I started library school fairly confident that I had no interest in working in a library, and I wasn’t the only person in my cohort who felt that way. I chose a program that clearly stated a focus in library and information science, and spent my elective courses looking at data science, information visualization, and social information use, even as my peers were diving into collection development, cataloging, and more “traditional” library skills. My original reasons for entering library school were easy to lose when I was surrounded by so many people who were passionate about the work they wanted to do within libraries. Two years after I entered,  I graduated, and started hunting for the library position that would launch my career.

I *loved* graduate school, and thinking about the challenges of the information world. The conversations I had with my fellow students helped me convince myself that libraries were the place to be, and I started to forget that librarians and libraries are likely best represented by a Venn diagram; related, but not always overlapping. Our skills are all interlinked, and the networks we build in library school advance the discipline as a whole, especially when we remain committed to Big Tent Librarianship. Librarians share enough common ground to work well together, and one person’s weakness can (and should) be more than covered by another person’s strengths. I was connected to my professional organizations, and I had a network of people I trusted. I was ready to take on my first library job, to lay the foundation for a long, productive career.

There’s no way for a library student to specialize in everything, or to somehow develop the equivalent of many years’ experience in library school alone. Still, as a generalist (even one with an emerging-tech focus), I felt I could put my experience to work in almost any library environment, and I applied for a range of jobs in library-land…but something wasn’t quite right.

Throughout my interview process, things just weren’t clicking. Certainly, many jobs had an appealing feature or two, but none of them grabbed me as “the one.” I started to wonder if I’d somehow made a dreadful mistake in choosing a library degree. Had I “wasted” two years earning a professional degree that I didn’t want to use?

Somewhere along the way to full-blown existential-crisis-mode, I remembered the first time I visited Syracuse University. Students accepted for the MSLIS program had been invited to campus to meet with faculty and learn more about the program. Early in the day, the program’s director stood up to welcome us, and among his remarks was the notion of an MLS as an amplifying degree.

An amplifying degree. As in, a degree with the sole purpose of exponentially increasing the knowledge and skills of the person who earns it. This was not, we were told, a program of study that would ask us to “forget” everything else we knew. Rather, this “signal-boosting” degree strives to lay a new foundation informed by the unique mix of skills and experiences we already have, a foundation on which we can continue to build for the rest of our lives.

As a professional degree, the MLS needs to impart a certain knowledge base. Beyond that, though, what we do with the MLS is up to us! The way I see it, studying library and information science doesn’t only allow us to do “library things.” The degree, when done well, allows us to do everything *better,* from research to instruction to lifehacking and beyond.

For my story, I’m back to thinking that I likely won’t end up in a library, at least for a while, and I know I’m not alone. I’m keeping my options open, but I’m also starting to broaden my search for the “perfect” job, and looking at the positions that really excite me. I know I’ll be able to use my degree wherever I end up, because even the most library-focused practical skills from my grad program can be transferred to other disciplines. Information environments surround us all the time, and my degree gives me the confidence to hack my way through them and make things happen.

After all, I am a librarian. Wherever I end up working, I’ll bring to bear the abilities all LIS students have for analysis, research, and informed decision-making. I draw on my degree almost daily, and I can’t imagine that things will change too drastically even if I work in a “non-library setting.”

So what’s the take-away? Besides a triumphant “WE CAN DO ANYTHING!”, the hacker in me sees a lot of value in having the degree to augment my interests. If anyone reading this post is struggling with disillusionment (You’ve started classes and don’t care for them, or are nearing graduation and still haven’t found a niche you like, or know you don’t like libraries but since that’s all anybody talks about you don’t know what else to do) then take heart. First off, you aren’t alone. Second, an LIS degree can only help, whatever you choose to do. Everyone works with information, and LIS programs leave room for a lot of other conversations and knowledge, in every field.

Get amplified.

What about you? Have you found ways to use your “library” skills in non-library ways? Are you feeling like LIS thinking can help you do something unrelated?

Categories: Big Picture, Job Searching

11 replies

  1. I like the description of the MLS as an “amplifying” or “signal-boosting” degree. That’s something that I see in my legal practice; I’ve definitely used things I’ve learned in school to enhance my professional life. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!


  2. As I enter year 2.5 of my LIS degree, taking courses as they interest me (Spanish for the profession! Web design! Online Reference Services!) this post makes me feel A LOT better. The idea of the Amplifying Degree is satisfying on so many levels – not just the one where everyone asks if you’re going to be a librarian, and you have to explain the whole ‘IS’ part of the LIS degree. This is my new mantra: “The degree, when done well, allows us to do everything *better,* from research to instruction to lifehacking and beyond.”

    Thank you Topher!


  3. This is one of those posts that you see on blogs once in a blue moon where you feel like the writer is expressing your exact thoughts. I graduated with my MLIS in May 2013, and my entire approach and attitude when I was in grad school was exactly the same as yours: libraries are great, but I’m interested in so much more than that. I wanted a Masters to make me “life-hack” better, and your post did indeed make me think that I’m not alone.

    Here’s to amplified (and non-traditional) information experts!


  4. So glad to hear I’m not the only one who feels like they’re in a librarian cunundrum of sorts. I graduated in May 2012 and while I’m in a library related to my former career it just doesn’t feel right. Yes, our degree is more than being a librarian and I’m glad I did it, but constantly tell myself “now what?” Thanks again for putting to print many of our thoughts on post MLIS life!


  5. good post. and good to see somebody not limiting themselves solely to the library field. The skills you learn at library school are so transferable – and to be honest, imo- it is just as well as there does not seem to be a lot of traditional library jobs to be had at the moment or probably for the near future


  6. I am a lecturer in a MLIS program in Kenya.We have held discussions with my students on what else can graduates do with their knowledge and skills gained in the program.The views were wide ranging but they included :research,marketing and advertising,consultancy and advisory,management,customer relations, teaching and training among others.Thanks for bringing in the element of amplifying


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