All Dressed Up and Nowhere To Go – MLIS vs The Real World

Photo courtesy of Aubrey Young

I am at a number of halfway points in my library career: halfway through my internship, halfway through this semester, halfway through the trajectory of classes if my plan to graduate in Summer 2020 remains stable.

On the one hand, I am glad that I took the much touted internship plunge early enough that I have a comfortable amount of time to think about doing a second one during my final semester. On the other, the constant malaise that overhangs a great deal of library news regarding few jobs and even fewer application opportunities has me chomping at the bit regarding starting job applications. This is a rare enough feeling on my part that the fact that there is little point to starting before the beginning of my last semester is aggravating, to say the least. I will toot my own horn a small bit and acknowledge myself to be a hard worker, but when it comes to the grand work of the adult world of candidacy applications, REAL ID, and even updating my LinkedIn profile, I am known to hem and haw for veritable months on end. In short, I truly do not want to find myself at the beginning of next year’s June with all the opportunity in the world and none of my current motivation in sight.

It is not as if I am not busy enough with non-library work and school and legitimate library doings. However, the last has made me accustomed to the feeling of accomplishing tasks in the ‘real’ world, and I am worried that my three online classes, despite two of them consisting of research development and portfolio compilation, will leave me feeling as if I am spinning my wheels in the void. I am also no longer fearful that I will not be able to make the transition from my current job and into proper library work. There is always the chance that the actual job I land is not nearly as pleasantly and engagingly informative as my current internship, but after having finally acquired an official support system in library world, I am ready to take the chance on the good, the bad, and even the weird. I have encountered my fair share of each during the past few months, and all I can say is that, I have dealt with far worse for far less promise of work experience and far less pay.

Looking back, I suppose my problem is that I have gotten a taste of some of the best that library work has to offer, albeit without having had to jump through the myriad hoops of the final portfolio and the job hunt and moving across the country for the chance of a stable career. Every other information science article is concerned with the economic vulnerabilities that plague professional librarians, and I am fully aware that to go the other direction and glorify is to all but invite burnout at ten times the regular pace. Ultimately, what I seek is a balance between the two: acknowledging problems in librarianship and actively working towards fixing them, while engaging with the more rewarding aspects in as fullest capacity as possible. Two and a half months into my internship, I still have not faced the trial of leading my own program (wish me luck, everyone!), but I still feel that I am in an extremely engaging and balanced position that contains far more highs than lows, with even lows themselves largely proving to be valuable learning experiences. I am going to miss it dearly when the semester is up, but that is all the more reason to hit the job hunt running when the time finally comes.

With that, how are you all doing in the midst of your library/MLIS/information science doings? Share whatever good, bad, or weird has come your way, online or off, library or archive or some variant on the information professional. We are all in this together.

2 replies

  1. Warning, this is a vent/whine–apologies upfront. I just don’t have anyone to talk to. I feel guilty complaining cause I do have a full-time job in a library but I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I used my past job experience in an area that I disliked to get this position, and (surprise!) I don’t like it. I thought, all experience was good experience–not so much.

    I’m about to finish my last semester and I’m struggling. I think some of it can be attributed to being too hard on myself. I’ve done pretty well. Last semester I completed an internship and a class while working full-time. In a couple of months it will mark two years since I got hired for a pre-professional position in a public library coming from only having volunteered at another library for three months. I finally decided to pursue a cataloging/metadata career. I’ve taken the classes, got a 3.9 GPA (I know that doesn’t matter).

    For all of those good things, I am still unqualified. I need to do more internships and I can’t…I am working a 9-5. It has been a reality check. The position is not what I had hoped it would be and it’s going to be two years since I started it. I moved for this job, I hustled, I did nearly everything I read I should do and I feel so stuck! I’m not building any experience; I’m a warm body. I messed up school; I wasn’t involved enough. I should have slowed down and participated more. I have no relationship with my profs. I should have asked more questions. I was intimidated and honestly didn’t know enough to ask if that makes sense. I’m isolated, family and friends far.

    Job hunting has been…interesting. I’ve been applying to jobs, but the more I apply the more confused I am. For public desk work I have been lucky; its easy to translate the years I spent serving brunch into something that means I’m good with people. But I really don’t know how to relate what I do now, what I did in the past, and my completed coursework and translate it into themes that makes sense for what I want to do. People recommend Open Cover Letters–I guess to see about structure–but all those people have amazing work/internship experience. I’ve been searching for more less superlative resumes and cover letters but am coming up short.

    I don’t even want to get started on school and the bogus research project they got us doing. I’m happy I’ll be done this semester and I can finally start more intensive self-study.

    I’m gonna cut myself off here and if you actually read this far, def do the second internship and if you can afford it don’t settle for a job that you’re not totally interested in. Also if you for sure know what you want, you should definitely start applying now because it takes these places like six months to hire a library assistant. Good luck, it’s real out there.


    • Hello Ytho. Thank you for your sharing your MLIS experiences with us. It is difficult out there, and every bit of communication between fellow information professionals can help. I hope that the job hunt goes better for you in the future.


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