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.