Tell me about getting a Master of Library Science degree

and what happens afterwards.

Some background, first. I’m thinking of changing careers and I thought this might lead to some low stress kind of work which I might enjoy and be good at.

I’d be interested in knowing:

How hard is it to get into the degree programs?
How hard is it once you are in?
What’s the work like?What kind of jobs are you qualified for?
How much can you earn?
What are the chances for per diem and telecommute jobs?

and anything else…


Didn’t the name get changed to Media Science or somesuch? I have no helpful information.

No Sir, unless someone changed the name of the degree I’m currently earning and didn’t tell me.

For the OP, I started my MLS program in January, earlier this year. I am almost done with my second semester: I took two classes in the Spring and two in the Summer, one of which is already finished. I am at the University of South Florida, one of two schools in Florida that offer the MLS program (Florida State University is the other one). I am trying to finish the program as quickly as possible – taking two or three classes every semester while working part-time, and planning to earn my degree in December of 2007. USF’s program has 39 credits total to be earned, which means 13 classes, and I am packing them into two intense years of spring/summer/fall semesters.

I actually got some great advice about pursuing an MLS and going into a career in librarianship from several other SDMB posters, particularly Sampiro. If you search under my user name for threads I started in 2004 and 2005, you’ll probably find some more useful information.

I have to run right now, but hopefully more experienced librarians and MLS students can check in in the meantime, and I’ll certainly return to weigh in with my thoughts as a newbie.

Hmph. Media Science indeed. There is, however, some argument over the “L” word and whether it’s blasphemy for a department to take it out of their title.

It’s pretty easy to get in and the degree is pretty disgustingly simple, honestly. (I never understood the people who whined about how haaaaard going back to school was - then again, I went to library school with a lot of morons who I can’t imagine succeeding in the profession, and I work with a lot of people the likes of which I never met in library school. I believe it tends to weed itself out.) It’s sort of one of those things you just have to endure because you need the piece of paper to get the job you want.

As far as the job goes, I love it. There’s loads of different kinds of librarian work - I work in a public library and have worked in an art library, but you can also work in a school library (now “media center”), a corporate library, a government library, all sorts of special libraries, etc. Entry level jobs can be hard to find, however - don’t believe everything you read about how all the librarians are about to retire. Hasn’t happened yet, and it took me a year to find a job. Granted I was geographically limited as I didn’t want to move away from my aging parents, but I was also extremely qualified.

Pay varies - we all hear these rumors of corporate jobs that pay 70,000 or whatever, but most people I know aren’t making anywhere near that. Starting salary in a public library here in town is something like $32,000 - the benefits are pretty good and they match state retirement. I almost got a job at one of the local colleges (not the big university) which paid more like $30,000. The state library is a little less, also - here, the public librarians make the most.

As for work at home, there’s not much. Maybe up in corporate, or as a “knowledge manager” or “research specialist”, but as an actual librarian I’ve never really heard of much telecommuting. If you wanted to do that kind of job I’d think a subject masters’ would serve you better.

How hard is it once you’re in? Depends on you and the job. I thought I’d be a tech services librarian, but ended up in public services - I love the job, but the public part of it does get to me, it’s not really my personality. I deal with a lot of homeless people, a lot of kids, a lot of frustrating people. Obviously an academic library is different, a preservation librarian different still. A corporate librarian has less urine but more pressure, etc. There’s a lot of very different jobs in this field, and they all have their own pressures.

I got one in December 2004 – “Master of Library and Information Science.” Some schools still call it “Library Science.” Nowhere is it called “Media Science” AFAIK. That would sound too much like a journalism degree. It took me two years – and more than a year after that to find my first full-time job as a Librarian I! I got along by sporadic work as a legal researcher – I’m also an attorney – and by incredibly underpaid part-time work as a “library assistant”* at a couple of local colleges (I only took the jobs to get some actual experience to put on my resume). My advice: Try hard as you can to get some kind of library-assistant job while you’re still in school.
*You’re only called (and paid as) a “librarian” if you have the master’s degree.

Actually I’ve got one of those too, only it’s called “Master of Arts in Mass Communication.” But you know what I mean – best to avoid confusion.

I’m another recent graduate. I finished my master’s in Information Science (see, my school has taken the library out of the name of the degree) in May 2004. I had a full time academic position in September 2004. BUT, I was very flexible with location. Which is how I ended up in a town that I definitely don’t love - but I don’t hate it either.

As for your specific questions:

How hard is it to get into the degree programs?
It depends on the program. Most are fairly easy. You might or might not need to take the GREs depending on the school and your undergraduate GPA.

How hard is it once you are in?
I didn’t find the classwork hard at all. Oh, sure, it had it’s moments. And having to take a comprehensive exam wasn’t fun - but most people (98%, I’d guess) pass that the first time around.

What’s the work like?What kind of jobs are you qualified for?
Depends somewhat on your focus in school. I focused on reference work because that’s what I wanted, along with some tech classes, because I enjoy computers. I didn’t pay much attention to classes that would set me up to be a cataloger or the like because that aspect of library work didn’t appeal to me. I’ll be a good reference librarian here and link to the appropriate page in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Be very aware that the salaries listed on that page are averages and include those areas where pay is higher because the cost of living is higher.
How much can you earn?
Depends. Really, it does. I make significantly less than I did as a corporate auditor, but my job satisfaction is significantly higher. How much you make varies with the type of work environment you’re in - academic, public, school or special library. I’m almost back at the mid-30s, which isn’t so bad for the area I live in, but I also have student loans I’m paying back.
What are the chances for per diem and telecommute jobs?
I don’t really know. I’d guess at fairly small.
Be aware that you might hear a lot about lots of openings in the coming years. Don’t take those as straight fact. Sure, there are some retirements, but not all those positions are necessarily being replaced - or not replaced at the entry level. If you go to school, you have to get some kind of working experience in a library while you are in school, even if it’s not paid. You need to pick up all the tech skills you can - particularly Web2.0 type of skills. If you’re not flexible on location, you *might * have a much more difficult time finding a job after graduation - especially if you’re in an area with a high concentration of library schools (NY, Boston, even the Cleveland/Pittsburgh area - there are 3 within an hour’s drive of me, Kent, Clarion and Pitt).

That said, it is not necessarily a low-stress job. Right now, I have so many things going on that I was about ready to pull my hair out at one point yesterday. At the same time, none of these things are a matter of life and death for anyone - or, as in my previous job, a matter that could cost the business lots of money, so that’s a lower stress situation to me. If you’re in a public or academic library, expect to have to work some nights and weekends if you want to do reference work.

My suggestion would be to contact some librarians near where you live and do some information interviewing to find out whether it’s a type of job you really think you’d like to do. Also, if you do decide to go back to school and can go full time, try really, really hard to get assistantships that provide tuition waivers! That can make a major difference in the amount of loans you need.

As I’ve had to do so often in my life, I must start by apologizing for the fact that this is so very long.

How hard is it to get into the degree programs?

Not terribly. It mainly depends on which school and what year- it’s easier to get in U of Alabama, for example, than FSU because they have fewer applicants and are less prestigious. Most difficult to enter would probably be U of Illinois (Urbana-C. campus), Columbia or UNC-Chapel Hill as they’re the most prestigious now that Berkeley no longer has a school.) Make sure that the school is ALA accredited as there are a few programs that are not (Valdosta State U. in Georgia, for instance, a bad thing as it’s the only public u. in GA to offer the degree- when it becomes accredited it will be backdated 2 years, but currently its graduates can only find work in Georgia for the most part and the same is true of other new/probationary unaccredited programs.)

How hard is it once you are in?

It depends on your professors, but generally I’d say medium. There’s a LOT of scavenger hunts in reference courses. The reference questions I had in one of my grad courses (a course taught by an eccentric and humorless woman who’s very well known in the scholastic side of the field- lots of publications, some quite good) were far more difficult than any I’ve had as a librarian. (One that comes to mind was whether or not one particularly obscure ritual and prayer that’s only practiced by a small sect of ultra-conservative Jews can be performed over the corpse of a person who died through sexually transmitted AIDS- it took me about two days of searching to find the answer [which is yes, due to a precedent established during the Black Plague- again, this isn’t a question about routine Jewish theology, it’s about a particular sect that has about 5,000 members worldwide- even a particularly erudite rabbi would have been stumped by this= the answer was in a short translated article of a 1986 article in an obscure publication that was subscribed to by about 50 schools, most of them yeshivas, and that I got through Interlibrary Loan- I was the only member of the class to answer it.)

Anyway, I later found out why: this professor actually solicits the “unanswerable” questions from the reference desk downstairs and from those at other universities. “Unanswerable” in this case means not necessarily that it’s impossible to find the answer but, as with the example above, the reference librarian simply did not have the time to devote to finding out. (When your main job is to serve hundreds of students per week and your other duties you have to prioritize and devoting 10 hours to answering one question just can’t feasibly happen.)

What’s the work like?What kind of jobs are you qualified for?

For the first part there are too many variables to really answer. I’ll tell you briefly about a few of the librarian positions filled by people I’ve known:

  • Children’s Librarian at a large public library: everything from puppet shows and presentations and reading story books to performing general reference work for the general public.

  • Systems Librarians- seems to require a complete lack of people skills (at least the ones I’ve known). System Librarians, as the name would imply, have more technology skills than the average librarian and work largely with database related issues, web page implementation, work closely with the technology staff of the university or library system, etc., and generally perform little if any reference (see “people skills, lack of”).

  • General Reference/Instruction Librarian: Academic- this is what I’ve done basically. You answer student questions from (in order from most to least common) the directional (“where are the restrooms”, “what time does the coffee shop close?”) to the general (“where can I find articles on Langston Hughes poems?”) to the very specific (“I need to know how much rain fell in New South Wales from 1890-1900 and how it affected the cattle industry”). Like most jobs this can be enjoyable or highly repetetive. Bibliographic Instruction is teaching students/patrons how to use the resources of the library from the catalog to finding articles to Boolean searching, etc… (This is incidentally the area I personally most enjoy and where I’m most popular as I do it in a highly theatrical and [if I say so myself] funny and informative way- many hate BI sessions and find them boring but I do them to amuse myself and so I love 'em, plus I figured out a long time ago the students are never going to remember what buttons you push so I use it more to propagandize for the library and let them know about things like Interlibrary Loan or what reference librarians are there for [which many do not know, and almost none know what ILL is] and give out “what buttons do I push” handouts for the rest and I’ve literally never gotten less than a rave review from a professor or student- I have in fact been called “The Elvis of Library Instruction”, though I think of myself more as “Librarace”, if only for the chinchilla furs… where was I? Ah yes, standard librarian positions…)

Cataloger- to me it seems boring, some people love it, you’ll have to study it in grad school and you’ll get a feel for how you feel about it, but mainly they’re responsible for cataloging the physical selection. It can be mind numbingly routine (e.g. you just aquired a copy of a John Grisham novel 20,000 other libraries have, all you have to do is go onto a database [OCLC], find out how they cataloged it and do likewise- takes a minute) to very difficult (Old Lady Muffin just donated three books of ship illustrations and poems about dead cows and commentary on chicken diseases written and privately published by her great-great grandfather, a serial killer and dentist and senator from Maine who died in 1820 and there are no other known copies- how do you catalog it? Should the main heading be “chickens” or “senators from Maine” or “serial killers” or “poetry”, etc., and things like this can take months of working off-and-on upon.)

Library Supply Side Reps.- there is BIG money in databases and other library resource suppliers (those who supply books are called “Jobbers” incidentally) and I’ve known a few people with MLS degrees, some with experience and some without, who went to work for these companies in a variety of capacities. (The giant is Lexis-Nexis with Ebscohost, Proquest, Elsevier and several others also big dogs in the field.) They did everything from answering phone questions from libraries about why a database was down or how to access a certain piece of content to digitizing documents to, most lucrative of course, being a sales representative. Considering that some databases can cost as much as $250,000 up-front and then $40,000 per year after that (I’ve personally spent $200,000 on one database as a one-time fee with a commitment of $5000 into perpetuity afterwards) and there are thousands and thousands of libraries out there, this is really big business. The LN sales rep I work with earns way into the six figures and has homes in Atlanta and Orlando, though he travels 300 days per year.

Medical Librarians- I’ve been one and I’ve known several. It helps if you have some medical knowledge or background (though I did not and I got a job as one and a friend who did not is a revered med librarian at a very prestigious medical school; another friend became one after burning out following 20 years as a nurse). Depending on whether it’s at a hospital or a college or a private company your main patrons may be students or surgeons or (in my case) tiny town health clinics.

Archivist- Requires a bit more training than the usual library job, but they tend to work with one-of-a-kind items, not unlike a curator, either cataloging or accessing or answering reference questions for them.

Government Librarian- a coworker of mine went to work for a huge NASA library in Huntsville AL that primarily conducts research into nuclear energy and weapons development. It’s a private library with millions of items that range from postcard sized photos to 40 volume collections of notes from a particular physicist.

Law Librarian- most of the law librarians I’ve known had law degrees (or at very least significant experience in the field as a paralegal or legal secretary or whatever) themselves. Consequently they earn a bit more than other librarians and they are also highly specialized in their knowledge. (As any public or academic librarian can tell you, you’ll get reference questions upon occasion on legal issues and medical issues but the ONLY thing you can do is help the patron to find the information or articles about it- you CANNOT interpret or even paraphrase it for them as this could be construed as practicing law/medicine without a license.)

These are just a few. There are MANY MANY MANY MANY others. The vast majority of librarians, however, are reference librarians at academic and public libraries (two very different fields, incidentally).
How much can you earn?

The 32K figure above seems fair. My first job out of grad school was in 2000 and paid $33K, but I absolutely hated it (that was the medical job and I hated it mainly because of who I worked for) so I voluntarily took a $3K pay cut to go work at an anonyversity in small town Georgia. A friend who graduated at the same time I did wound up working as a children’s librarian in the same small Georgia town and earned $38K per year, $8 k more than I did, because public libraries are funded differently and better than public colleges in Georgia (except, interestingly, in Atlanta, where public librarians make less starting than they do in podunk towns).
Anyway, I’ve had various raises with each subsequent position due to “bigger budget” and more experience, but I’m middle class. Doesn’t sound like much but before my MLS I never made more than $20K in a year, so being able to rent an apartment and make car payments without a roommate was nice.
Obviously the longer you’re in the field the more you make, and as I said above those who work for private companies and those with special training (e.g. law librarians) usually make more- at Univ of AL where I currently work a librarian with a law degree has a starting salary of about $15K more than a librarian with just a MLS and a librarian with one or more additional masters degrees (i.e. in addition to the MLS) earns about $3K more starting than one without and a librarian with a Ph.D. earns about $5-7K more, BUT that’s not true everywhere. At the colleges I worked at in Georgia (neither was a research university) the salary was slightly flexible but not much- a Ph.D. holding applicant would earn perhaps $1K more than one with a BA and a MLS.

Administration of course is where the money is, such as it is, in academic and public libraries. A branch manager at a public library (and you can get a branch manager position right out of library school if they need one badly enough) will usually make around (this is in AL and GA, incidentally- I don’t know about other regions) $45-$55K starting. The director at the very small public college in “You never heard of it ville” Georgia made around $70K and, though she was 60ish, she’d only been in the field about 3 years. At the public liberal arts college I worked at in GA the director made about $100K and at the U. of Alabama, where the library is 10 times the size of the public lb. arts college I mentioned, the director/dean makes around $200K and has two assistant deans.

What are the chances for per diem and telecommute jobs?

I know they do exist. I’ve never had one personally so I don’t feel qualified to speak to the issue. It is also possible to self-employ as a librarian by providing information to a particular community on a per-use or subscription basis: the usual client base is usually medical or drug or legal professionals as they’re the ones with both information needs and money, but again- not having done it personally I can’t speak to it. I also know a librarian who works for her husband who is a private detective.

One odd thing: the size of a place rarely indicates anything about the salary. I am currently leaving the U of Alabama for a teeny-tiny college in Montgomery AL that literally has fewer students than the U of Alabama has library employees (keep in mind that the U of Alabama has about a dozen libraries and millions and millions of books, documents, maps, etc., so they employee several hundred people). It’s not a career-move- I’m moving to Montgomery because my mother lives there and is terminally ill and I needed something close by- but I feared asking the salary of the position of this private for profit tiny place where essentially my title should be “the other librarian” as I’m one of only two, and it pays almost exactly the same as UA. (Actually it pays about $1,000 less but then they pay my professional dues and a couple of other benefits that make the money back up.) Likewise, the medical librarian position I had in Georgia was for a non-profit agency with 6 employees and paid more than most starting academic positions did at the time.

In general big universities tend to pay better and have A LOT more money for travel and professional development (UA flew me to DC four times as well as Albuquerque and other places in the first year I was there and would have done more but I didn’t have time) but not a LOT better. Personally, and this is strictly personal and ymmv, I still prefer the smaller environment (perhaps not as small as where I’m going) because it’s a lot less bureaucratic and you have more creative freedom. OTOH, I will definitely miss the travel money.

In any case good luck, keep us posted, and feel free to drop me an e-mail to the address in my profile if you have any specific questions.

Ah, the other things I meant to mention, in no particular order:
1- How stressful the job is depends on many many things, but most importantly who you work for (obviously if it’s some anal asshole it’s more stressful than if it’s for somebody who’s competent and efficient and you personally like) and how busy the library is and what your exact job description is doing. My current position has been more stressful than most because the U of AL is very large and bureaucratic and because my job involves a specialized field and much of my first year and a half has been learning just that field. OTOH, the stress here is absolutely NOTHING like it was when I was a $6 per hour desk clerk at a hotel or making $20K in a corporate cubicle farm and the pay is better. (The people who bitch most about the stress in academia tend, in my experience, to be the ones who have worked the least outside of academia- they don’t seem to appreciate the fact that the waitress who brings them coffee puts up with sexual harassment on a daily basis that would get a professor fired on the spot or that the cubicle farm cable TV employee who’s making $8 per hour gets yelled at more in one day than they have in 5 years of academia.)

2- Library school can be B-O-R-I-N-G. Boring. The work itself is interesting, however. Don’t lose track of this when you’re feeling totally unstimulated by your courses- eyes on the prize and all that.

3- Take as many technology courses as you possibly can. The more you can learn about web page design and maintenance the better.

4- 95% of learning to be a librarian is OTJ training once you leave grad school. The reason is simple: I’ve worked in four libraries now and each one had a completely different budget, patron base, administration, way of doing things, collection, etc., so you had to tailor yourself to it. If you go from a job at a museum to a job at a public research university to a job as a children’s librarian at a public library in a small town, obviously you’ll have some training that will transfer but each one is essentially a different position that requires learning and unlearning a lot of information.

5- I mentioned catalogers above but didn’t mention this: one great advantage of being a cataloger is that they are VERY in demand. A student straight out of a SLIS program with good marks and much experience in cataloging can usually go straight to work for an Ivy League school or the NYC Public Library or whatever while a reference librarian straight out of school generally can’t do that- they have to make their bones in lesser venues.

6- Before becoming a librarian there are two important things to ask: a> are you free to relocate? and/or b> do you live in a large area populationwise?
The reason I mention this is that if you live in a city of 75,000 people and are not free to relocate, finding a job with no experience is going to be hard; you’ll essentially have to wait until somebody retires or dies and then hope that they don’t hire somebody from out of town. If you live in an area with a population of 4 million in a one hour radius, then even with no experience it will be significantly/majorly/incomparably easier. If you’re free and willing to relocate, you can find a job very easily.

7- With most colleges, universities and larger public libraries, it’s almost an unspoken understanding that a newbie librarian is going to stay a year or two and then move on to a place that pays better. Remember this when you’re looking for a position- you don’t have to stay in Apple Cheddar, Ohio for the rest of your life, but if it’s a livable place then it might be a good starter job to learn the ropes at.

Didn’t mean to raise the ire of all you librarian types out there. Really. Don’t get your hair buns all in a…er…twist.

:: darts eyes toward exit and backs away slowly::

No problem. I long ago noticed that all Chefs are horse’s asses who think they’re experts on everything. :slight_smile:

Well, I’m not a chef, but I do proudly lay claim the the title of horse’s ass. My memory of what I heard was about 30 years old, when my then brother in law was looking to go into the field. Come to think of it, he probably did say information science, rather than ‘media’. Back then I thought it was a pretentious name change, but (he adds hurriedly, before his library card is revoked) I no longer think that. Heh, heh. Oh god, they’re coming for me.

Actually, some librarians (particularly those in high schools) are known as “Media Specialists”, a change rather like “Environmental Services” for the janitorial staff or “Client Relations Specialist” for “sales clerk” I suppose.

One other thing to add to my response above: what I really like about having an MLS is how portable it is. As I mentioned I’ve had to very suddenly uproot my life from Tuscaloosa to another city 100 miles away pretty much overnight. Within two weeks of this decision I had a job in my salary range. That’s something I wasn’t able to do before the MLS without having to change fields or accept major differences in salary or whatever.

Many professors I know are married to librarians, some of whom have Ph.D.s or have been professors of liberal arts subjects themselves. In some cases the reason the spouse has an MLS is because while, say, a Ph.D. level history professor might make a bit more money (usually, not always) than a librarian, finding a job that emphasizes his/her area of expertise at a livable salary in a place you’d actually want to work can be extremely difficult and may require moving to a region of the country you’ve only passingly knew existed. The librarian spouse, however, can usually go along for the ride and find a job making the same or similar money once s/he gets there. It could never work the other way around.

And of course I never miss a chance to be self referential, so here’s my singable article on what a modern day librarian does.

I thought about library school about a year ago but I read that it was difficult to find a job. But if I understand correctly, it’s not terribly hard if you are able to move around and have some skills that not all librarians have (technology-based or cataloging)? Maybe I should give it more thought. How difficult is it to find an academic job as opposed to public?

Also nice job on the song! applauds

If you’re free to relocate, not terribly. Here’s one of many sites that list academic librarian jobs currently open and in the “search by state” option it has links to jobs only listed in-state. Also remember that for the next fifteen years or so we’ll be seeing hundreds of thousands if not millions of Baby Boomers retiring each year and the average age for librarians is older than most fields- lots will be retiring.

Common wisdom used to be that to get a job in an academic library that was worth having, you needed a second masters’ in a different subject. While this is no longer strictly true, there are some places where it is expected and it probably doesn’t hurt.

For entry level positions even in prestigious libraries (note: “more prestigious” and “higher paying” are not necessarily synonymous) a second master’s is not always necessary, though it never hurts. For advancement and entry into administration of any kind, even in “lesser” universities and colleges, a second master’s is almost always required. Research universities often require a Ph.D. for the top positions (though smaller colleges and universities usually don’t).

One reason I became a librarian, incidentally, was for the tuition remission- I thought I could work on a second massa’s degree since I’m close to one anyway. Unfortunately for one reason or another I’ve simply never had the time. I do know people who have, though (and almost all universities and colleges offer at least one course worth of tuition remission per semester and reduced tuition for spouse/children).

My grad school alma mater offered dual degree programs (one with Public History, er, and two others) so you could just put in a little more time at the get-go and have that second degree. I didn’t do it because the MLIS core requirements were reduced if you did that and the electives were virtually eliminated, most of them, so I didn’t feel I’d be getting enough of the L word. I felt you had to learn too little anyway as it was.

Public History and American Studies are the two second Masters that most tempt me (since I don’t have to actually get a job in either).

How hard is it to get in?
Not that hard. They let me into UCLA’s program.

**How hard is the program?**From my experience, I’d say the work is not intrinsically difficult, but they give you a lot of it. It’s been a long time for me, but my first written assignment in my Intro to Reference Resources class stands out in my memory. We were asked to review articles on one topic from several different encyclopedias and compare and contrast the coverage. I chose “Gnosticism” and, IIRC, quite enjoyed doing it.

What I liked most were the courses on information science. You wouldn’t expect us to have had the background in discrete mathematics to make a truly rigorous study of IS, but the broad principles of attempts at quantification could be understood intuitively and were interesting, at least to me.

I can’t tell you about actually working in the field, as I only spent about a year and a half working as an indexer. Then I moved out of the field.