What’s an MLS/MLIS?
A Master in Library Science or Master of Library and Information Science Degree (which more institutions today are leaning toward) is a master’s degree that is often either requested or required for those who want to become librarians. There’s variety between programs, but they tend to include classes on everything from information retrieval systems to planning storytimes, with options to specialize in areas such as school librarianship, archival work, or information systems. While there’s been some great discussions, including this excellent article from Rioter Michelle Anne Schingler, on whether or not this is a requirement that serves libraries well, the current reality is that many would-be librarians find getting an MLIS degree necessary to attain their dream jobs in the world of libraries.
Like most graduate degrees, MLIS students arrive at the beginning of their program from a variety of paths. Some may be straight out of undergrad, having determined they want to advance toward a career in librarianship as soon as possible. Others may be pivoting from another career, or may already be working in a library and need the degree to advance within their workplace. Over the course of an MLIS program, students are expected to engage in a program that is often heavy on reading, writing, and research in order to improve their abilities to meet the information needs of patrons, usually culminating in some sort of master’s thesis paper or project (Want to know more about what the classes for an MLIS degree involve? Check out this piece from Alison Peters).
Like a lot of Book Riot readers, the public library was practically a second home when I was growing up, a seemingly endless trove of books I could (and did) enjoy. However, it wasn’t until a job working the circulation desk of a library in college that I got to see how libraries worked from the inside. From helping patrons to organizing technology trainings, I loved the work and it gave me a valuable background in basic library procedures. After graduating and spending several years as a high school social studies teacher, my passion for reading and a growing interest in teaching about information literacy led me to look into the possibility of becoming a school librarian. While the different programs I considered required different things, the general requirements were:
- A bachelor’s degree. At the time, my state required that those pursuing school librarianship have a teaching credential already; due to a shortage of school librarians, that is no longer true.
- The completion of an ALA-approved MLIS degree. In my case, with a school librarian concentration.
- Practicum hours in a local public or school library, overseen by a librarian.
These requirements may vary depending on your area of study, but in general you’re looking at a full on degree program that usually takes at least a couple of years to complete. Without detouring too much further into my own path, I pretty quickly figured out that, financially, I would want to keep working a full time job while also getting my MLIS. I was lucky that the shortage of school librarians in my area meant that I could get hired on an emergency license and work in a library while getting my degree, and that a public university in my state offered a program I could do online, except for the required practicum hours.
If I Can Offer Some Advice…
Make no mistake, I was very lucky to get the job I have, and was able to balance it with going to school. With a full-time job, I was able to lessen the amount of loans I needed to take out, as well as preserving my access to employer-provided health insurance. While that may not be an option for you, it is worth seeing if you can first move into a role that lines up with your goals for once you get the degree, and then start your degree program.
If working in a library isn’t an option (and, realistically, it might not be for most people), the best advice I can give is to stay committed, get creative, and give yourself grace. Whenever working and studying seemed like too much, I would remind myself that if I wanted thing X (a MLIS degree) and I didn’t want to give up thing Y (my job), that this was what I had to do. Putting it like that helped me see that yes, it was difficult, but that if this was what I wanted, then it was something I had to commit to seeing through. This attitude also helped me when I felt like I wasn’t as deeply involved as I could be with my classes. When you’re a full time employee and a student, I think you have to accept that while you should try your best, there are sometimes when you just need to get it done and move on in order to keep everything you’re juggling in the air.
One thing that helped not just me, but others I’ve known in the same boat, was finding creative ways to meet the requirements of the program while also keeping up with our paying jobs. For example, many programs will ask you to complete a certain number of hours in a library as a practicum/internship. Full-time students may get assigned to these as part of their coursework, but online and/or part-time students are often expected to find their own placements and work out their schedules with the supervising librarian. Since you probably can’t take a two week leave of absence from your job, get creative. Can you help with storytime on the weekends? Spend a couple hours shelving? Do some graphic design work for the library from home? Work early on in your program to identify possible libraries to complete your hours at, and see if your program might allow you to spread your intern hours over multiple terms to help cushion the blow to your schedule.
Everyone’s situation is unique, and only you know what your circumstances are and what sort of work/school balance is best for you. Hopefully, if you are feeling like there’s no way to puzzle out how to get a degree you want (or need) without giving up your full time salary, the advice here can help.