A couple of weeks ago, someone asked in the ALA Think Tank about what MLIS program they should enroll in. They wanted to narrow down their search to a school that would allow them to do well in a museums and archives library. It didn’t take long for many people to answer her question in a few different ways and it got me to think about what made my Graduate program as San Jose State so successful for me. I thought I would share a longer post about my thoughts on getting the most out of your MLIS Program for your future career.
Don’t Pay Too Much!
I know a couple of librarians who paid to go to private institutions or otherwise very expensive schools to get their MLIS. I would advise you not to do this. The MLIS that you receive is pretty much the same no matter where you go and the big difference is the dept you have when you’re done. You probably won’t get paid more if you go to a prestigious school and the starting salaries for librarians are pretty sad. However, you might come out feeling well trained or that you got a good education, but most librarians I talk to and many of the ones that paid for those expensive schools said that they learned more in their first week on the job then their entire academic career. I would suggest (as sad as it is) to select your library program on price.
So what do the big schools have to offer if they’re so expensive? Well, a lot of those schools have professors or other contacts within the profession that will help you out later in your career. For example, Pratt has John Barry and his words of wisdom and mentoring have helped more than one librarian I know out of that school. But I’ll tell you this, many of these same people go to conferences and other events where librarians gather and you’ll do just as fine meeting them there. So the money you save from not going to those expensive schools can take you to conferences around the country where you get the same perks and the option to meet even more people!
If you can’t afford that then I would suggest joining Twitter, youtube, starting a blog, joining the ALA Think Tank, or another Facebook group, and connect with people there. In the end though, I would always suggest that you back up your online persona with your real one so at some point meet people face to face.
Make It Happen
Still don’t have the money to get to conferences? No problem, start your own meetups and gatherings for librarians in your area. For example, in the Bay Area there are three Meetup Groups for librarians. There is the Bay Area Librarians Group, the Information Amateurs Social Club, and the Information Professionals Social Club that put on events. But beyond just meetups and socials etc… you should just generally try to make it happen wherever you go. If there is something that you think that profession needs, just go ahead a do it! For example, Andy Woodworth created the People for a Ben and Jerry’s Themed Ice Cream Flavor, a bunch of people in SLIS made a Librarians do GaGa video that gained them notice in the profession, and there many other example. Basically, I’m saying make something awesome happen!
Schools typically have a student chapter of the ALA or various other leadership opportunities that you can take part in. These kinds of things look great on your resume and show that you’re taking a serious interest in your profession beyond the day to day job. If they don’t have one of these you can make it happen and start one.
Find an On the Job Opportunity
I know a couple of folks who didn’t work at all during their SLIS program and once they got out where surprised to find that employers want someone with some kind of experience. Please, I’m begging you, if you don’t take any of my advice, at least take this one! If you don’t have library experience prior to enrolling in your SLIS program then you need to volunteer, do an internship, find a library job as a page, or at the very least offer to wash a library’s windows or something! Here is a cool tip BTW – go to your local elementary or highschool districts and offer to volunteer in their libraries. Many of these are closing and you might get some pro-points by voluntarily running one. This is a rocky subject because these libraries SHOULD NOT be run by volunteers, but at least both parties get a little something out of it. If there are school librarians on campus they are usually way over worked, way underpayed, and in some cases they are not even librarians so they are even way undertrained. This place is a goldmine for exciting work that can show how important libraries are to these communities of students (but that’s another blog post)
In end, let me just reiterate what I said at the beginning – It doesn’t really matter what school you go to, but what you do with your time there.