Choosing a Specialization

Usually within the first few weeks of library school, you are asked what type of library you want to work in. If you’re like me, you might have had some vague idea of what you wanted to do before you started school. I had wanted to be an art librarian, and my first semester I geared many of my projects around art librarianship. Half way through my first semester, I switched gears and became more interested in digital libraries. You never know what will happen! However, not everyone has a clear idea of what area they want to specialize in and in reality, what you think you want to go into changes as you continue with your education. Many library schools offer specializations which can cater to your interests.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you figure out what interests you:
  • Be flexible – what your areas of interest are will probably change. Take classes in the subjects that sound interesting to you. It’s a good way to judge whether you’d really want to specialize in that or not. You might stumble upon a totally different path.
  • Interview other librarians – talk to someone who does what you want to do. My first semester, I talked to an art librarian and she gave me insight into her job duties as well as the types of reference questions she got. It helped me to see the difference in work settings. Most librarians are nice, helpful people and are usually willing to talk to students.
  • Test the waters – Try and get some experience in your area of interest. Think you want to be a children’s librarian but you’ve never worked with kids before? You should probably at least volunteer a couple hours to see if that’s what you really want to do. Perhaps you can do an internship. The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities will pop up that will interest you.
  • Check out professional organizations – There are tons of specialized organizations out there for different kinds of libraries. You can join them, sign up for emails, go to conferences, etc. They’re a good resource for finding out more information.

The best advice I have for those who are starting their library school journey is to just get your feet wet first. Get comfortable learning the librarian jargon and acronyms. Put your feelers out and see what might interest you. Nothing is final, you can always change your mind, but do remember that eventually you’ll want to focus your energy.

Feel free to add in more tips or questions. Figuring out what you want to do is truly a journey.

18 replies

  1. My current challenge is that I’m in a specialization track for youth services and I love it – but I’m increasingly interested and drawn to digital content management and digital/distance libraries. I’m too far along in my program to change, or even add a certification on. What sort of post-grad school options do I have for developing my digital interest in a way that’ll be taken seriously by employers?


  2. Great tips. Doing research, taking some new interesting-sounding courses, getting experience, and talking to librarians working in areas of interest are great ways to get a sense of what a specialized position will actually be like. I think that one of the challenges new students face (by some, I mean me–but maybe others can empathize) is getting overwhelmed by the scope of the LIS field and wanting to do everything. Sometimes all it takes is reading one article and all of a sudden I think that being a conservator or a technical services librarian or a science librarian is the REAL thing I should be doing. My only advice is to follow your own interests (and hopefully narrow them down) and not the whims of the marketplace. There are a few specializations I know I’m not interested in like writing code or working with children–even though school media librarians and information technologists are in high demand. I also know that I have prior experience and education that my LIS degree can compliment. I think that by building upon subject areas that I’m interested in expanding is a good bet for landing in a field and position that works for me.


  3. Great tips. Many specialized programs at library schools (such as school library or archives tracks) are very specific about the courses you take, and allow for a very limited number of electives, thus limiting ones ability to explore. So I would say that if any of your core classes relate to something you MAY be interested in, take them early, even if you think you have a passion for the direction you’re going in!


  4. Thanks for the tips Annie. I absolutely feel the pressure of choosing a specialization in library school. For the moment, I haven’t made concrete decision, luckily this semester all I have are core classes. That gives me some wiggling room to test the waters. For now, I’ve checked out my school library groups, and am going make an effort to visit various libraries.


    • I really think you need at least one semester to adjust to library culture. Halfway through my first semester, I freaked out and felt like I didn’t fit in. I didn’t talk the talk like some of my other classmates who had been working in libraries. Eventually, I found areas that interested me and have led me to where I am now. To be honest, I still have many areas of interest. Being flexible has allowed me to try out different opportunities and let me explore.


  5. It’s a good idea to take advantage of opportunities outside of classes to help broaden your horizons or see what directions you might want to go. Go to conferences/workshops for different groups and hearing speakers talk at events at your school. At my school, the student chapters of professional groups such as SLA and ALA organize library tours that can provide ideas for new directions or help confirm that the direction you’re going is the right one.


  6. I guess having a background in technology made it pretty easy to decide to go for the technology management specialization at IUPUI. However, it’s an interesting specialization because it doesn’t really target a particular type of library. “What kind of library are you interested in?” is the stock question when people talk about specializations. To be perfectly honest, I’m still not set on one particular type of library. I’m trying to be flexible, but I don’t want that to turn into perceived indifference or indecision.

    Basically, I’m not really looking to be a traditional librarian, so I don’t feel like the old “what type of library are you interested in?” question is applicable to me. I have preferences, with government/special probably topping the list. But I certainly wouldn’t turn down an academic job or an interesting public library job. I think they all have something to offer, and technology is changing them all. I’m even starting to become interested in Archives, as I have a class in it this semester.

    Anyway, I guess my point is that I have a specialization, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve made up my mind.


    • I think that particular specialization/ graduate certificate allows people to be really flexible with it. From the students I know who are getting it, they are all interested in different types of libraries. Like you said, technology is changing all libraries, not just one.

      I have things that I think I’m interested in but I’m really flexible and have tried to build my skills in a general way but with some specialties in mind.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s