On Being an MLS Student with No Library Work Experience

My decision to apply for an MLS program was one motivated primarily by the desire for a career change. My previous transitions between jobs have often been linked by more abstract similarities rather than streamlined, linear promotions. For example, my first job during college was as a bank teller. I graduated with a BA in legal studies and was hired as a paralegal at a tax law firm due to a combination of my degree and the fact that I’d worked with sensitive documents, notarizations, had financial literacy, and had a lot of experience with customer service. So even though I didn’t have specific legal work experience, I was able to land a position after school by leveraging the skills that I did have. Similarly, my move from paralegal work to administration in a municipal government was a similar sell. I hadn’t done anything specific to what they were looking for, but there were enough links in my previous jobs to make an acceptable transition.

Despite this, I still find myself halfway through my program and stressing about my lack of library experience. On average, there are usually only one or two other students in my classes who also lack work experience in the setting. However, the vast majority of my cohort are already working in libraries, and even more of them have done so for several years and across multiple positions. 

When it comes to discussions in classes, I find that being an outsider to the profession can be quite helpful. I often see the concepts we’re learning through a different lens, and having worked in both the private and public sector before, I have experience recognizing the pros and cons between both of those environments, as well as the different ways similar policies must be implemented between both contexts in order to work effectively.

And yet every Friday when I receive my “[SLIM Update] Jobs” email in my inbox, I peruse the requirements for each with a slightly heightened sense of adrenaline in the pit of my stomach. Even though I know the vast majority will want “experience working in a library environment,” I still let myself get anxious about it. 

(By the way, if you’re also an ESU SLIM student, make sure your SLIM Update emails aren’t going to your spam folder – it’s an especially helpful resource if you’re nearing graduation. Although if you’re like me and in the middle of your program, you probably don’t need to use it as a stress device the way I have been for absolutely no reason other than masochism).

HLS has already discussed the many merits of non-library experience before, and I think the suggested applications are definitely valid. At the end of the day, the majority of us will have to sell ourselves in an interview regardless of whether we’re the perfect candidate or not – it’s simply part of the process.

But in addition to this perspective, I’d also like to stress the job market for MLS graduates outside of libraries. While many of us go into the program because of a deep connection to the institutions themselves, there are many other career paths which happily accept MLS degrees and are solidly within competitive markets.

An exercise I went through prior to applying to the program – when I was still deciding whether it was a “smart” decision or not – was to go onto websites like Indeed and search for “MLS” and “MLIS” within about 50 miles of my location. I was surprised by the amount of jobs that came up which weren’t related to public or academic libraries. In my area in northern Colorado, there were quite a few technical writing jobs which listed library degrees as preferred assets. Another option which doesn’t always expect library experience is the type of work done in private companies’ internal records departments.

For those of us who don’t have library-specific experience and perhaps aren’t as tied to the traditional profession as others, these are good options to keep in mind. Or it could be that one of these positions serves as a great transition to more classic library work later on in one’s career. 

If I weren’t looking at job postings now, I wouldn’t be aware of the general requirements, or lack thereof, across the market. If you haven’t already perused the job market in your ideal location, it’s a good idea to do so periodically so you can think about ways to make yourself more marketable – particularly if you don’t already have library-specific experience. 

That being said, I am officially giving you all (and myself) permission to stop obsessing over it – after all, you wouldn’t have made it into your program in the first place if you didn’t already bring relevant skills and experience to the field.

Delanie Rio is currently pursuing her MLS remotely through Emporia State University with a concentration in informatics. She received her undergraduate degree in liberal arts with a minor in legal studies from Colorado State University in 2016, and has worked as a paralegal, a government administrator, and a transcriptionist in the years since. Her academic interests include older adult/nontraditional students, distance learning, information literacy, and self-led education. After completing her degree, she hopes to pursue academic librarianship. She currently resides in her home state of Colorado with her dog, Luka, and bunny, Ollie, and enjoys camping, painting, and writing when she’s not curled up with a good book.

Featured image credit: Anna Shvets

1 reply

  1. I came into my MLS program with nothing in the way of “traditional” library experience (in high school, I had worked as an assistant at an in-house library at a nonprofit). But on the other hand, I also came in with the idea that I was training to become an expert researcher, and then would figure out where I could apply my skills. The other classes – cataloging, library management, collection development, etc., would be useful – but they weren’t what I was there for.

    Liked by 1 person

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