Advice for MLIS Students

Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Started My MLIS

Like so many MLIS students, I started my second masters degree with the sort of naive optimism mostly found among first year undergrads.   I had never worked in a library before starting my degree, and assumed just getting the MLIS would make me instantly hire-able, and prestigious universities would be lined up around the block to offer me high paying positions. I soon learned that the field is highly competitive and there are not a ton of entry level jobs. I also realized that everyone applying has an MLIS and I needed to do something to stand out. But I was fortunate, and I did pretty well for myself. I am not claiming to be a guru in getting hired right out of school but I wanted to put down some advice because I think I have learned a little about making yourself hire-able that I hope would be helpful to pass on. I need to add two caveats though: 1) these are only things that have worked for me and may not necessarily work for you AND 2) I am an academic librarian and heavily weighted this towards academic librarianship it may not work for public libraries.

I. Work

  • If you haven’t worked in a library get a job. This should be priority #1
  • Work as much as you can and really build connections with librarians
  • Try to do many things at work
    • get some collections experience
    • work on the reference desk
    • ask to teach/co-teach a information literacy instruction session
    • volunteer to be on a committee

Basically all the different things you do at work are things you will be able to put on your resume and talk about in an interview. You are much more attractive to a potential employer if you have already done things that they expect you do in the job (i.e collections, instruction, reference etc…)

II. Network

This was probably the most difficult part for me, but also the most profitable when it came time to get a job. I am not a schmoozer, but networking isn’t just about walking up to librarians out of the blue and introducing yourself. Most library schools have programs set up to help with this. My library school had what is called “partners week,” which allows students to meet and shadow a librarian for an afternoon (I got a job at one of the places that I did a partners week). There are also practicums, and I know several people hired at the library where they did their practicum. I made it my policy to have worked at, or at least met someone from every academic library in the city. Take advantage of the opportunities presented to you to meet librarians, you don’t need to give them your resume. Just chat with them. It might make a huge difference in the future if you are a face, and not another name at the top of a resume.

III. Research

Research is another great way to network. Although most people do not do research for networking purposes, it was a very effective way to meet librarians.  For myself, I was a research assistant for a professor, and was on a research team with the HR manager of a huge library system in my area.  In addition, I was able to meet librarians from across the country when presenting my research at various conferences.  And these are the two ways to get involved in research:

  1. Work as a research assistant
    • you will be on a research team
    • you might get to present at conferences
    • you might get your name on a publication
  2. Conduct your own research
    • You can really impress librarians who see your research at a conference
    • conferences are a great place to meet potential employers
    • publish your work: this looks good on a resume and shows a dedication to evidence based practice
    • try to pick a topic that is timely and relevant

IV. Volunteer

Volunteer for student council, the curriculum committee, or even a student club. All of this looks good on a resume.

V. School

School has proven to be the least important component to getting a job for me. Don’t take school too seriously. Very few (lets say no) jobs are going to ask for your transcript. I’ll put this bluntly: you grades don’t matter for anything other than scholarships. In fact, I recommend focusing on your coursework less, and focusing on work and research more as these have proven more profitable to me in the long run.

Having said that, I would attempt to take relevant courses. Don’t fill your schedule with children’s literature if you want to be an academic librarian (conversely don’t forget to take children’s literature if you want to be a children’s librarian). Get what you can out of school. Use it to fill gaps in your skill set. Make sure you get some technology skill such as web design, html, css, php etc… Many jobs, even entry level jobs expect new people to have technology skills and be able to jump right in on a website redesign project.

I hope you found this advice helpful. If not sorry, it’s jut what worked for me and I thought I’d share.

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3 Responses to Advice for MLIS Students

  1. Ivy says:

    Hi Dana,
    I’m glad you are working and enjoying your new profession.

    It’s a bit scary to realize that we share interests in cosmology, origin of the universe, and religion. Scary, for me, because I don’t know you very well, but when I read your blog, it’s too close to home. Brrr….and being a ‘lefty’….Thank god (I’m an atheist), I don’t care for cycling at all.

    I don’t know if you are interested, or have already read these:

    God is not great by Christopher Hitchens
    Natural Selection. Selfish Altruists, Honest Liars, and Other Realities of Evolution by David Barash
    The Shallows. What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nacholas Carr
    Kluge. The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus
    Survival of the Sickest…by Sharon Moalem
    And two quite old, but wonderful, books. I’m biased though. Almost nobody reads them anymore, but they were a must for educated people in Poland a million years ago.
    – Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm
    – Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

    Best,

    Ivy Berent

  2. Jason Wong says:

    Hi Dana,

    All very notable suggestions, although I would expand on (IV) and add that one should take upon volunteer commitments with due consideration for the tasks, duties, and responsibilities involved with them, and to act as professionals in these positions.

    In the context of volunteering, those that merely sign-up and a.) do absolutely nothing, b.) perform their duties lazily, or c.) fail to understand the context of their committee are actually doing a disservice to their fellow volunteers and the constituents that they are supposed to represent. As boring as committees may be, this where decisions that affect the school and your student experience are hashed out and made. As demanding as student organizations may be, this is where contributing to the holistic student experience occurs. As small scale as student council may be, this is where the bridge between school and students is built.

    Indeed, volunteer opportunities are different from paid employment, but you nonetheless get what you put into it. In addition, you’re going to be working with fellow colleagues, future co-workers, and/or current LIS professionals on these groups, and as we all know, first impressions are quite enduring in the field.

    ~Jason Wong

  3. Excellent point Jason. Volunteering is serious. Committees often have quorum and if you do not show nothing gets done (actually the meeting might be cancelled).

    I think Jason’s point “act as a professional” pretty much applies to every point i made too. Don’t just take advantage of partners week, dress up, act like a professional, and make a good impression. Don’t do crappy research, that is unprofessional. Don’t just present at a conference, act like a professional, which means preparing and doing a good job (and looking like a professional is part of it too don’t show up at a prestigious conference in jeans and a t-shirt). Basically in all your interactions in library land, be they school, work, volunteering, networking, or research, act as a professional.

    Thanks for your comments Jason. Very good points.

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