Thinking about Library School?

I just got CCed in an email yesterday in which a student was asking for advice and guidance about library school. The person he originally asked recommended me because she said I was more “forward thinking.” I think this meant that I had more thoughts about the future of librarianship than her. I was glad to answer these questions and give my insight on the profession of librarianship. Here are most of the questions he asked and my answers (a bit more polished than in the e-mail reply).


What career options are available for those interested in library science?

There are a wide range of career options depending on what you enjoy. I personally enjoy academic libraries, but there are also public libraries and special libraries which could include things like: corporate, medical, news, and art libraries to name a few. There are also options for becoming an archivist or curator. I have a lot of friends on the archivist track. Finally there are a number of emerging positions in research and knowledge management having to do with technology and being able to find and evaluate this great glut of information that we have now. There are a lot of different things that you can do with a Masters in Library and Information Science. You should not be held back by the word “library.” With an MLIS you have highly desirable information skills that can be applied in a number of different fields.

What tasks does someone in your field do?

There is some teaching, evaluating of sources, creating web pages, creating resources for library users, cataloging, collection development, answering questions…there is a lot of variety in the work. But the work is mainly customer service. All the tasks are ultimately aimed at the goal of serving our patrons.

To be successful in your field, what skills do you believe are necessary?

Customer service skills are probably the most important. The ability to learn new things quickly are also key. Librarianship is changing rapidly. It is not all card catalogs and rubber stamps anymore. There is a lot more technology involved and the ability to change and adapt will serve you very well in librarianship.

What aspects of a career in library science do you consider particularly good?

I enjoy the variety of the work and the ability to be constantly learning. I also like that it isn’t like a regular office job where you are rushing around with deadlines or trying to make a sale. You are not going to get your arm taken off in a circular saw. You may get carpal tunnel. It is much less stressful than other jobs that I have had. Moreover I enjoy the customer service aspect of it. When I am doing reference and I answer someone’s question it is very rewarding.

Are there any disadvantages associated with this career field? What are they?

The pay isn’t as much as some other fields but you can still earn fairly decent money depending on where you are working. The average starting salary for a new library school grad is around $40,000.

What particular interests led you to pursue a career in library science?

My interest in academics and learning were what originally led me to the field. Now that I am in it I am really excited about the emerging technologies that are becoming available and that are starting to get used in library science.

What future employment opportunities will there be for those interested in your field of work?

Libraries aren’t going away. They will change though, so you will need to be able to adapt. There are plenty of job opportunities, especially if you are willing to move around. They keep saying there are supposed to be a lot of older librarians retiring, but I haven’t seen it yet. There are a lot of medical advances and people just seem to keep working.

How do you see the jobs in the library science world changing over the next ten years?

This is an exciting time in librarianship. Everyone is speculating about what is in store for the future of libraries. I know that there will be more computer technology involved (e.g. Electronic databases, Web 2.0 stuff, Online catalogs, Library Websites, etc.). I am going to be optimistic and say that libraries by 2018 will have retained their same position in society as keepers, finders, and evaluators of information and probably even move more into creating and amalgamating resources to help their patrons. I think though that this next decade will be a time of rapid change and tough decisions. Some good leaders in the field will be necessary to navigate these changes.

What suggestions would you offer to someone interested in entering your field?

I think that you are doing the best thing right now. Asking professionals in the field is the best way to find out what is involved in librarianship and if you would like it or not. Getting a number of different opinions is good though. Here is a website giving the Top Ten Reasons for being a Librarian. And here is a corresponding blog post from the Annoyed Librarian (a humorous and scathingly honest librarian and blogger…scanning some of her blog posts can give some good insight into the darker side of the field).

Andy Burkhardt

Leave a Reply