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Jobs for the MLIS other than a Public Librarian

One of the listservs that I subscribe to recently asked the question of what other jobs can i consider now that I have an MLIS (library degree) other than a library job.

See below for the responses and ideas! (And, I'm not at all surprise that the conversation takes a turn towards federal government libraries and environments.)

If you have other suggestions -- which I'm sure you do! -- add them as a comment.

Original Question:
Are there other good applications, in fields that actually have jobs, for an MLIS other than working in public libraries, particularly without needing to get a second master's degree? I understand that academic librarianship often requires an additional subject master's, law libraries sometimes require a JD in addition to an MLIS, etc. Basically I am just re-evaluating my career plans here before I proceed any further with additional student loan debt for my MLIS, making sure that there will be other applications for this degree that would have available positions and wouldn't require an additional master's degree.


Sure. There are always independent options (information broker, etc). I've considered these options myself as I don't particularly care for the public library and being an independent soul by nature, I might really enjoy it.

If you can do research, write well and work hard, you can get a job somewhere. This is because most college graduates don't write worth a fig, and nobody knows what research means. I make a good living figuring things out. What kind of things? Anything they want, and lots they didn't know they wanted. Get into some firm. Show them what you can do. They'll keep you.

What kind of job titles would these be? In my pre-library life I was a writer and editor, and I absolutely LOVE research. A job that combined writing and research would probably be my dream. I just have no idea where to begin to find such a job.

Technical writer is one I've seen a lot of.

Okay. Go to Monster.com right now. Type in "writer." See what comes up. Apply for grant-writing, tech writing and similar positions.

Do the same for "researcher," "analyst" and such.

Now I get to take a stab at my colleagues, which is always fun. You will often note that these jobs call for a lot of the sort of computer/programming skills that have a lot of letters. Sometimes you will see that they want a lot of statistical knowledge. Take this from me: you don't have to worry about that too much, and if they push it, you're better off working somewhere else. In the end, that sort of place will hire some dude who doesn't speak English but who can write code--and in the end, all they'll have is a lot of code.

Here is where your humanities grad shines. The boss needs an actual analysis of a customs law, not an exercise in data mining or a math project from hell. So do the reading and give her that. Amazingly enough, most business work is done in actual ordinary English writing. Of course, there are about three people in the country who can still write above an 8th-grade level, so you're golden.

Now that I'm on a roll, let me introduce you to the list of things nobody tells you aren't needed very much in modern bus-il-ness: the MBA. Computer programming skills. Math above arithmetic. Ever wonder what they did in business before WWII, when few administrators had gone to college? Somehow the fabric of the nation survived unrent. We even won the Big One with high school grads, but then, they taught writing in the schools. Did I mention that librarians read better books, too? But let that pass.

At any rate, your job is not to create numbers or puzzles--that's done for you. Your job is to take the results and write them up. Here's a useful exercise: you have an hour to describe the difference between the divorce laws of America and those of Britain. Your boss wants to know if he can file there and keep all the property. Take another hour and tell me whether prevailing wage laws are beneficial, from three different standpoints. If you can really write, you should be able to crank out 1,000 words and have half an hour left over. On the other hand, if you can't, maybe you can do a spell of data mining and show me how often the terms "divorce" and "britain" come up in searches every day. Do this sort of writing every day and you'll become bullet-proof to your employer. Do it without being asked, anticipating the old boy's needs, and you'll be a partner in two years. Learn to program computers and you'll be competing with some guy working out of a lean-to in Mumbai.

Send Kraft foods an analysis of their future markets in a part of the world they don't operate yet. Send your Representative a strategy for her next campaign. What the heck, you've got nothing else to do, and you are, after all, a writer.

Shoot, brother, if librarians would do some of this sort of thing they'd be (as the kids say) way further ahead. And if I have by chance slighted the math or computer communities by simplifying their jobs or diminishing the nature of their skill sets, I will apologize as soon as they lose the funny colored hair.

I do fun research and writing all day long as an archivist; it's why I love it. I get to dig into our collections for researchers who can't come visit us on site, work with those who are able to come and I pick selections to write about (you're welcome to visit our work blog on http://amovablearchives.blogspot.com). Generally I find out some sort of amazing fact every day. While I do have a second MA, it's not in anything related (and most other archivists I know just have one master's degree - either in library science or history, with a very few having both). Jobs are thin on the ground at the moment, but places like NARA are always hiring (and not just in DC).

We also get a lot of independent researchers who have been hired by television companies ('Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman' was actually inspired by our collections), publishers and individuals looking to
pay someone else to put together their family history. If you don't
mind the freelance life, there's definitely work available in those lines, judging from the number of researchers we're getting lately.

I certainly never had a goal of working in a public library and couldn't love what I do more.

When I started the program 3+ years ago, I /did/ think I was going to be a reference librarian in a public library. A year of doing that part-time has disabused me of that notion. I just don't have the temperament to do that every day. My first career was software engineer (no offense taken, MM) and my natural inclination is to show people how to find books and articles themselves, but most of them don't want to know. So much of the time I am a glorified store clerk and go fetch it for them.

I love libraries, I'm very comfortable working alone, I like variety, I live 2 miles from a university library, I love doing research, but I don't love having to choose a topic. I would be very happy--I think!--in a situation where people came to me with their research questions. In fact, my ideal of a librarian is still Bunny Watson ("Desk Set," 1957). My fear of a corporate librarian position has to do with not having the variety I need, and ending up in a rut.

I have a J.D. I haven't used much. I'm beginning to imagine a job as a research librarian for a law office doing a variety of legal work (always for the "good guys," of course), or maybe for the large pharmaceutical company down the road. Biotech is supposed to be a good field right now, too, and it can't all be outsourced as long as we still have a functioning FDA.

(New Question)How much attention should be paid to the 3-5 years experience? Even before this subject came up on this list, that was what I'd seen in the bulk of the postings.

(Answer) Apply anyway. HR people have only two modes: 3 to 5 and 5 to 7. Sounds like you're being sentenced to the penitentiary. Just apply. Some knucklehead makes them include that, though often it won't be required.

"If you can do research, write well and work hard, you can get a job somewhere," claims poster.

Beg to differ--personal experience speaking here. Call it sour grapes if you will, but these are not stellar bullet points on a resume, at least in this economy. There are thousands of job-seeking librarians who can lay claim to those talents; there are thousands of job-seeking humanities grads who can; there are thousands of job-seeking journalists who can; there are thousands of job-seeking laid-off teachers, editors, and others who can. If you can claw your way to the second round of interviews, good on ya, but I wouldn't advise waiting by the phone.

This isn't meant as a personal attack on the poster. I guess it's nice to have that kind of optimism, especially if, as he or she implied, it's supported by experience.

So ANYWAY--to the original poster, I'd like to say that my experience closely mirrored yours. I suggest that you explore the tech services option. After two years in a public-services public library position where "reference" meant telling people where the bathroom was, I decided I'd be much better suited to cataloging and acquisitions instead. Working behind the scenes removes the most menial and social-worker-like tasks from the job description. Perhaps you could look into cataloging/metadata, acquisitions, collection development, or if you have IT knowledge, maybe a systems librarian type thing. Good luck!

The only place I've lived where these skills are truly valued (and by that, I mean that you can see ads where firms are looking for researchers/writers, not that the job will pay all that well, especially to start) is Washington, DC. (It is also probably the place that would have the most interesting jobs in libraries and museums -- federal institutions, though, not local. I would think working for the actual city in a public library would be quite challenging.)

But off the top of my head, DC firms that would want to hire people with research and writing skills would include think tanks, lobbyists, law firms, national associations, legislators, etc. -- all of which exist in great abundance in our nation's capital. It also happens to be an AWESOME city to live in, but very expensive.

IMO, getting a good job in this economy all comes down to being geographically mobile. I just moved 1500 miles for a starting position in librarianship, and I don't regret a mile. The only bad part now is figuring out how to sell our house in Michigan so that my husband can join me.


Quite true, that. I'm sure all archivists in the Dallas/Fort Worth area are lining up for jobs at the George W. Bush Presidential Library that will be located on the SMU campus. Even if you hated W's policies (as I did/do), you have to admit that it'd be awesome to work at a presidential library.

I have noticed the same thing about the DC area. I have been using www.DCJobs.com to look for openings. Their postings usually deal with information management positions. You could also try www.USAJobs.gov. The Government has a surprising amount of library jobs, but you are going to be open to relocating and be open to competition, they get thousands of applications a month.

I looked at usajobs.gov and started an account a few weeks ago. Most of those library jobs are just ongoing open reqs, so that they have a backlist of applications to look at as soon as there is an opening.
Still, it was a surprise to me to find that there were so many government libraries, especially at Air Force bases. That could be interesting work.

Academic librarian jobs do NOT often require a 2nd Masters. It is important you look at the job ads for the type of academic libraries you want to work, the position you would be interested in, and the geographies you would be interested. Requirements for academic librarians very greatly and the 2nd Masters is not as common in today's environment.

Also, many of the situations you describe even happen in academic libraries, but they are less common. Since we are serving a specific population and need, we can by the use of policies restrict contact with public patrons. And depending on the size of the library, the tasks you dislike may fall to a paraprofessional and not the librarian.

I recommend shadowing or interviewing a few academic librarians to get a good sense of what they do. It will also let you look at different types of academic settings and see what you like.

Posted by kkowatch at March 10, 2009 02:41 PM


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