Covering the Bases: a PhD's guide to becoming a librarian


The Chronicle of Higher Education's Career Network column features today an article by a humanities PhD who is now a librarian. He offers helpful hints for those who wish to follow in his path. #1 - have some library experience. #2 - get a MLS or equivalent from an ALA-accredited institution. Helpful hints to anyone looking for a librarian position, I would say!


We're a pretty cocky profession if we think an MLS is going to improve the research skills of someone with a PhD. Though the fact that he's willing to return to graduate school after already obtaining said PhD certainly points to an inability to learn on his part.

We could probably argue all day about the merits (or lack thereof) of the MLIS--I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree since I need to get some work done to pay off the degree! :-)

No, I would disagree.

A PhD does not necessarily equal library/bibliographic research knowledge. My husband (with PhD) relies on me to also guide him in research outside his discipline.

I worked as a reference librarian in an academic library for 10 years (and am now at a special library.) The most awful example of the inability to use the library: a really cocky computer science professor could not find a book in the catalog, and raised a stink. It turned out we had the book, he just couldn't figure out how to use the catalog. (How do I know this? His 14 year old son found the book for him and let me know :)

Not necessary? In my opinion its that experience that makes you a better a researcher then him and whats makes you a librarian period. The MLIS really has little to do with it.

I did a myriad of tasks: shelving, checking in, checking out, ILL processing, web design, legal research. The last one was kind of reference-y but most of it was strictly support staff stuff. It helped me have familiarity with the resources for sure, and I had a lot of exposure to the types of work that gets done in libraries. Which was the point of the article--this experience helps you be a better librarian. It's not necessary but it can help.

Wait a minute. You worked in a library for 10 years before you got your MLIS? Doing reference?

Well, in my opinion, and the opinion of the PhD that wrote this piece, getting in that reference state of mind was immensely helped by having a MLIS and also by my 10 years of library experience. I know that people without MLIS's and library experience CAN do reference and research, I'm just saying that those with MLIS's and experience are better at it.

Doesn't take long to get into a reference state of mind, especially if you do a lot of desk time.

I got my MLIS in August 2003, so not too long.

At least one of the author's hints was less than helpful. Namely, his recommendation of the discredited Gourman Report as a guide to "top ranked programs." See the references at the bottom of this page for example: htm

How long have you done reference though?

My spouse is just about done with the coursework for his PhD in political science, and I can run circles around him and his colleages when it comes to research--in fact I do a lot of my husband's research for him (I'd better get an acknowledgement in the dissertation!). What research skills they do learn are very narrow and discipline specific. They're good at recognizing worthwhile resources but they aren't too good at finding them. And I don't think it's just my spouse's school or classmates--the chair of the poli sci department where I now work says he has no idea how to run a basic card catalog search or use any of the databases.

"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

-Benjamin Franklin

PhDs don't do the same kind of research librarians do. Academics (the dedicated and honest ones, anyway) are out for every single scrap of information they can find on their subject, and they don't mind if it takes them months or years to accumulate it. Your typical librarian has to serve the needs of patrons who want their information complete, here, now, and in a convenient format.

I agree most of what you learn in an MLS programme is extraneous but that's true of every profession requiring post-graduate certification.

Actually, PhD students know how to research their topic, in thier field, pretty exclusively. And, if you've ever helped on work on their lit review before their dissertation, you'll see that they aren't all necessarily great at that, either.I left a PhD program to go to library school, and my research skills have been VASTLY improved by the experience.....

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