From the perspective of a recent Masters of Library and Information Science graduate, and recently employed library professional.
- Do you have experience working with data or have you worked in a library, archives, museum or educational institution?
Perfect! This would be my #1 suggestion that you have before you consider becoming a librarian and applying to an ML(I)S program. Here’s why:
Data: Working with data is an integral part to every modern library job, and a skill that some libraries are very keenly pursing for new hires. Some retiring librarians just didn’t grow up in a digital age the way incoming professionals have. This isn’t necessarily true for all older librarians, just a percentage, but it’s still important. Having experience doing data entry, working on a website, doing cataloguing, or really anything with computers is an added bonus. But working with data in a database is the most marketable skill of all, since library catalogues are databases, and most of library resources are databases!
Worked in a library: You absolutely must have worked in a library of some sort before doing the ML(I)S program if you expect to get a Librarian position straight out of the program. No one told me this unspoken rule until I had already entered library school, so don’t repeat my mistake! Even if you got the highest marks in library school, or were super involved in student organizations, or networked your butt off, you are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to hiring if you don’t have previous work experience in a library. Even getting a job as an assistant, volunteer or page for 6 months helps. (The average co-op is 4 or 8 months, so this is a safe bet for how much experience you’ll need as a base line). If you don’t have this experience, you better sign up for a internship, co-op placement, or whatever your library school offers once you get there!!
Worked in an archives or museum: As memory institutions, you’re gaining valuable fundamental experience working in a place where budgets are tight, staffing is low, and people sometimes need that extra push to get in the door. You’re also likely doing some cataloguing, education, or research that is valuable to the role of a librarian.
Worked in an educational institution: Instructional design is a massive role in academic librarian’s work and in the work of school librarians, and a valuable perspective to have when it comes to the job hunt. You’re educating people, doing research, planning, dealing with budgets in some cases…it is all related!
Libraries are a challenging field to get yourself into, even with the ML(I)S degree behind you. By not having this vital experience, you’re committing yourself to a lot of work and probably a large student debt in order to do something you just don’t have practical experience in doing, which could mean you aren’t 100% sure its something you want to do. Don’t force yourself into a career when it’s not something you want to do.
If you are still confident that libraries are something you want to do without having this prior experience, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage by going to library school before completing this vital step. If you delayed going to library school until you’ve collected at least 6 months of experience in any of these areas, you’ll be far more likely to be employed at the end of the program, based on antecodal evidence of myself and others in the profession. It will also make library school easier because you’ll have an idea of what type of librarianship you’d like to get into, and you’ll have experience to back up the heavy theory aspect of library school.
As the Annoyed Librarian has touched on many times, library schools don’t limit enrollment to match the amount of library-related jobs in the market, meaning there are more ML(I)S graduates then there are jobs. Anything you do to make yourself more marketable before, during or after library school will help.
If you still want to give library school a shot, make sure you have allotted time, money and energy to doing a placement/co-op, internship or volunteering job either through your library school or in the community. Co-op placements (paid opportunities to work in a library or related institution and learn from real librarians) are your best bet, as you’re recouping some costs, networking, and getting practical experience that will be directly applicable to a a library job. For those lucky people, your internship employer may also offer you a position when you finish the program.
An internship is also good if you’re doing the work that a normal employee is doing – although the ethics behind unpaid internships is highly contested, and some libraries have union rules that will prevent you from doing “normal” library work at all.
If you can’t find any of these opportunities, get thee to thy library and volunteer! One of the biggest tips from library professionals on job hunting is to volunteer where you want to work, give it your all, and network while you’re there. That way, the recruiter may know your name before you apply.