Deferring Library School (and Getting a Library Job)

The ink has only just dried on my first semester grades for my MLIS program. As proud as I am of the five months’ hard work that went into them, though, it didn’t seem nearly as difficult as the two and half years I spent agonizing over whether to do the program in the first place.

It wasn’t that I lacked for career discernment (my first attempt to digitize a book was typing a children’s atlas of Europe into a Mac Plus when I was four) or even that I was that afraid of the loans (I have a prior master’s degree and already owe more than Fedloan is ever going to be able to get back from me working in the public sector); it was that, in researching library school, I continuously heard the same piece of advice, gravely intoned by those who had made successful library careers and hysterically shrieked by those who had not yet—an MLIS will do nothing for you if you have never worked in a library.

From interviewers, however, I continuously heard, “So, we see you’ve never worked in a library…”

So I fretted, and spun, and paced, and cried myself to sleep over the pages of Borges’ La biblioteca de Babel.

Finally, I lit on a solution and I sent out my iSchool applications. I just did it, like some kind of absurdist performance street art. And when the letter came offering me a slot in a program I, with all the enthusiasm of Charlie Bucket, wrote them right away to say, “I’m terribly sorry but some care issues have come up with my elderly mother-in-law. Is there any way I could defer my admission?”

“Sure,” they said. “We know the Feds are good for the money.”

I sat down and re-wrote my résumé, topping my “Education” section with “Master of Library and Information Science, expected 2019,” and sent it once again to every library that had previously passed me over. This small gesture added nothing to my library experience, of course, but librarians are a clannish bunch, and it moved me from ‘outsider’ to ‘insider’. It showed that I wanted to be a part of this profession enough that I was willing to pay the dues. Two libraries hired me.

And, thus assured that my degree would, upon completion, be accompanied by the experience that alone could make it hireable, I rang up the University, informed them that my circumstances had improved, and asked if I could start at the winter term.

The moral of the story? If you’re not sure whether you can justify the expense of library school, take it for a test drive. A deferment lets you claim the résumé line without making a financial commitment (beyond your application fees), and gives you a chance to break into the ranks of those already employed in libraries, for whom the degree is a good investment.

And if the new résumé still doesn’t get you anywhere? Well, then you’ve still got all that borrowing limit available toward med school, just like mom always wanted.


Race MoChridhe is an MLIS student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. You can find more of his work through his website, racemochridhe.com

4 replies

  1. Smart! You definitely have one part of librarianship down pat – the need for creativity and innovation. Good luck to you.

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  2. What kinds of jobs are you applying for in libraries? Most non-MLIS jobs where I am require only a high school diploma and no experience at low-mid level positions (circulation assistant, library assistant, etc.). 80% of the people I know working in libraries only have a BA or AA and found the hiring process easy, but since they are considered to be city/government jobs, there are civil service type exams times, hiring lists, etc. It took 18 months from application to hiring for the job I have now, and at the beginning of the process I wasn’t even in an MLIS program and had barely began considering it.

    I found that mentioning I was working on my MLIS worked against me because they wanted people that would stay past a year or two and not look for the higher positions and salaries after graduation. Given that, my customer service and computer skills seemed to be of more interest to them.

    Out of 5 interviews, at the same city library, in the 4 where I said I was actively working on my MLIS I didn’t get hired. In my last interview I said I was only taking one MLIS class at a time (I’m taking 3, but was truthfully only enrolled in 1 at the time) and had in interest in computer science (true) but was still thinking things through and wasn’t sure about a degree completion date. That’s the job I got and it was an identical position to 2 of the original 4 openings I had interviewed for previously.

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    • How interesting! I was applying for entry-level library assistant positions, but where I am those are pretty much all part-time and held by people with MLIS who, for one reason or another, don’t want a full-time position.

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