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 want to be an academic librarian. Will my current job help my goal, are online degree programs viewed the same as in-person ones, and what qualifications will I need?

Q: I want to be an academic librarian. Will my current job help my goal, are online degree programs viewed the same as in-person ones, and what qualifications will I need?

Q: Whilst studying for my PhD I began working part time in a university library, and discovered just how much I love it! I have an undergraduate degree and masters in media and creative writing, and I had been pursuing the PhD because of my love of academic research and education, and to be truthful because I had found it very difficult finding a career path with my qualifications.

During my studies, I felt increasingly worried about future career prospects, and the uncertainty of an academic faculty career, and when I started working in the library it felt like I had finally found the perfect career for me which brought together all my skills and passions, so much so that I quit my PhD at the end of the first year and began applying for MLIS courses and entry level library positions.

After looking into costs I decided an online course may be the best option for me. I also managed to secure a full-time job working as an information assistant at a further education college.

I just wanted to ask – if I have taken a job in a further education college, would I then be able to move into higher education and academic library roles in the future, or into public library roles (after I have the MLIS qualification)?

I also wondered if an online MLIS program (accredited by CILIP in the UK) is viewed the same as attended courses by employers?

And finally, I just wanted to ask if any further qualifications would be needed to become an academic librarian alongside the MLIS and an additional masters? Ironically after quitting my PhD, I finally got offered a paid studentship, and I just wanted to be sure that the PhD wouldn’t be useful or essential to a library career before closing the door on it.

Sorry for all the questions. I would be so grateful of any advice, help or suggestions you may have! Thanks so very much!


SM: Dear Many Questions:

So glad you discovered your love for working in libraries and are taking the steps to realize your perfect career! I know several librarians who have PhDs, and know of several others who left their respective PhD programs to pursue librarianship instead. I think, as you mentioned, the career prospects for (teaching) faculty members in higher education can be uncertain and for people like yourself, who love research and being involved in higher education, a job as an academic librarian can be a satisfying alternative.

I will attempt to answer your questions as best I can, in sections (and from the point of view of a US librarian):

Will my job in further education make me eligible to work in higher education?

To first clarify for my US readers, further education (FE) in the UK and elsewhere is similar to vocational, trade, professional schools in the US. Higher education (HE) means universities in both the UK and the US.

In the US, academic librarians are academic librarians, whether you work in two-year colleges, four-year colleges, or universities. There are similar roles, and similar duties in all academic libraries. However, there will always be differences in populations served, amount/type/number of resources offered, and the structure of administrative hierarchy – but this is also true in public vs. private schools, as well as in schools of different sizes and in different locations. It is possible to move from one type of academic setting to another, and (it seems to me that) working in a FE setting is closer to working in an HE setting than a public library setting. As an academic librarian, or someone working in education, you would (most likely) be working with student populations, teaching information literacy classes, providing reference services, collaborating with faculty, and sitting on campus committees. Also, you are a still a student and not working as a professional librarian. Most potential employers will recognize that a library job of any kind, while you’re pursuing your degree, is ambitious and beneficial.

The most important thing is that you are working while taking classes. You are gaining much needed experience and skills — transferable skills, which are wanted in many different types of academic libraries and institutions, and will make you more hire-able when you complete your degree. It all comes down to your skills, your experience, and your attitude — and how you translate all of that in your application materials. And… it is always possible to get there from here.

Are online courses viewed the same as in-person by employers?

This question comes up often, and there has been lots of public discussion on this topic, which you wouldn’t think would be an issue today. According to the American Library Association, there are twenty-nine fully online accredited MLS programs in the US and Canada. So… my answer to you is: it all depends on who’s doing the hiring. It shouldn’t matter whether you got your degree entirely online, in a hybrid program, or in a traditional on-campus setting. However, there will always be bias and opinions that come into play in the hiring process, and some people do think that the online degree is not quite the same (see discussions on this topic from Information Wants to be Free, and Hiring Librarians). I completely disagree with this opinion. Some of the smartest librarians I know got their degrees from online programs. I also believe that you get what you put into it. Every person, whether the program is online or in-person, needs to commit to a certain level of scholarship, communication, follow-through, and ingenuity, in order to complete a degree program. Once you have that piece of paper, nothing else matters (except for skills, experience, and attitude… as mentioned above).

Any further qualifications needed?

Other than the MLIS (or equivalent accredited degree), there are no other across-the-board qualifications needed to obtain an academic librarian position. But every position, and every institution, and every library will have its own unique set of requirements. Normally, a PhD is not required for academic librarian positions in the UK or the US; although for certain positions such as a subject specialist in a large research university or a director position, it may be a required or preferred qualification. A second masters (which you have) is often required to work as a librarian in a higher ed institution, but some places will allow you to obtain that degree on-the-job within a specific time period. You may decide, one day, to finish your PhD, and that may or may not open other doors or opportunities for you. But if you think about the changing nature of the library profession, any education, certificate, or degree above and beyond the MLIS will only help to enhance your skills and drive your career path to the next level or stage.




Q: 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?

Q: 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?

Q: Hello! I am currently a Sub-Instructor/Reference Librarian at a college. Prior to this, I worked for five years as a Library Associate at a research library. I received my MLS in 2011 and was very grateful to get a chance to take this substitute position which could very well turn into something permanent. I, for sure, will have to go back to school for a second masters to remain a librarian at the college level. However, I’d rather just do a PhD because I think that will go further and it’s more of a personal accomplishment for me. I guess my question is would it be a good idea to go for the PhD now? Going for the PhD in Library and Information Science means I will have to move (which I am fine with) out of NYC. Would this be worth it? If this were to become a permanent position, should I abandon the PhD idea? I’m currently 28 and I want to get this out of the way while I am still kind of young and because I know PhD programs can last up to 6 years. I was wondering if someone who has graduated with their PhD can provide me with some guidance on that? Also, where should I begin in terms of looking for PhD programs? How many should I apply to? How did you find funding? If I were to go ahead with this I’m looking to be back in school by Fall 2015. I’ll be 29 by then!

SM: So many questions! So much ambition! I’m exhausted just thinking about going back to school for another degree. Whew… let me catch my breath. Actually, I recently finished an MFA program, which took me five+ years, but I did it — very part time — while I was working (and I’m much older than 29).

I like your motivation and that you are thinking about the future of your career in libraries. Your substitute position sounds great, and the best part is that you are gaining experience to add to your resume, even if the position is only temporary. The question of getting additional degrees, and whether you need to or not, has long been discussed and debated among librarians (we’ve written a few times about PhDs and second masters). There are many academic library positions that do not require a second masters, so don’t think that it is always a necessity. Will it help you get a job? Quite possibly. Do you need a PhD? Probably not. Will it expand your job prospects? Maybe. However, the time you spend getting your PhD will take away from the time you could spend working, which equals experience, which is what gets jobs. A PhD in library and information science is a requirement for being a professor in a LIS graduate program and will make it easier for you to teach (part time or full time) at the graduate level, so if that is where you see yourself someday, go for it. Should you quit your job to pursue more education? Well, that’s a tough decision that only you can make.

Since I don’t have a PhD, I will point you to a few other, really smart librarians, who have written on this topic. A friend, Geeky Artist Librarian, who just happens to have her PhD, wrote “MLS, MA, PhD, EdD… Academic Librarians & Degrees.” And, on the other side of the conversation, Mr. Library Dude wrote “On Being a Generalist Librarian & Not Having a 2nd Master’s.”

The main points that I want to get across is you should do what you want to do, do it for the right reasons, and make sure you enjoy it. Don’t feel like you absolutely have to go back to school for additional degrees. Don’t put pressure on yourself to complete a degree in a certain time frame (trust me, you’re still young and the PhD programs will always be there). Don’t rush into putting yourself into (more) debt for something you may not need, and don’t make yourself miserable in the process.

However, if getting a PhD is something that you absolutely want to do, and you won’t be happy or content until you do it, then by all means, pursue your education. Figure out what area of library and information science you want to focus on, and research PhD programs. Look at their curriculum, their faculty, their areas of concentration, their requirements, and what their PhD candidates are researching and/or writing. All of this may influence your decision. You can find accredited ones by using the American Library Association’s Searchable Database of ALA Accredited Programs. Limit by “PhD.”

As for funding, if you are accepted into a PhD program, most, if not all, will provide some support or funding for the duration of the program. It is a competitive process and if you’re accepted, they want you to stay – they also want you to teach (TA) and work (RA) for them, as part of the program, which will provide you with funds to help support you along the way. Most programs will provide information on the types of funding available on their web sites.

Good luck!

Q: To leave the profession, or to not leave the profession, that is the question.

Q: To leave the profession, or to not leave the profession, that is the question.

Q: To leave the profession, or to not leave the profession, that is the question. All corniness aside, our family is not mobile, and I have been mostly stuck in special libraries since receiving my MLS in 2006 (with academic library work dating back to 1996). I am not necessarily eager to enter a new career, but there seem to be few options in the large city that I live in. Many academic institutions that would have not required a PhD in the past, do now, including community colleges and for-profit schools. Do you think the forecast is positive enough to weather the economic storm where I am, or should I leave the profession entirely? Investment in a PhD to complement my MLS would be a costly gamble from my perspective. Thank you very much for your time.

SM:  Many librarians have asked themselves this same question, and many have left the profession and taken jobs in different areas and different sectors. We need to do what we need to do for our own well-being; and a paycheck (for most of us) is a necessity. If you can get a job that you enjoy, the more power to you. Our profession is constantly in a state of flux, no matter what the economy is like, and librarians need to be able to adapt to different roles, different technologies, different environments, and different clientele.

As for getting a PhD in order to compete for librarian positions… I would hold off. Unless you have a burning desire to get that PhD, and you would like to teach in a University one day or become a library director, I think it would be a waste of time and money and it doesn’t guarantee you a job (my apologies to those currently getting their PhDs to complement their MLSs). I am surprised, and somewhat concerned, that you say many libraries in your area are requiring a PhD for librarian positions. It doesn’t surprise me that some libraries might include it in a list of preferred qualifications, but to make it required seems extremely limiting. What next, five years of experience required for entry-level positions?

Here are a few tips and ideas to assist you as you search for jobs (and none of them involve getting a PhD):

  • Try to stay positive
    It is difficult to stay positive and cheery when you are looking for jobs and not having any luck, but a good attitude (in person and on paper) will reflect confidence, and this is what employers want see in a candidate.
  • Connect with others
    Join local librarian associations/groups, attend meetings and classes and symposia, and network with people. Volunteer for something, use your skills in other ways, in other areas, create and connect at the same time.
  • Reinvigorate your materials
    Perhaps it is time to freshen up your resume and cover letter. Remember to customize your materials (yes, even your resume) for each job application. You can tailor your experience and skills to each specific job. The most important two things you need to convey (without sounding overly confident) is 1.) that you can do the job, and 2.) that you really want the job  — not any job, their job.
  • Build up your online presence
    Do you have a professional online presence? Well, why not? If you are competing for jobs, you need to have one. It can be minimal and low maintenance such as a profile on a professional network, but prospective employers will expect to find you online, so let them.
  • Open your job search
    Stop looking for jobs with librarian in the title. Search with keywords taken from your resume. If you are open to working in other areas (and you might have to be if you are not mobile), you might find a librarian, or librarian-type, position outside of libraries (and there is nothing wrong with that).

In conclusion, don’t give up on the profession — keep an open mind and a positive outlook as you search for jobs. Remember that librarians don’t always work in libraries and other professions often value (and need) our skills and experience. And, if you haven’t discovered them already, check out INALJ (I Need a Library Job).

Q: Would I still be able to get a library job after my PhD? Or will this just inhibit me?

Q: Would I still be able to get a library job after my PhD? Or will this just inhibit me?

Q: I have two master’s degrees already, and am pursuing an MLS. I was thinking maybe I should get my PhD in Library Science instead. Would I still be able to get a library job after my PhD? Or will this just inhibit me?

SM: It depends on what you want to do with your career. If you want to work as a librarian, I would suggest holding off on pursuing the PhD until after you’ve worked in libraries for a while. Library (or information) science programs are quite different than other graduate programs. They are more like professional programs and the degree (MLS) is a prerequisite for a job. If you do not have an ambition to teach library science, but you still want to pursue a terminal degree, a PhD in a different field might be more beneficial to you as a librarian.

Will a PhD inhibit your job search? Perhaps. You will certainly be overqualified for most librarian positions. However, a lack of experience will inhibit you more. There are some librarian positions, and some institutions, that require or prefer PhDs, but typically these would be PhDs in a subject area, not in library science. On the other hand, there are many more library jobs that require just a second master’s degree. Until you acquire library experience, your master’s degrees will serve you better than a PhD when it comes to finding a job as a librarian.

Q: Should I put my PhD on my resume?

Q: Should I put my PhD on my resume?

Q: I am a new graduate of LIS and obtained my Masters from an ALA accredited library school in Canada. In addition to my MLS degree, I hold a PhD in French literature. I have been looking for a job for two months yet am not able to find one. I have a lot of education, but I don’t have much library experience. My question is: should I put my PhD degree on my resume? I have been told that most employers would consider me to be overqualified.

SM: Short answer: Yes! Your concern is perfectly valid, and many librarians have found themselves in this same predicament (if you can call it that): educationally overqualified. Honestly, it seems ridiculous that the simple fact of having an additional degree can make you less desirable, especially when so many positions require, or prefer, a second masters.

Most likely, you will encounter some discrimination during your job search — it really depends on what kind of job you are looking for. While there are some libraries that seek out librarians who hold PhDs (these are typically large research libraries with very unique collections), there are many more that might look upon the degree as a detriment. You state that you don’t have much experience working in libraries, which means that most of the positions you are qualified for are entry-level positions. Experience is really what’s desired for any librarian position. I imagine that it may be difficult for employers to hire someone who has a doctorate, for an entry-level position. So, you will need to address it, not hide it.

Include all your degrees on your resume/vita, even your PhD. If a search committee or a potential employer finds out that you have another degree and you did not list it, they might assume that you are trying to hide something. Instead, use it to your advantage, especially if you are applying for academic librarian positions. I’m sure you would like to — if not now, then eventually — use your subject expertise in French Literature to complement your role as a librarian. If the position you are applying for has nothing to do with your subject background, then downplay it, or find some aspect of it that fits into the requirements for the position. Some positions will value your subject expertise and foreign-language background more than others.

Tailor your resume and cover letter to each job you apply for: address your educational background in your cover letter, but accentuate your library degree and school work (projects, thesis, etc.). Mention how your PhD and your subject expertise can and will enhance your role as librarian X. Discuss how your use of the library as a researcher and student has helped to prepare you for a career as a librarian. Play up any and all experience you have in libraries – working, volunteering, interning, and just using. And, most importantly, emphasize your interest in the job at hand and your commitment to librarianship.

Two months might seem like a very long time, but when searching for jobs, it isn’t long at all. So don’t get discouraged just yet.