Although libraries can be excellent and worthwhile places to work, I recommend that MLIS grads consider seeking work beyond the library’s doors because there is a strong need for their skills.
Do Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) graduates belong in libraries?
SOME WOULD ANSWER ‘YES’
Perhaps this misconception is encouraged by the name some graduates have chosen to adopt for themselves: librarian. One Digital Asset Management professional warns against labeling ourselves in such a way because society’s valuation of the role has diminished. I would like to disbelieve this, but the continuing evidence of budget cuts, staff reduction, and closures in the library sector does make the statement difficult to ignore. Could it be due to the name of the degree: Master of Library and Information Science? It is interesting to note that the San Jose State University department with which I am associated recently changed its name to the School of Information. Is it only a matter of time before the degree’s name is changed to Master of Information Science?
I turned to graduate school as part of a career strategy: I wanted to work in digital asset management (DAM), irrespective of the work environment I would eventually end up in. Several professionals in both DAM and media archiving suggested I attain a MLIS to broaden my future career options. They were right. After enrolling into the program, I have met MLIS grads who work for corporations, law firms, archives, universities, etc. My experiences within the last three years also attest to this advice: I have volunteered or worked for a library, a museum, a university and an ecommerce company. I am excited at the prospects that the future holds.
OPPORTUNITY IS KNOCKING, WILL YOU OPEN THE DOOR?
It is obvious that many sectors, especially publishing, need the skills traditionally held by librarians. Have a look at the 2014 New York Times Innovation Report. It proposes the creation of culture guides (p. 29), their description is strikingly similar to online pathfinders, or library research guides. Structuring content is also mentioned. Most MLIS grads know that this will entail taxonomy development, metadata modeling, and XML markup. These are subjects we have learned and excelled in.
Conversely, opportunities to work in libraries seem to be diminishing. A recent article by the Library Journal — discussed by several library professionals on their blogs (Müller, 2014; Annoyed Librarian, 2014) — presents data about dour job opportunities for newly minted MLIS grads in the library sector. Because supply currently exceeds demand library pay is low and full-time jobs are scarce. What can we do?
HELP MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
Many of us entered MLIS programs intending to work in a library. While some of us will achieve this goal, others will not. To my fellow students who have shown a genuine love of books and a commitment to ensure everyone has access to them I would like to say: consider applying your passion to an area outside of the library. Would you like to help patrons find the information they need and preparing content for future discovery and reuse. Sound familiar? That is what I get to do on a daily basis as a digital asset management professional. Should it matter whether content exists between the covers of a book versus being wrapped in a digital file container? The ALA Code of Ethics lists equitable access to usefully organized resources — irrespective of whether this information is digital or physical — among the first of its principles. There is now more digital data being generated than there are books being stored in the Library of Congress. The world needs our skills to manage and preserve all of its valuable material. Will you heed the call?
What do you label yourself? Do you think it has had an effect on people’s perception of you and the skills you offer?
I am definitely in favor of changing the name of the degree to Master of Information Science! The minute I say “library,” they tune out, adding that librarian positions are quickly fading…I’m not sure where I will end up, but I am happily plugging away 🙂 Best to you!!