A Librarian Without Their Library

What is a librarian without their library? This isn’t some ancient riddle that you only learn the answer to once you’ve earned that hallowed MLS (or MLIS, or MIS, or MILS, etc.). No, rather this is a thought that has been rattling around in my brain for the better part of the past two weeks. The genesis of this thought was prompted by the closing of my second semester in my MLS program and, in conjunction, me evaluating what I want to do post-library school. I am currently in a non-library position that I absolutely love and can’t really see myself leaving. In fact, I am starting to think about pursuing a doctoral degree to further my non-library career. What then is my place within librarianship education and the broader world of information science? And what does my experience say about the current status of the library science graduate degree?


Overall, I think my experience speaks highly of the attractiveness of an MLS. It is clearly a multifaceted degree that has something to offer people from all backgrounds. I am ⅓ of the way through my program and I know that I am becoming a stronger researcher, a more enthusiastic learner (in every sense of the word), and someone who is far better equipped to evaluate information and its sources in my 8-5 job. In sum, my MLS is making me better in my current non-library position. That is something I truly didn’t expect to happen. But indeed, there has been a blending of both worlds that has been lovely to experience and made me excited about the future. 


More broadly, I think of the movement within the realm of PhD students known as Alt-Ac (Alternative-Academic). This refers to careers that may be in or outside of academia that present opportunities for PhDs besides tenure-track professorships. I think library science and MLS-holders (and future MLS-holders) would do well to adopt a similar outlook. Might I suggest “Alt-Lib” (Alternative-Librarian)?


Overall, this is all to say that being a librarian (or a librarian-to-be) without a library shouldn’t be a source of shame or a quiet secret. Rather, if someone is in library school and on a “non-traditional” path that should be celebrated. Granted, I think for this mindset to really take root, there might need to be a sea-change in the field’s mindset. Graduate programs might need to start offering classes that appeal (and make sense) for “Alt-Lib”. Advisors and faculty members would need to realize that “Alt-Lib” is a sensible track for many students. And finally, students to whom the “Alt-Lib” track appeals need to stand up and own it. For me, on my graduation day from library school and every day after, I will proudly call myself a librarian, even if I have no library of my own. This is, I think, one of the futures of information science education and it deserves to be explored and championed.


Cover image by Zackary Drucker from The Gender Spectrum Collection.


Nick Dean is a first-year master’s student in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University. Nick currently works as an academic advisor at a medical school in Kansas City.

2 replies

  1. Nick,

    This is an inspiring post, thank you so much for writing it. I’m going to start applying to MLIS programs next month, and more and more I’m thinking of pursuing non-library work after graduation. Specifically, I’m thinking of learning the skills and knowledge that come with the degree to work in environmental science/advocacy.

    I hope “Alt-Lib” becomes a greater focus in librarianship and information science. I’m attached to and inspired by the institutions and knowledge that encompass the fields, though it’d be fantastic to apply that knowledge in other ways.


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