ASSOCIATES (2004, July, v. 11, no. 1) - associates.ucr.edu
[Editor: Janet contributed to Associates with an article titled "An MLS Degree: Is It The Right Thing To Do?" <http://bubl.ac.uk/archive/journals/associates/v01n0194/featur10.htm> in Associates (1994, July, v. 1, no. 1). Ten years ago she was a Library Assistant II, Stack Supervisor, at the University of Kansas and was just completing four years of library school as a part-time student. She earned her MLS in 1994 and has perspective and insight based on "both sides" of library work.]
Janet Anderson-Story, MLS
Flint Hills Technical College
"It is essential that support staff who are considering pursuing a Master of Library Science degree carefully analyze the motivation for such a decision. It is also important that personal goals and interests match the curriculum of the school that is to be attended. This may be difficult if the school closest to home is the only option."
This was the opening paragraph in an article I wrote 10 years ago for the first issue of the Associates e-journal, and I still stand by this advice. The profile of students entering library schools has changed over the years, however. In the late Ď80s and early Ď90s, the majority of people entering library school already had a background of working in libraries. By 1997 I was seeing a trend of people (still mostly women) coming to library school without a working background in libraries.
Since I come from the old paradigm of having had 15 years of library experience in a variety of settings and positions before entering library school, this will be a story from that perspective. I hope it holds some relevance for readers today.
After graduating in 1994, I applied for a number of different positions, based on my past support staff experience, along with the new MLS degree: Access Services, Reference, Administration, Childrenís Librarian, and others. My intention was to stay in access services and never catalog a book. Well, now my advice to anyone is "never say never." This is especially true for those wanting to stay in their geographic area. Many may find, at some point in their career, that they are performing tasks they previously intended to avoid. All classes are important and being well-rounded in all areas is essential, even if the first position is in a specialized area of librarianship. Being geographically bound requires willingness to consider a variety of positions. This can be difficult since many of us enter school with a specific goal in mind. We donít loose our goals. They just change as we begin to face the reality of our life situation and the number and type of librarian positions open to us.
The MLS was the key for opening more doors for me and I had a few job offers, but due to family concerns, I decided to stay close to home and wait for a position to open that suited me. One year after graduating I was asked to interview for the Assistant to the Dean position at the library school that I had attended. Moving from being a student to being as staff member, working collegially with the faculty was an interesting challenge. In the position I conducted admission interviews and made entrance recommendations for those attending the in-state program. I also served as advisor to half the library schoolís in-state students and performed a variety of administrative tasks.
After two years I resigned because I was "homesick" for a library environment. After being hands-on with books and helping patrons for 15 years, it was hard performing administrative tasks exclusively, but it was a terrific experience and taught me a lot about college administration and curriculum development. This knowledge made me a strong candidate for my next opportunity. I was asked to apply for a new opening at the local technical college. It was a combination librarian and instructor position with primary responsibilities being to create and implement a training program for library associates/support staff in all types of libraries. Before working on my degree, I had taken leadership roles in local and state library associations where I worked with others to provide educational opportunities for support staff. The technical college opening seemed to be another opportunity to continue that work. The library also needed to be resurrected after a nine-year hiatus. I brought the library along as best I could while researching, creating, and attempting to implement a two-year training program for library workers. I had many ideas for the training program and looked forward to working with support staff again.
Two years later the training program showed no signs of becoming self-supporting, so it was closed. There were many reasons why it did not grow -- most of them having to do with the non-transferability of credits. People wanted to transfer their credits to colleges and universities to finish out their bachelorís degree. Because there were no articulation agreements between technical colleges and other state colleges and universities, they were unable to do so. Therefore, the associateís degree had little value. (This will be changing in the near future.) Subsequently, the library school where I had worked implemented a similar idea and now offers a bachelorís degree in Information Resource Studies.
Once the training program was no longer a factor, I was able to turn my attention to the library. Seven years later, there is still plenty of work to be done and new services to be developed. I have had the good fortune to have a part time student assistant for 12 hours a week in the fall and spring semesters. (Oh, did I mention that I have a nine-month position? Summers "off" are wonderful, once you get used to it.) The studentsí help has been critical in all aspects of library operations. They copy catalog new materials, create bibliographies, work to implement new services and much more. Even with all this good help, it is essentially a solo librarian position, which is a good match for me since I like a variety of activities each day, but it can lead to feelings of isolation, too. Thank goodness for email -- it is my main source of communication and support from other librarians and the college faculty.
Some in library school are working in a degreed position while working to attain their MLS. Some of us move to another position in our current institutions, and some of us find that we need to leave our institutions because our jobs no longer "fit." Taking the risk of moving to a new town and new position can be anxiety producing, especially when we ask family to make the changes as well. Making a career as a technical college librarian was something that I never dreamed of while working on my degree. I am grateful for my support staff background in public service, which I draw on daily and for the philosophy of service gained while in library school. There have been ups and downs, as with any career, but by-and-large, I enjoy being able to problem-solve in a dynamic environment that presents new challenges daily. I may never feel that "my work here is done" but retiring from the technical college wouldnít be such a bad thing, and none of this would have happened without the commitment to further education.
One last advantage to being in an MLS degreed position is that the pay is much better (at least in my experience.) Thatís not to say that a motivating factor for going to library school should be a pay increase, but the education expenses can be paid off fairly rapidly.
Ten years later, was the MLS the right thing to do? YES! And my advice still is: go into it with open eyes knowing that having a pre-conceived career path may hinder openness to unexpected opportunities. Careers evolve through serendipity not planning. Most of all have a good time and never say never!