Accidental Special Librarian – advice for when you decide to pursue the “alternate” path

Like many LIS students, I went into the program with the goal of someday working at a library as a professional librarian. I set off on my MLIS journey through the University of Illinois LEEP Program, and hoping to move forward professionally and ultimately become an academic librarian. However by a twist of scheduling fate, I found myself not in a reference class or an academic librarianship class in my first semester, but in “Introduction to Databases.” Databases? I was terrified of my large leap from religious studies and history into the world of MySQL and database design.

Luckily—I loved it! So much so, that I decided to pursue an alternate track of corporate librarianship and knowledge management. My fellow HLS contributors have also shared their experiences navigating this path in “Alternative Careers for LIS Grads” and “So You Want to Be a Special Librarian?,” that I would also suggest you read if you are interested in this path. While it can be stressful to change your plans, here are some reflections on my own experience and advice for anyone who’s considering an “alternate” path:

1. Don’t worry about being too specialized 

Information careers are everywhere, in all types of industries and locations around the world. Having a degree in LIS can qualify you to work as a corporate librarian, publisher, knowledge manager, researcher, project manager, business analyst, programmer, consultant, web developer…the list goes on.

If you’re considering taking an alternative path, try to gain skills that interest you. If you like to code, learn different types of coding in your program. If you love research, take reference and classes that focus on other industries like healthcare or business. Most LIS programs offer classes that span many topics, and most jobs will want you to be well rounded, so take the opportunity to explore and find what you love.

2. Look at professional opportunities

Since the types of opportunities that you could pursue seem nearly endless, I find it helpful to look at jobs that are out there right now and look at the common qualifications they list. Consulting positions really spoke to me, so throughout my degree I tried to take courses that would help me be able to answer to those qualifications that they were looking for. Additionally, try to find a professional opportunity like an internship, job shadow, or professional position in another industry while completing your program. This can help you figure out what types of roles and industries are more interesting to you and help you narrow down the field. Which leads to my next piece of advice…

3. Think about how to communicate your interests

The one disadvantage you may notice (or may have already noticed by now) is that if you tell someone you have an MLIS they often 1) do not really know what that means, or 2) assume you are a traditional librarian and don’t understand how that translates to different jobs. Most people outside of LIS do not realize how vast the field is, and as a result, I have learned that communicating the value and skills of my degree has been extremely important in my ability to pursue opportunities. Think about the courses you have taken and how to translate the skills you have learned into their equivalents in other industries. Most LIS students have great database management skills, research abilities, and project management skills, and all of these abilities can be translated to other opportunities.

4. Don’t stress!

A degree in LIS is an extremely versatile degree. Alumni from my own program work in almost any industry imaginable, and the need for people with information competencies across fields is not going away. Instead of stressing that your plans and interests may have changed, focus on the awesome opportunity you have to explore the many aspects of the field. While some students are in programs that train them to do one specific thing, LIS grads have the benefit of being in a field that prepares and encourages you to do a wide variety of things – take advantage of it!

Nicole Weber is a doctoral student at Rutgers University where she lives, works, and studies. You can find her on Twitter & Instagram @NicoleEWeber.






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