I Decided to Make a Mid-Career Transition to LIS and You Can Too

Coming from a working class background, career satisfaction was like the unicorn of life goals – nice to think about, but probably out of reach. Work life was something very linear, many people around me retired in the same or similar job to the one they had out of high school. I was determined to be the first in my family to go to university and land my dream job; and while I accomplished working my way to an undergraduate degree studying politics and then a graduate degree, my path towards the ‘dream job’ was more convoluted than I predicted. After a decade of working in market research and then non-profit management, I got tired of waiting for opportunities to come to me, and (having never worked in a library) applied to an online MLIS program.  

Thinking back to the long hours I spent in libraries while doing my degrees, the atmosphere of being surrounded by knowledge was something I missed from my work in nonprofit management. Librarians helped me to navigate the infinite books and databases available to me as a student and were transformative as a first-generation student. I knew I wanted my work to help the next generation of students find their voice as well. 

This may seem like a dramatic move, but it aligns closely with research from Indeed; which indicates 49% of respondents surveyed said they had made a dramatic career change on average at 39 years of age; and while it can be scary to seemingly ‘start over’ in your career, 88% of respondents said it was worth it. If you are like me and want to make research and information a career, but feel overwhelmed at the idea of going back to school as an adult or wasting the years you’ve dedicated to your current career path; consider what I’ve learned so far as a MLIS student in mid-career transition: 

Give yourself some credit:

LIS is inherently a hub for people who love learning – which makes it fertile ground for life-long learners. People considering making a career change are often not motivated by money or status, but learning and personal growth. Also, because LIS is an interdisciplinary field, you will not be the only one in your MLIS cohort with a nonlinear professional background. Library school is truly an academic microcosm of any research interest imaginable. Your unique perspective will likely be welcomed and valued.    

You know more than you think:

In my first term of the MLIS, my eyes would glaze over if someone mentioned indexing or metadata. What kind of library would ever hire me if I don’t even know the basics? But, after the first few weeks, I realized that although I still have a lot to learn, I had a lot of transferable skills from my work in nonprofit management that I can carry with me to the LIS world. In my first group assignment, I realized my project management background will be applicable to any future career. As someone who already has work experience, you likely already have soft skills to carry over into your new career as an LIS professional. 

Find your community:

One of the first pieces of advice I was given by my program advisor is that the LIS community is small. You never know which of your fellow students you will end up working alongside as colleagues, or even as their boss! Being enrolled in an online MLIS program can be tricky when it comes to connecting with your colleagues, but there are lots of ways to get to know each other either through formal discussion forums or personal chat apps like Slack. Being actively involved in volunteering and extracurriculars is another way to stand out and increase the likelihood that you’ll be remembered when an opportunity comes along. 

In the end, a mid-career transition is not starting over. If you’ve made a calculated decision to go back to school to do your MLIS, you are not alone! LIS is a welcoming place for life-long learners building new skills and communities.

Michelle Falk (she/her) is in her first year as a MLIS student in the University of Alberta’s online program. She has a MA in Gender Studies and BA in Politics. She is currently the Executive Director at the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties and hopes to blend her human rights background to a new career in LIS.

Photo by Kees Streefkerk on Unsplash

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