Making the Most of your MLIS

Editor’s note: This is a guest article from Morgan Adle, MLS

I finished my MLS in 2015 and managed the MLIS Program at UMD for 4 years until the Summer of 2022 when I became a full-time Ph.D. student. As Program Manager, I tried to take what I learned about the LIS field, careers, and coursework to help students make the most of their degrees. Here is what I would recommend to anyone interested in pursuing an MLIS or who is in a program right now.

Consider the Cost When Choosing a Program

MLIS Programs vary in cost so make sure you’re thinking about the big picture when you choose programs to apply to. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself can I afford this degree? Some charge in-state and out-of-state tuition rates for online programs while others have more affordable rates for online students. And while getting an MLIS from a high-ranking school might be nice, as long as you graduate from an ALA-Accredited Program, you’ll meet the minimum requirement for most jobs. Once you have the MLIS, your experience will speak more than where you got your degree from.

Don’t Stress (too much) Over your GPA

Unless you’re thinking about a Ph.D. program, your GPA will not play a large role in job-seeking or your future career trajectory. Generally, it’s only recommended that you include your GPA on your resume if you’re a new graduate with little work experience. But in our field, your MLIS is your credential. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t try hard in your classes, you should! Know your Program’s policies for minimum grade requirements (in core and elective classes) and make sure you meet those, but please don’t stress yourself (or your instructor) out about an A versus an A+.

Professional Organizations are our Friends!

ALA, ACRL, SLA, SAA, YALSA – our field has so many acronyms and these are only a handful of LIS professional organizations. When you enter library school, you immediately gain access to a huge array of organizations to support specific careers, library types, and interests. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do when you graduate, try to join a professional organization that meets your interests in your first semester. Why? The student rates are very affordable compared to normal rates and you gain access to scholarships, events, webinars, and mentorship opportunities. Joining a local state chapter of huge organizations (like ALA and SLA) will make the experience less overwhelming and give you a network you can continue to participate in once you graduate.

Education and Career Competencies

Almost all professional organizations also have lists of competencies someone working in that type of career or institution should have to succeed. The ALA maintains a list of Knowledge and Competencies Statements developed developed by relevant professional organizations like the Society for American Archivists’ Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies that outlines core and complementary knowledge that future archivists should gain. If there is a lot of flexibility in your program and the electives you take, these different statements can really help you build a good course plan. You can gain most of the skills in your coursework, but also keep in mind the skills you already have and be strategic in the internships and experiential learning you do.

If you aren’t sure what career path you’d like to take, ALA’s Core Competencies of Librarianship might be a good place to start. Bouncing around from specialization to specialization or taking a mishmash of classes can be fine. In Ph.D. programs, you’d be called a generalist! But you will need to be creative in applying your work experience and coursework to other jobs and scenarios. Highlight specific courses you’ve taken and the things they taught you in your resume. Save your syllabi and use specific activities or language from the course learning outcomes!

Your Coursework Matters, so Publish It!

So many of the academic articles written in our field are by practitioners, but MLIS programs don’t always prepare you to design studies and publish your work. If you have space in your schedule, try to take a research methods course and if a particular topic really interests you or you see a gap in the LIS scholarly conversation, investigate and try to write about it. Literature reviews are a great way to evaluate literature currently available on a topic, show what’s missing, and make recommendations for future studies that either you or LIS researchers can do. 

Overall, take the time to explore all of the resources our field has to offer. It looks complicated at first, but figuring things out now will really help enrich your MLIS experience. But keep in mind that our field is one of lifelong learning! You don’t have to learn everything in your MLIS; you really can’t. Focus on your program and what it has to offer and know that you’ll have other opportunities to learn and grow as you advance in your career.

Morgan Adle received her MLS degree in 2015 and managed the MLIS Program at the University of Maryland for 4 years before stepping down in 2022 to pursue her Ph.D. in Information Studies. Her research interests include LIS curriculum, information literacy, and internet search behavior.

Photo by Felipe Gregate on Unsplash

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