On a Personal Note: What’s the Point of My MLIS?

In one of my first posts, I wrote about why I decided to go to library school immediately after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. In that article, I focused mainly on the logistical reasons: timing, location of my program, and career goals I had at that time. While all of these reasons still ring true, I still can’t help but wonder why, out of all possible graduate programs, did I decide to go for an MLIS? Why am I in library school?

This question has not been an easy one to answer over the last couple of months. Between a dismal-appearing job market, the long days staring at three different computers for work and classes, and the looming questions about what the upcoming semester may look like, I sometimes wonder if libraries are the right career path for me.

Despite these doubts, I now find myself asking slightly different questions: What am I getting out of this degree and how can I use this knowledge?

For starters, I’m learning what it really means to be a librarian. It’s not just sitting at the reference desk or re-shelving books or teaching a class. As Emily recently wrote, getting a master’s degree in library science is about “improving the field of librarianship.” Whether you plan to work in a public library, an archive, a university library, or a completely different setting, earning an MLIS, at the very least, provokes a glance at what can be fixed in the institution. For example, as seen throughout Library Twitter this past year, librarians are amplifying their voices to make change and protect themselves and their colleagues with #protectlibraryworkers. By reporting layoffs and furloughs, providing updates on re-opening plans, and sharing strategies on how to keep library staff safe during COVID-19 shutdowns, many people are learning what it takes to work in a library and how impactful the institution is to their community. As someone with very little library experience before grad school, this information has been incredibly valuable for my knowledge. 

Second, I’m getting some much-needed career exploration. A year ago, I felt pretty set on pursuing a career in archives, but was open to learning about other options in the LIS field. Six months later, I decided to focus my energies on academic libraries. Today, we’re on to exploring some non-traditional careers that fellow writer Lauren shared. That journey is a result of my experiences from the first year of library school: a student assistant position at UMD Libraries, interning at the Law Library of Congress, learning that I enjoy working with metadata, and discovering that I may want to learn about the technology-side of libraries. There’s no way I would have thought that was possible a year ago, let alone develop the interest before then.

Third (and, a little surprising, even for myself), I’m developing my writing skills. Of course, I’ve written my fair share of term papers over the years. But just in my first year of grad school, I have written dozens of blog posts, hundreds of tweets and Instagram captions, a policy paper, a data analysis paper, and several practice cover letters and CVs. Most of these writing styles were brand new to me. So, without my current jobs and coursework available to steer me in these directions, I probably would have never thought to try new writing styles and share them with the public.

Finally, I’m learning to learn. As Kerri wrote, grad school is the time to dive into your learning and get as much as you can out of it. Not only am I learning how a library works; I’m learning how to interact with users, the basics of Python and Excel, efficient ways to conduct research, how information literacy can affect an entire community, data analysis, the impact of social media, and how to manage my own time. Even if I find myself in a non-traditional job for librarians’ post-grad school, these skills – and the craving to keep learning – can carry into many careers. 

This is the mindset I am using for my last year of school: you get out as much as you put in. Make it count now.

Sarah is an MLIS student at the University Of Maryland. Outside of work and classes, you can find her binge-reading books and anticipating her next cup of coffee.

Image: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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