Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Got Accepted to an MLIS Program. Now What? (Or, Advice on Picking Classes in Your Library Science Program.)

When I started my library science graduate program, I had an end goal of public librarianship. That lasted until until midway through my first semester, when I realized I really wanted to work in an academic library. My adviser had been assigned to me because she knew public libraries, so she didn't feel comfortable helping me with the change. However, I managed to track down another member of the faculty who helped me redesign my program so that it suited the needs of a future academic librarian. In addition to pointing out classes he thought would help prepare me for life as a librarian, he also gave me some good general advice.

While I'd never pretend that I can reproduce it word for word since that conversation was over ten years ago, I do remember general themes. Since for a lot of schools it's that special time in the semester when students have to start figuring out what they'll be taking next, I thought it an appropriate time to talk to you about how I think you should approach your MLIS program. (Caveat: I'm assuming that you already have an idea about public vs. academic vs. special vs. etc. and about public services vs. tech services. That's a decision you have to make for yourself.)

When thinking about classes, I suggest you...
  1. Look at some classified ads for the kind of library job you want. One thing that the professor who helped me pointed out was that a lot of academic library positions mentioned something about teaching. To better prepare, I took Bibliographic Instruction. More recently, I've seen many ads that include technology and that tells me coding might be a good skill to have.
  2. Work on your weaknesses. I've always known I wanted to be in public services, even when I thought I was going to end up at a public library. Because of that, the professor in question urged me to take some kind of advanced cataloging and/or technology class. That's why I took Subject Analysis - which ended up being one of my favorite classes, incidentally. If I'd been thinking tech services, I'm sure he would have encouraged me to take an extra public services oriented class. Having multiple skill sets is a good thing.
  3. Take at least one class that is just for you. For me, this meant taking a class about the first amendment. The professor of that class made a point of presenting multiple perspectives on each aspect of the class, both through readings and through guest speakers. It does relate to librarianship in a general way, but I took it because the description made the course sound fascinating and because that professor got fantastic evaluations every time he taught it.
It's a tough job market out there, so please don't read this post as the way to be sure to get a job. On the other hand, if you do take my advice, I know you'll get a lot out of your graduate program.

How about you? How did you pick (or how are you picking) the classes in your graduate program?


  1. I can remember my advisor challenging me to take classes that were out of my comfort range, but I'm not sure that I ever did. I did take collection development on a whim, for which I am EXTREMELY grateful at this point in my career. I was somewhat restricted in what I could take because I was commuting and I needed them to be all on the same day, and I kind of stumbled in to being a reference librarian at a public library before I was halfway through my degree. I got the job and I knew it was what I wanted to be doing, so I tailored my classes from there. The first class I ever took was on underserved populations, and that definitely had a huge effect on my career and my experience in all subsequent classes.

  2. I was definitely on the track for school media, more for the outside influences of the fact that I had kids in school (same schedule!) and I enjoyed YA. However, my last year of studies really threw that on its head between the personal experiences I heard in my school media class, my own personal life changes, and then I took a cataloging class. I already knew I was a numbers geek, and this just fit perfectly!

    Of course, now I handle web services, which was definitely not where I thought I would end up.

  3. If I had it to do again, I would have taken a wider variety of classes.

    I knew that I wanted to work in a subject department in a big city library. I had no desire to go into management, and the chances of me ever being a children's librarian seemed about nil - so I didn't take any classes in those areas. At present, I'm six years out of grad school - the past three of which I've been a children's librarian.

    I'm still not interested in becoming a manager, but if I had it to do again, I'd take one class relating to management - I know that there are plenty of times when that knowledge would help. Likewise, I'd take one class in the area of children's services.

  4. I think everyone should take a cataloging and a management course. These were two of the requirements of my program, so I had to take them. The cataloging course was actually pretty useless, but when I say one ought to take a cataloging course, that means "the cataloging course ought to be useful and then you ought to take it."

    My favorite class was Indexing. It was kind of like cataloging, in that indexing is part and parcel of cataloging, but it was also wider-ranging (preparing a thesaurus, indexing books, etc.) For anyone who's going to SUNY Buffalo for their MLS, I'd highly recommend this class and any others taught by Dr. Nesset. Since these courses aren't required, they will be of the "just for you" variety, but they are both more challenging and more rewarding than most of the other classes.

  5. Oh-- I also took a YA class because it was one of the choices for a breadth requirement. I thought I would do academic libraries or archives as a career, and most of my coursework was in digital archives. I'm really glad I took that YA course, though, because now I'm a high school librarian. You never know where you'll end up!

  6. I just registered for my first classes and I'm definitely looking forward to some that are more "me" oriented. I'm headed down the academic library track, but I will try to keep an open mind given the above comments.