Should I Become A Librarian?


bolo writes "I am 35 years old with BA in English that hasn't taken me anywhere special. My wife and I are expecting a child in four weeks (yikes!), and I'm feeling a strong need for a stable, respectable, professional career that will help keep my family off food stamps. A couple of months ago, while brainstorming career options, librarianship hit me like a sucker-punch, and the idea of becoming a librarian has been been buzzing around in my brain since then. I *love* books (I've worked mostly in bookstores since college) and libraries, I'm fascinated by the issues involved (media, media literacy, information access, community, archiving, copyright, etc.), and cataloging actually sounds fun to me! I think librarianship is noble, important, cool, and could expand wildly in the 21st century. My problem is this. Library school would be a big investment of money for us--my wife and I are already working on a decent-sized debt. I don't feel like I'm in a position to spend money/get into further debt for a career that isn't at least reasonably secure and renumerative. In short, I make just under $30K a year now, and I need to make more fairly soon, with prospects for more in the future. I'm willing to work hard in library school--get involved in organizations, volunteer, go to conferences, etc.--so I can become a more appealing job candidate, but I need to know that I'm not spending time, energy, money, and heart on a career that will disappoint me. SO, my question is mostly to recent (5 years or less) library school grads: What has your experience been? What is the job market really like? (I'm beginning to get that the "librarian shortage" is a myth.) How many people are applying for the jobs I see on How many of these jobs go to recent MLS's? What about jobs outside of libraries? Is an MLS really applicable to any work outside libraries? Was library school worth it? Are you paying off your loans? Is Google slowly killing libraries? Is lack of funding helping?"


I used to recruit lots of people to the profession, but I only suggest it to those who have mobility. I've seen a lot of people get degrees who want to stay put, and not get their money's worth out of their degree.

I'm about a year away from my MLS and I will echo what everyone says about being mobile. I'm not, so I'll take what I can get. I currently work in a "paraprofessional" position in youth services. It's a part-time job and when I get my MLS--actually before that, I'll be looking for both full time and fully professional work. Wherever I can in my metro area...But on the plus side for me, I've been able to be in school part time, work part time, and be a mom full-time.Look into programs first of all, in your state. You might be able to go part time. And there may very well be scholarships. The connections you make in graduate school--both with your instructors and fellow students will probably serve you well.LIS relies on many other disciplines for its theory base, so you'll be exposed to a lot of material that may be new to you. I find being in school bracing, but I'd been one of those stay-at-home moms for too long.Good luck!Erika

If it's what you really want to do with your life, and you feel you can get by if you do it, then go for it. But I started looking for work in November 2004, received my MLS January 2005, and got a job February 2006. Mobility is relevant, here -- I did receive an offer six months into my job search which I turned down because it was an extremely difficult commute and the job, while good enough, wasn't right enough to justify the commute, and I was unwilling to move. But I had a resume that made every professional librarian who saw it say, "Wow, with your tech experience, you'll be snapped up in a heartbeat!", and I looked for jobs (in academic and public, full time and part-time, terrific and not-so-terrific) for for 15 months. Other friends of mine took the MLS off the resume to land their first jobs.

Also, many librarian jobs that exist aren't really about books, so you may want to do some information interviews with librarians to see if you'd enjot doing what they do.

I agree with Rochelle, Blake, etc. I graduated this past December and was offered a position just after the new year. I'll be quite honest--I think I was really lucky to find a position this quickly. Most do not. I think the average is about 10-12 months following graduation. I expected to find a couple of part-time positions and hopefully be able to juggle them.

I have a small family--husband and one teenager. Being the "big money maker" of the family for the past several years, I pretty much told the other two that we might, in fact, need to move. Husband agreed (he works part-time) and of course the kid objected. But that was the way it was going to be. The good news is, I do not have to move. The downside is, I commute 160 miles round trip 5 days a week. Not a bad drive, but it definitely cuts into your leisure time and I really feel it by the end of the week. Traffic in this part of my state is very manageable and I'm pretty relaxed and fun to be with by the time I get home. I've listened to tons of books on CD over the past few months! Another thing to consider--my kid is a teen. If she was still in grade school or a baby, I would not have considered this job--actually, probably would not have bothered with library school. But I also came from a fairly well paying career and could have stuck with that if need be. You might want to think about that--this is your first kid and trust me, it's an adjustment for you and your wife.

Salary--basically a lateral move for me ($38,000--pretty average for entry level academic reference). Benefits are great though!

Loans--not applicable, my former employer paid for most of it (I worked for a large public library system). Maybe you should check out tuition reimbursement options at local libraries?

Library school--Loved it! Took one class at a time for the most part, finished in about 3.5 years. Big drain on my free time, though. Doing the practicum was also hard since I was working 40 hours a week. But it was all temporary and manageable. Also, very helpful on my resume and in creating a network of contacts.

Job market--Pretty rough for many. I have no idea when that is going to change. I don't think the ALA or anyone else can honestly give an answer. Again, if you can move, keep it as an option. Frankly, the week before I was offered my present job, I was preparing my cover letter for a public position out state, another for about 2 hours north of my hometown and was looking at an academic position out state. Had I followed through and been offered something at one of those places, we would have moved, no question about it. As it stands, I put up with a minor inconvenience of commuting an hour and 20 min. a day--and in a couple of years I'll have some experience behind me and just maybe, something interesting will open up closer to home. But I'm not depending on that either. Fortunately, I love where I'm at and can see myself staying here awhile.

This has become very long so I'll stop now! Good luck with your baby (take time to enjoy her/him) and with your future endeavors!

Like you my BA is in English, and one summer after working a variety jobs, none of which appealing as a long-term career, I too experienced a sucker-punch, ah-ha moment at the thought of librarianship.

Aspects of the profession that pulled me in hook line and sinker include information access and management, information literacy instruction, service, intellectual freedom, and patron privacy.

It was also an extremely good match for my partner and me because my partner is in academia and has to go where the jobs are. Fortunately, every state we moved to has had at least one academic and one public library.

The down side is that salaries are low. With my partner and I both working in academia, with our respective school loans, mortgage payments, and trying to save for retirement (ha, ha!), we live a simple life that is very dependent on both paychecks. After five years, my salary is still just under 40k.

What has your experience been?
I graduated with an MLS 5 years ago, and have since worked in a public library, a law library, as well as at a small private university and at a medium-sized public university. I like working in academic libraries best, but my experience at different libraries has been invaluable.

If you are leaning towards academic libraries though, be aware that some require a second master's degree, which means another hefty time/money investment.

What is the job market really like?
I have changed jobs a lot due to my partner's move from adjunct positions, to 1-year appointments, and finally, to a tenure track position.

Each time we have moved, I have had absolutely no problem finding a job. Usually, I have put in 1 or 2 applications, and landed a position right away.

Was library school worth it?

Are you paying off your loans?
Yes. Despite the fact that I received a very generous scholarship from my library science program, I still have a five figure debt (none of which is from undergrad).

Is Google slowly killing libraries?
Libraries as the first place for information yes, libraries as place, no. Where I work now, our book circs, and reference questions have dropped, but our gate count is up.

Is lack of funding helping?
Lack of funding is a huge issue, and is not helping libraries evolve at all! I left one position right before I would have been laid off, and at another position a vacant position was not filled.

Final Thoughts
As a librarian I have a profession and a career that I love. It is disheartening that the salaries are so low, but at this point, we’re making it and I would still rather be happy than working for money at a job I dislike.

Library school was worth it for me, but every time so far I've gotten a new job I've moved across the country. Also, I was lucky enough to be a resident in a state that had a great LIS School and I was able to get an assistanship, work my way though school and not have to pay tuition. I'd feel VERY hesitant about taking on loans to get a LIS degree. If this is a possibility, you might want to see about getting a job at a library as a staff member (not a library position). Some libraries provide assistance for staff who go to library school, and you would also be getting work experience in libraries that would help greatly when you are out of school and applying for jobs.
English and History BAs are some of the most common undergrad degrees for librarians, so that might not help much if a library is looking for someone with additional subject background along with a LIS degree.

You might want to read this article, n02/sproles_c01.htmThe article analyzes job ads in American Libraries from 1982-2002 to examine the state of entry-level librarian job ads. It also has an interesting bibliography and lit review if you want to read more about the entry-level librarian job market.The author's main conclusion is "Experience gained on the job either before or while obtaining a professional degree does appear to be almost mandatory in order to qualify for most advertised positions. The data also infers a steady decrease in on-the-job training. Applicants seeking to enter the profession without paraprofessional experience will find themselves at a major disadvantage. New hires in professional positions do not receive the amount of training as in years past."I agree that being very geographically mobile is your best bet in a limited entry-level market, if that's not something you can imagine then you might be better putting your librarian dreams on hold for now. There are various other positions that are related to librarianship you might consider,such as a career with a library vendor or software company (Blackwell's, Sirsi, OCLC, YBP). I have no idea if this job market is any better, but there are 2 years programs you can take in conservation/museum studies, etc. would allow you to work in some libraries as a specialist.Good luck.

I agree with Rochelle. If you are currently earning less than $30,000, by all means you can make more and find a job fairly quickly. I was hired part time before leaving library school and full time within 6 weeks - at just under $50KBUT YOU MUST MOVE! There were tons of people in my library school who had entered librarianship as a second career, already owned a home, had kids in school etc. and were stunned to find there weren't any library jobs within a ten minute drive of library school! Guess what? If you want a job, you have to move to where there isn't a fresh crop of new grads every 4 months!As for making school cheap, my suggestion is to go to my alma mater, UWO. Being in Canada, the tuition is low, even for international students, and the co-op option means you work while earning your degree. Of course, distance ed is always an option, but I think you lack the networking connections doing it that way - only a good choice if you are already employed in libraries and want to move up.As for whether there is a shortage, that's a yes/no answer. Every profession in the Western World has an upcoming shortage (nurses, teachers, accountants, lawyers, etc.) as baby boomers will retire. Some will be replaced, some won't. It's our responsibility to make our profession invaluable, we can't simply rely on demographics to do that for us.

I did not want to move and thought librarianship would allow me to do this. I had read a number of articles saying that librarianship would become a hot field due to the large number of librarians retire. I have been out of school for almost a year and a half and still only have a part-time librarian position. I have given up on the field and returned to school for more education.If you can move than you will most likely find a job. Everyone that I know that has found a job has needed to relocate. There are opportunities out there. If you can find a cheap MLS program loans may not be that onerous. Or find a graduate assistant position at the school you attend. This will pay for your education and you will get a stipend!Find out more about the field. It's a nice job but don't come into the position thinking you will become rich. There can be stress but that is typical with any job. Talk to an academic or public librarian. See if you can spend some time on the desk with them. It's a big decision and actually speaking to working librarians may help your decision. Talk to a librarians that like there job and ones that don't. This will help you make the right choice.

I agree with Rochelle, you really need to be portable and not expect to make $65k the first year you graduate.>>What has your experience been?Good, very good. I've been very lucky.>>What is the job market really like?So-So. If you can move you should be fine. You need to have something on your resume that sets you apart and you'll be fine.>>(I'm beginning to get that the "librarian shortage" is a myth.)Yes!>> Is an MLS really applicable to any work outside libraries?It is, especially if you can do geeky stuff like program or any heavy lifting with computers.>>Was library school worth it?Yes, it's worked out very well for me so far.>>Are you paying off your loans?heh, slowly.>>Is Google slowly killing libraries?heh, slowly.>>Is lack of funding helping?It's just one part. Google, politics, computers, funding, taxes and so on. I don't know if public libraries are in big trouble for sure yet, but it doesn't look good to me at this point, but I've been told I'm wrong.

In addition to what others have already posted, there are some other options. I am just about to graduate from an online program which enabled me to work full-time and attend school at night. I have no loans to repay, and have been working in a small public library, moving up the ladder since before I started school. My job is secure, and I have made many local contacts should I ever want different experience. Take a look at the online programs, there are several without residency requirements (treat all students as residents for purposes of tuition cost).

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