At the moment, I’m in the final months of working on my dissertation. This means writing and crying and writing (and if we’re being honest, whining sessions while drinking with fellow doctoral students). When I entered the PhD program, I had the lofty goal of becoming LIS faculty. Now, I’m uncertain. But why else would you get a PhD if not going tenure-tracked? Why don’t you want to work in academia? A not-to-be-named faculty member has asked me this question recently. Unfortunately, I’ve had a few eye-opening experiences while presenting and attending academic conferences. I’ve also had a few eye-opening experiences while living and breathing academia for the past three years. Articles like this one by Oliver Lee about leaving a self-proclaimed “best” tenure-track faculty job, or this one by Claire Shaw and Lucy Ward about the high rate of mental illness among academics, haven’t exactly encouraged me to seek out faculty positions for post-PhD life.
Instead, I’m wondering how or even if I can go back to public libraries. While working on my PhD, I’ve applied to a few librarian positions without much luck. Maybe I talked about my research too much. Maybe my local library system is tired of doctoral students abandoning positions once they graduate. There are a lot of other possible maybes. I honestly don’t know. Before entering the doc program, I worked for six years in a small, rural public library system in Southwest Georgia. First as a library assistant while I worked my MLIS and then as a librarian. I miss you, public library work. I miss you so much. But how can I express this to public library directors? How can I convince you that although I’m probably overqualified and definitely overeducated I still want to work in a library? What do PhD holders offer public and academic libraries? How do we apply to librarian positions?
Here’s where the “selling the PhD” part comes in. I think.
First, we’re trained researchers. We can construct, plan, and carry out an entire project essentially by ourselves (this is also called a dissertation). Often this research involves interviewing people, statistics, community assessments, marketing, and management (aka handling participants and doctoral committees). While academic librarians are known to conduct research, research by librarians is undervalued in public libraries. This is disappointing, because public libraries NEED research. They need more researchers researching them (this is me), but public librarians also need to be conducting research themselves. A recent post on this blog highlights the importance of research for public libraries. Research can mean many different things within the context of public libraries. A few examples: A lot of the wonderful work EveryLibrary does is research-based. Carrying out community assessments is a type of research. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is research, which more libraries should know about and use (http://www.esri.com/what-is-gis).
Second, we are AMAZING at project management. We did complete a dissertation. Our levels of amazingness may vary, but at the very least we successfully defended our dissertation, which means we convinced a small group of people we can manage a project and write about it.
Third, we are trained instructors. We’ve taught and maybe even developed courses while working on our PhDs. Through teaching, we’ve learned the delicate balance of classroom management, lesson planning, evaluation, and incorporating technology into education.
Fourth, we are skilled presenters and great at self-marketing. Okay. Maybe. Maybe not. However, we have presented our research, our passion for libraries, and ourselves during conferences, class sessions, informal meetings, professional networking and weird conversations in bars.
Some final thoughts:
Librarians with PhDs have so much to offer the practitioner world of librarianship. We just have to figure out how to promote our degree as an advantage not a disadvantage. It sounds weird to say that having a doctorate opens a lot of doors, because it closes almost as many. I wonder if there are other LIS PhDers like me out there. We have experience in the field, working as librarians, but then we veered towards academia, and then veered (or are in the process of veering) away. This is another situation when I honestly don’t know the answer. For the most part, everyone around me still seems to be striving for a tenure-track position at a Research I (R1) university. I would love to hear from those who aren’t going that direction or who aren’t sure if they are!
Abigail Phillips is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the School of Information at Florida State University. She is currently working on her dissertation, which focuses on rural librarians as a source of support for rural cyberbullied young adults. She will defend her dissertation this spring, which means she will be graduating very, very soon and job-hunting in the meantime! You can find her on Twitter (@abigailleigh), her blog (abigailleighphillips.com), and Tumblr (www.abigaillphillips.tumblr.com/).