you know (and who know you) the more likely you are to hear about positions opening up elsewhere – perhaps even in Atlanta. Look for alumni organizations in your area that will give you the chance to reconnect with other former Atlanta residents.
  • Do not burn bridges. Don’t let the folks you work with now feel like a second choice. If all they ever hear from you is how much you hate Albany and how much you want to be back in Atlanta, especially if they’re Albany-born-and-bred, they’ll grow pretty tired of you pretty quickly. It’s okay to let people know that you have connections in, or a fondness for Atlanta, but don’t let that be all they know about you.
  • If the nightlife in Albany isn’t all that you had hoped for, or you’re having a hard time finding things to do socially, use this time to concentrate on yourself. Take an online class, volunteer in the community… Remember, everything you do right now will affect your future “employability.”
  • Keep your resume up to date and continue to watch the job boards, web sites and e-mail lists. Check the larger regional sites, as well as school sites from the Atlanta area. Several of these, such as ARL’s Career Resources and SOLINET’s Job Bank, allow you to limit searches by geographic location. Georgia Public Library Service also offers a “Jobs in Libraries” site, which searches library jobs in Georgia and other southeastern libraries. You can also contact a few of the institutions you’re most interested in and ask to schedule an informational interview. (See the previous columns on the purpose of, and how to conduct, an informational interview.)

Keep in mind that the folks in Albany hired you as the best candidate for their position; they probably weren’t thinking of this as a temporary placement. Give them the professional courtesy of at least a year in the position, and, once you have another offer, as much notice as possible. They believed in you, and gave you a chance. You should repay that kindness with hard work while you’re there, and an easy transition when it’s time for you to move on.