Why Library School Might Not Be For Me

At 16, I landed my first library “job” — a semester-long gig spending 90 minutes a day helping out at my high school media center for course credit. I loved bringing order to the stacks and helping my classmates find the resources they needed; and the media specialist was a great mentor who spent a lot of time developing my skills. At some point, she clued me in that library school was a thing and I suddenly had a life plan: I decided to become the world’s youngest and most awesome librarian of all time.

That was 18 years ago. I’ve worked in libraries almost continuously since then (luckily, all my subsequent library jobs have been paid). But I’ve still not enrolled in a library science program, and I am not a librarian.

So … why not?

Like most things in life, there are a lot of factors. It’s something I’ve considered for years, but life circumstances, love for my staff jobs, and doubt about the efficacy of library school have won out so far. I’ve delved a little deeper into some of my reasons for not (yet) pursuing library school below.

Love of Library Staff Jobs
The main reason I’ve delayed getting my library science degree for so long is that I have *loved* my library staff jobs. I’ve worked academic libraries from 80k volumes to 2+ million volumes. I’ve performed every conceivable staff duty in public services & technical services. Out of all of the tasks, the only thing I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed was teaching library skills in a classroom setting. I know there are lots of different librarian jobs, but the most prevalent kind of academic librarian — the reference/subject librarian — has to teach classes on a regular basis. It has seemed kind of silly to work towards getting a degree that would push me towards doing the only sort of library work I’ve done so far that I haven’t found fulfilling.

Life Circumstances
The first time I decided not to apply to library school was at the end of college. I had worked hard to graduate a year early to avoid extra student loan debt, but all my friends were still going to be around for at least another year and there was no local face-to-face library school program available. Decision made: I started looking for library jobs that would let me stay in town with everyone. The stacks department where I had worked throughout my undergrad degree hired me as a temp for the summer and then I found a great job in the large interlibrary loan department at my alma mater.

I delayed library school again when I decided to obtain a different advanced degree. I discovered theology libraries during college, which seemed like a great match for my passions. Most theology libraries require their librarians to have graduate degrees in both library science AND theology/religion. When it finally came time for me to pursue an advanced degree, I decided to begin with the theology degree. Library science is a tech-heavy field that is changing quickly, while theology seemed like a much more stable field. I decided to delay the library technology classes so they’d be more current when I was looking for librarian jobs. I earned my MTS degree in 2011, after working as a graduate student in the theology library throughout the program. When I graduated, I was qualified for a staff cataloging job at the same library; which required subject expertise in theology.

Doubts about Library School
Many of my colleagues over the years have been enrolled in library school; and most of them have found library school largely useless to their careers. This has become less true in recent years, but early in my career it was almost universal. People believed that library school either omitted teaching crucial skills, over-taught skills that would be irrelevant to the kind of work they wanted to pursue, or both.

Hack Library School is the primary source I’ve found that excites and inspires me about library school. I’ve been reading it for several years and it has given me hope about obtaining a library science degree some day. I love the concept behind HLS — that we can collaborate to improve the field and also hack our own experiences in library school to make the degree challenging, relevant, and worthwhile.

So, maybe one day I’ll go to library school after all. But for now, I’ll keep working in my library staff job and loving what I do.

Jenny Vitti has worked in libraries since 2001. These days, she focuses on cracking tough citations in her role as Interlibrary Borrowing Coordinator at Emory University.

Photo Credit: Ronnie Pittman (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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