Reader Anon writes:
I was hoping I could pick your brain a bit. I’ve been thinking about getting a grad degree in library/information science.
It would be a second career after nine years as a journalist. Would you mind if I asked a few questions? Talking to someone in the profession would really help with my decision. This is what I’m curious to find out.
1. What drew you to the profession?
2. Was it a mid-career change or did you go right into it?
3. How hard was it to make ends meet while going to grad school?
4. How difficult is the course work?
5. How was the job search once you graduated? I keep hearing the job outlook is bleak for recent grads and there’s a lot of competition.
6. What do you love most about your job?
Any help you can give with this would be great.
Thanks a bunch!
Best, [name withheld]
I’ll take these one at a time:
1. What drew me to the library profession was my lifelong love of books. It sounds lame and cheesy and I was even told in grad school that I should never ever under any circumstances say this at an interview but you know what? That’s Bullshit. I love books. Always have. Why should I hide or apologize for something I’m passionate about? If you aren’t doing something you love for a living, you’re wasting your life.
2. Becoming a librarian wasn’t quite a mid-career change as I was 25 and had only been working retail jobs since college. However, many librarians come into it as a second or third or fourth career. The more experience you have as a profeshional anything the better off you will be. Especially if you have other degrees. Journalism should do you well, especially if you want to work in a business or journalism library but even if you want to change careers entirely and go hard core academic or public service, you have a foundation on which to build. That’s a plus.
3. Paying the bills in Grad School can be a challenge but the same can be said in general. My wife had a job, which kept the power on but we were in two separate states at the time, and I was living with relatives. Still, you may need some part time job. I’d recommend either finding a workstudy job at whatever school you go to or some part time library job. Even if you’re just shelving books at your local public library for minimum wage, it looks good on the resume and counts as experience.
4. The coursework varies in difficulty. The core classes are the hardest as they are designed as a crash course in Library Science to wee d out anyone who has second thoughts. But compared to other academic courses, it’s not that hard. There’s lots of academic twaddle to put up with but it’s all part of the magical mystery language of the Library Science world. Once you learn the secret handshakes and lingo, you’ll be set.
5. The job search. This is the one giant myth that they feed you in grad school: that all the old fogies will be retiring any day now and you’ll have your pick of jobs. Bullshit. One of the major issues of the last few years is that there are virtually no entry level positions. Even library I positions at a public library want 3 years experience. But how do you get experience without a degree? Getting that first job is a challenge but it can be done. You aren’t going to get your dream job right out of the gate but that’s OK. Get those first 2 to 3 years and then you’ll be ready with a fully fleshed out resume to go form there.
Also: do internships. Any and all internships. Along with your part time job shelving books or whatever, this will help towards experience.
Also, also: find an older librarian to be a mentor. They will be able to give you the advanced advice you’ll need.
6. The best part of my job: I get paid to keep up with what new books are coming out, recommending titles to be purchased and generally staying abreast of what’s going on in several really fascinating fields. Currently, I work at an art library and so get to play with comic books. Bonus! But in general, there’s always something new to learn and getting paid to do research, read books and continue your self-directed education is awesome. This may vary from place to place but working at a library is great because it’s mostly low stress. No real deadlines or high stakes. That book will get cataloged today or tomorrow. And if not, it can always wait until Monday.
Hope this helps!