Q: School librarian or archival studies? I can’t decide which path to choose in library school.

Q: School librarian or archival studies? I can’t decide which path to choose in library school.

Q: Hello! I’ve just been accepted into the graduate program of my choice and am incredibly excited to get into the field. But I am having a really difficult time trying to decide whether I want to complete the school library sequence or the archive studies sequence. The school I will be attending in the fall has excellent programs for both of these fields, so the quality of the program is not really an issue. I realize there are many great attributes to both of these career paths, and that ultimately I must decide for myself, but I wondered if you had any advice on how to choose or could talk about things that ought to be considered as I make my decision.

SM: First off, congratulations! That’s wonderful that you got into the program you wanted. Second, this is a tricky question, and a rather difficult decision, so I’ll turn it back to you and ask:

  • What’s your gut decision?
  • What made you choose that particular school/program in the first place (was it one of the sequences you mention)?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • Have you worked as a teacher, or in a school library?
  • Have you worked in archives?

These are both rather specialized fields, and quite different from one another.  I would suggest, if you haven’t already, to attempt to get experience working in one or both of these areas (internship, part-time job, volunteer) to get a feel for the work and for the daily activities and skills needed. I know that each place of work is different, but (seriously) there is nothing like hands-on experience to make you realize what roles you want to pursue and which ones you don’t.

Perhaps, you may say, you are equally attracted to both areas and you’ve gained experience working in both types of roles. And to that I would say, good for you! You may be perfectly suited for both of these specialized roles. If this is the case, you may want to look at the existing job market for archival positions and school librarian positions. Study the job listings, see how many jobs are available, and take note of any requirements that you may need to acquire in order to be a school librarian or archivist, depending on where you live and the specific qualifications of the job. Other things that can help:

  • Interview (see Q&As on informational interviews) librarians working in both of these fields – ask them how they like their jobs, how they got their jobs, and what they would recommend you do while you’re in school, to make you hire-able when you get out.
  • Talk to someone in your library school’s career center. As an accepted student, you should be able to use their services and ask questions about the different sequences and see if they can offer some advice since they know the courses and instructors as well as the job placements of their graduates.
  • Talk to your advisor when you start the program. Find out what it would take to transfer from one sequence to another.

And finally, don’t sweat it too much. You’re just starting out and many people change their minds, and many others try several different roles and that’s all right. You’ll find your path, and it may be completely different from what you originally planned. Just make sure that while you’re in school, use your professors and classmates and colleagues to help guide you along the way, and try to get experience to supplement your education.

Q: Can you help me identify transferable skills in transitioning from academic to school librarianship?

Q: Can you help me identify transferable skills in transitioning from academic to school librarianship?

Q: I have been working in academic libraries since completing my MLIS nine years ago. I have worked in small and large academic libraries, and have gained experience in reference, instruction and access services. This past week, I received an unexpected invitation to interview for a position at a middle/upper school library. Although I really enjoy being around children/teens in my personal life, I have zero experience working with them in my professional life. If I had seen the position posted, I probably would not have considered applying due to this lack of experience.

But now that I’ve accepted the invitation, I’m up for the challenge of interviewing. I am wondering if you might be able to identify transferable skills in transitioning from academic to school librarianship — and also, if you have any suggestions for resources (articles, websites) that might be helpful to me as I attempt a crash course in school librarianship. Thank you in advance for your insights!

SM: An invitation to interview (without having to apply first) is something you cannot pass up, you are correct. In fact, it is something that many people only dream about (myself included). And, as I’ve said before, changing direction can be a rewarding thing — “opportunities will pop up, jobs will present themselves,” and you should have fun learning about, and experiencing different kinds of libraries and patrons and roles as you move forward in your career. And you should feel honored that someone has extended this invitation to you and thought that you could be a good fit for this job, as unexpected as it might be.

Transferable skills are abundant between academic and school librarians. Academic librarians get those same middle/upper school students immediately after they graduate. They see the impact of information literacy (or lack thereof) on the students. They help undergraduates find scholarly articles and create bibliographies. Middle school and high school students use many of the same resources and technologies (or very similar ones) as the college students use, and the library roles and services such as instruction, collection development, administration/supervision, technical services, interlibrary loan, etc., are similar as well. During your interview, you’ll want to highlight your experience with instruction and reference and access services. Basic information literacy skills and good customer service are valued in any library setting.

The differences that you may want to brush up on, include: working closely with teachers and school administrators, understanding and supporting curriculum requirements, getting used to fixed schedules within the schools, envisioning the library itself as a classroom, and the different needs of different ages/grades of the children. School libraries are smaller than academic libraries (for the most part) and probably have smaller staffs, so your role may be more diversified across many different types of jobs, which can be both intimidating and exciting. Best of luck on your interview!

Definitely dig around on the school’s web site and see how much information you can find. Possible questions to ask on your interview:

  • What is the mission and focus of the school?
  • What are the students like (ambitious, athletic, scholarly, creative)?
  • Are you expected to be involved in school/building committees?
  • How many staff will you supervise?
  • Are there funds for professional development activities?
  • Are you expected to oversee computer labs and keep equipment and software up-to-date?
  • Are you expected to teach classes to all grades/levels?
  • How involved are the teachers in information literacy achievement, in the library?
  • What is the budget?
  • What are the upcoming (and ongoing) budgetary priorities, for the administration, for the teachers?
  • How are the electronic resources managed/accessed/promoted?
  • What are the most popular library resources?
  • What type of person are they looking for to fill this role?
  • What about the summer months (expected or anticipated duties)?


American Association of School Librarians

APPR Evaluation, NYS School Library Program Rubric Tool (and goals of the Common Core Standards)

Brace Yourself: SLJ’s school library spending survey shows the hard times aren’t over, and better advocacy is needed By Lesley Farmer, March 1, 2012

The Independent Library, by Sarah Clark, Windward School Library

Introduction to School Librarianship

Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement by Debra E. Kachel and Keith Curry Lance on March 7, 2013

School Library Impact Reports

What Makes a Good Private School Library? Collegiate School Librarian Maggie Dixon Talks About Her Program

100 Helpful Blogs For School Librarians (And Teachers)

Q: I am considering a career change and have been thinking about getting my MLS. What are the job prospects like for school librarians?

Q: I am considering a career change and have been thinking about getting my MLS. What are the job prospects like for school librarians?

Q: I am considering a career change and have been thinking about getting my MLS. I am wondering what the job prospects are like for school librarians. Also what is the day to day career like? What do librarians like the most about their jobs? What do they like the least? What kind of job satisfaction do they have? Thank you so much for any information you can provide.

SM:  Since neither Tiffany nor I are school librarians  (often called school library media specialists), we cannot give you firsthand advice on what it is like to be one. However, we are quite good at providing information that might be useful:

Find out if your State has a school library media association, and if so, check out their web site. They can provide you with information on specific certifications you may need and offer educational resources and tools. You can also look at your State’s Department of Education web site for information on teacher certification. Check out library job postings online to get a sense of how many jobs are available right now, and read the job listings to get an idea of what employers are looking for in an ideal job candidate. And finally, look into some library schools that offer a school library degree program to see what the curriculum is like and to find out more information on what it takes to get started.

I have a few friends who currently work, or have worked, as school librarians (or school library media specialists) and they tell me the best parts of the job are working with students and the schedule (which definitely has its advantages especially if you have school age kids yourself). I’ve heard that the job can be more like that of a classroom teacher than a traditional librarian, and in many schools, your closest colleagues are teachers. We would love to hear from our readers who happen to be school librarians. Please tell us what you love, and don’t love, about your job.