From the mailbag! A reader asked me about library school programs. This is my (paraphrased) answer. People seem hesitant to write in to Boss of You, but maybe I’ll achieve my dream of becoming LibraryLand’s Agony Aunt yet!
Okay, first of all, before I can answer this question in good conscience, I have to ask: are you really sure you want to go to library school and be a librarian? The job market is tight and being a librarian is nothing like what you see in popular media. Look at job ads. Read some library list-servs and blogs. (But not New-Lib because those people are pathetic whiners.) If you haven’t yet, try to work in a library for a semester or summer or AT THE VERY LEAST try to job shadow a librarian for a day in the type of library you want to work at. Really realize what you’re getting yourself into before you invest your time and money in a degree.
There are far too many people in the biz who became librarians because it was a “safe choice” and/or they had no where else to go. (I also see this commonly with people who go to law school.) Librarianship is far too important of a profession to be stuffed with people just phoning it in. Librarians preserve and protect the worlds knowledge for future generations – yes, even “Fifty Shades of Grey” counts – and they defend the right of the current generation to access it. It annoys the ever-loving shit out of me to see its ranks stuffed with people who really want to be a college professor or fiction author or who otherwise couldn’t hack it in “The Real World” use it as their landing place. You wanna know why the outside world doesn’t respect librarians? Because a lot of librarians don’t consider it to be a valuable profession either – it was just their fall back choice. There’s nothing wrong with just doing a job for a paycheck, but stay the Hell out of my profession if you want to do it.
Sorry, got off on a little tangent there.
So, about library schools…in my opinion, the two main factors you should look at are (1) how much it’s going to cost you to get the degree and (2) how many opportunities for getting real world experience – either a paying job or internships – are you going to be able to get while there. ALA accreditation is a given and I wouldn’t even look at schools without it.
Why are those my top two criteria? Easy. One, no matter what type of librarian you become, your salary will be laughably low for someone with a master’s degree. Do the math. If you’re shelling out 40 or 50 grand for tuition for a degree (on top of whatever you paid for your undergrad degree) that’s going to get you a 25 – 30K a year job…well, you’re gonna be in for a bad time. Try to find a cheap option for you – either get your employer to pay for it, go to an in-state school or go where you can get a good scholarship.
Secondly, there are some practical skills and knowledge learned in library school, but for me, as a former public services librarian, the most important lessons on “How to Be a Librarian” were learned in the jobs I had in libraries while I was earning my MLS. Granted, I haven’t looked at a library school text in a while, but I’m pretty sure skills like “How to give directions to the bathroom” “How to fix staplers” “How to say no to a yelling professor that really wants to take that extremely rare and fragile book to his office” “How to wake up a sleeping homeless person” and (everyone’s favorite) “How to approach someone that’s – ahem – enjoying some pornography at a public computer terminal” are not covered in books. You have to learn by watching more experienced librarian doing it and by doing it yourself. Future employers appreciate and look for practical experience as well.
On a secondary level, despite what’s written above, classes are important. Look at the catalog to see what’s offered by the school. MORE IMPORTANTLY, look at the past few semester’s recent course offerings to see how often they’re offered. Sometimes it’s a “every other spring semester” sort of thing and given the shortness of an MLS program, you may miss out on the chance to take it. And as far as professors go, personally I always preferred adjuncts or people that had actually worked in a library setting for a while before going full-time LIS professor. Practical knowledge >>>>> theory.
I wouldn’t worry about the ranking of the program, unless you’re going for a highly specialized type of librarian gig. For instance, in my sphere of librarianship, there are a couple of programs that are renown for their law librarianship programs. It would probably be worth shelling out the dough if it means that you are almost guaranteed a job and have a tight professional cohort for the rest of your career. *cough* UW Mafia *cough*
I hope that helps. If anyone has any extra tips, feel free to drop a comment.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30976576@N07/ (Batgirl was a librarian, dontcha know?)