Non-Traditional Roles in LIS

Research Analyst.  Yup, no “librarian” in that title.  Yet, it’s my current job title.  And it is the job title of my 6 other colleagues.  They all of have MLIS degrees (and very soon so will I!)  Now I’ve discussed my role in a previous post on special libraries.  So I won’t go into that again.  But what I did want to talk about is this whole idea of using the skills taught in the MLIS degree and how you can apply them to positions outside the “typical” library setting.

As students, how prepared do you feel to pursue alternative information-professional jobs?  Do you have a sense of where to look for them?  How you would market your skills?  Do you feel as though you have a good enough understanding of how non-library organizations work in order to find where your skills could add value?  Do you feel that you are prepared to work in a non-library organization or corporate setting?  Do you feel you understand how these types of organizations may operate?

Earlier this week I had the great opportunity to discuss this post with Kim Dority.  She writes a blog called The Infonista and there she explores some of these very issues and was kind enough to assist with some of the above questions and thoughts.  She, along with her running a consultant business, teaches two courses at the University of Denver – “Alternative Career Paths for Librarians” and “The Corporate Information Environment” where she deals with some of the questions and issues posed above.  Do you have courses like these in your program?  Do you wish you did?  Where/how could they fit into the MLIS curriculum?

According to an IDC study put out in 2009, “looking forward, the Digital Universe is expected to double in size every 18 months. In 2012, five times as much digital information will be created versus 2008.”  That’s a lot of information.  Hm.  Seems like a job for a librarian….  And I would guess that much of this digital information is being created in the non-library world.  Now how do you take your skills and convince these organizations that these are the types of skills they need to thrive in the information future?

Courtney Walters currently works as an administrative assistant at a private university in its Teacher Ed Curriculum library.  Again, no “librarian” in that title.   Yet, from what she has described to me, she uses her “librarian” skills every moment of the day.  From circulation, acquisition, and reference to collection development and IT development and support for the department – she is functioning as, what I think we would all describe, as a librarian.  And while that may not necessarily be her job title, she has developed this role and has added true value to the library because of the skills she learned in her graduation program.

We posted an entry on the blog the other day about non-LIS blogs to read – as it seems to be important to look outside the field to “help inform and shape the future of LIS.”  It seems that reading these kinds of blogs may also give us a better understanding of how the skills we learn in the MLIS program can be helping us to perhaps get hired outside the traditional library field!

And then this brings me back to the questions above – if you were to get hired outside the traditional library field – would you feel prepared for that?  Could you feel comfortable negotiating a salary?  Understand the hierarchy of the company?  Know what to even wear?  I’m not suggesting that the MLIS degree come with a personal style course but sometimes these even seemingly trivial ideas can be a real hindrance to success in any organization.

I know I’ve posed a lot of questions but I really feel this is a valuable discussion to be having, especially as “traditional” roles are changing everyday.  What are your thoughts?

21 replies

  1. This is an important topic to think about and discuss. I came into my MLIS program without ever having worked in a library. It was the topics covered and the skills learned that interested me. When I graduate in June I’m not entirely sure I want to work in a library. That’s why I always try to use the term “information professional” when discussing what I’m doing or where I’m going.


  2. I’d like to know what others think – but I think people have different LIS experiences depending on whether they attend an iSchool or an MLIS program. I went to the UW iSchool and I felt like our classes were open to discussing INFORMATION in different aspects of professional life. We weren’t strictly focused on libraries – even in some of the classes that had the word Library in the title.


  3. I work as a technical writer for a software development company. I organize and compile data for our users. I’ve found a lot of my courses directly relate to my work here. Obviously, the materials courses don’t. lol But the information courses definitely suit my work.


  4. Honestly, I am uncomfortable calling my [almost-finished] MLIS an “MLIS” – the Library part of & Information Studies seems restrictive. Having had only four of the Florida State University core courses that, honestly, even deal with libraries, I find it pigeonholing. The way I market myself is predominately as an information professional or, if I have to, a digital librarian. I specify my degree by my track of study, Master’s in Information Architecture with emphases in Technology & Networking and Web Design. I am sensitive about being associated with books, since I’m not all that sure that I want anything to do with a bookish library. Rather, I believe in libraries as community tech centers, more about public access and instruction rather than circulation. I am also consciously aware that libraries are not where the money is, and as a new dad and a gadget-freak, I want money. Making myself as valuable as possible in the corporate world is almost as big a priority as being valuable in the library / academic world. /candid


  5. I think that the MLS, which essentially prepares us to deal with information, is the kind of degree that can be applied in different professional contexts…particularly when you consider that MLS students already have at least an undergraduate degree and perhaps a few years of good-old-fashioned work experience under their belt before they even enroll. I think ‘transferable skills’–to use an interviewy word–are the kind of meta, information-processing, and organizational skills that the MLS is all about. I don’t know if I’ll end up in a traditional library, but I think I’ll be better prepared to pick up some of the old career threads–in education or administration–as a result of what I learned in Library School.


  6. I never pledged to work in a library strictly as a “librarian” when I applied to GSLIS – it’s a relief to see I’m not alone. The more I speak to people inside and outside LIS, and the more experience I get, the more I realize how useful LIS skills are to other jobs/careers. So often, I’ve learned something useful either in classes or just by my proximity to the profession (August is so close!) that people are surprised and pleased to find out I can help them with or just understand, especially when it comes to the technology side. Many of the principles and methods of librarianship hold up across different job descriptions and titles. The same is true of law and business, except those are much more expensive degrees! The next question, I guess, is whether our degrees can pay off the way those do, and that’s where negotiating your salary comes in.


  7. (Nora is my intern. And no she was not required to post here for the internship!)

    This is an area that I think is definitely under-represented in LIS curriculum. As more types of businesses move to “information-based” utilities, it only makes sense that we, the information professionals, would begin to move into those careers. I think anything I would say on this topic Michael said above. I hate to get on a pedestal here, but I truly believe that a working knowledge and understanding of digital humanities scholarship and practice will be fundamental to LIS programs in the future. I’m planning/researching an article on this exact topic that I will be submitting to Library Student Journal this summer, titled “Alt-LIS OR Why the Digital Humanities Matters to Library School Students.”


  8. Micah just basically said what I wanted to say – I, too, feel like this is something that is not explored enough by MLIS professionals.

    I think that there is a place for non-library MLIS instruction in schools, but I also think that this is an arena where (a) student groups and (b) informational interviews/personal exploration come in. Amalia doesn’t want to be a traditional librarian, and it’s AWESOME that she’s exploring the other options.

    I also think that the more we go out into non-library settings, the more people will learn to value and develop their own info management skills.


  9. Per Heidi’s comment: My experience with online classes has been a mixed bag: definitely large emphasis on information, but discussion, assignments, etc., but all tend to circle back around to traditional library spaces. It can be difficult at times when you want to analyze the topic at hand in contexts outside the usual public/school/academic triangle.

    So to answer the post’s question, “Do you feel that you are prepared to work in a non-library organization or corporate setting?”, I can answer Yes, but my answer is a result of prior work experience and learning. Many things that interest me just fall outside of traditional library settings and I want to keep my options way open to the wide world of job options out there; so like Michael above, I’ve been tailoring my classes as much as possible with that knowledge in mind and supplementing with workshops, internships, books, etc.

    I agree with Micah about Digital Humanities, especially with many new DH programs popping up — and when you look at their programs, you find that many of their courses are already LIS classes. It seems such an obvious place for LIS programs to be reaching toward, but academia is also a big heavy ship to move, so unsurprisingly, it can take a while. Many science organizations also hold potential for LIS folks, like DataONE (, which basically brings scientists and info/library scientists together for open-access data-sharing efforts.

    BTW, Kim Dority also wrote a book called _Rethinking Information Work_ that many who have commented might like: . There’s probably little that many here haven’t thought about already, but the book is well-considered, and, as Amalia said, it’s nice to know you’re not alone.


  10. Although I have an MLS, I have never had a traditional librarian position. My first related position was as a librarian/historian to a non-profit organization. I am now a digital/electronic librarian planning and implementing a large-scale digitization program for a shooting sports company.


  11. John- it sounds like you’ve had some interesting experiences! Do you feel that you’ve been able to use skills you learned during your degree program in your non-traditional roles? Have you had to sell those skills a bit more to your employees because you aren’t in a non-traditional role? Hope I haven’t put you on the spot 🙂


  12. I’m curious, were the companies who were hiring for the non-traditional library jobs specifically looking for someone with an MLS degree? Or did you have to persuade them that library skills were a good match for the job requirements? I have seen some jobs posted that didn’t mention an MLS, but nevertheless looked like a good match for someone with an MLS.


    • Beverly- that’s exactly what I think needs to happen at times. There are jobs out there that may not be hiring someone with an MLIS but that may be because they don’t realize how well the skills we have could match up with what they are looking for. If that makes sense!


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