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Giuseppe Arcimboldo's The Librarian

Is a Master’s Degree in Library Science a Poor Investment? A Counter Perspective to Forbes Magazine

In the June 2011 Forbes online edition, Jacquelyn Smith ranked a Master’s degree in Library Sciences as the one of worst Masters Degrees a student could invest in. She based the rankings on employment projection data and average mid-career pay compared to other people in similar jobs.  I can understand Smith’s conclusions: based solely on statistical data, librarianship on average does make less than engineering, mathematicians and physicists.

My issue with her analysis is that statistical data alone does not provide a complete picture of the opportunities presented by obtaining a degree in librarianship.  I disagree with the assertion that a degree in information sciences in an information age is a poor investment. So, let me provide a counter perspective to supplement the statistical analysis and create a more complete picture of the benefits for those considering the degree.

Career Opportunities Outside the Library

Smith wrongly assumes in her analysis that graduates can only work in a library. The truth is, a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences provides a set of skills which does not limit graduates to just libraries. The ability to navigate and manage information is not a useless skill and there are many non-librarian jobs the degree qualifies graduates for, including: information resources specialist, researcher, meta-data analyst, documentation specialist and creative project manager.  In fact, fellow contributing blogger Mia Brietkopf wrote an excellent article on 61 non-traditional jobs for LIS grads.

LIS degree holders have utilized their skills to establish successful businesses.  For example, Professor of Practice Jill Hurst-Wahl of the Information School at Syracuse University runs a consulting firm for digitization initiatives. From a personal example, I am currently working on a non-traditional librarian project; I am writing a project planning, marketing and assessment plan for Polaris Software Company’s new community cataloging software for libraries.  The above jobs do not take place in a library and are not part of the traditional librarian career path.  Therefore, such jobs are not accounted for in the above statistical data.  As with any degree, if you limit yourself to just the traditional career options, of course your job options will be limited.

Librarian Revolution = More Opportunities

The statistical data also does not account for the current revolution and innovation librarianship is undergoing, and the resulting opportunities.  The stereotype of a mean old lady with her hair tied tightly back and lost in the stacks of an austere library is being replaced with a welcoming digitally advanced and community involved organization.  To remain relevant in today’s information and digital world, librarians continue to undertake innovative projects and services needed by communities.

A key action area of the American Library Association is to “transformation of libraries and library services in a dynamic and increasingly global digital information environment”. This revolution is providing a host of exciting projects for LIS graduates.  To give an example, the Fayetteville Free library recently installed a new service, the Fab lab, making expensive commercial machines and software for creating, developing and testing innovative ideas available to the community, including a 3D model printer.

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Career Advancement

Finally, the statistical data fails to mention that the Master’s degree is a necessary investment for advancing one’s career in librarianship. An MLIS is often required when applying for professional librarian jobs, especially in regards to the more advanced positions such as director or manager.  This is why I am pursuing my Master’s degree: in looking at job postings and talking with people in the field, I quickly discovered that a lack of educational credentials would quickly eliminate me for consideration for the director or manager positions I was seeking. An MLIS is necessary to become a certified public librarian and school of media librarian in New York State. Furthermore, a Master’s degree program exposes aspiring librarians to a multitude of ideas, lectures, seminars and the opportunities to professionally network with leaders in the field, which might otherwise be inaccessible.

Yes, a master’s degree in librarianship is an investment, and like many investments, you are not guaranteed a certain salary or position upon graduation. This degree usually does not make its recipients millionaires. However, a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences provides a set of skills in information literacy, and great opportunities for graduates who work hard and are willing to be nontraditional and innovative.  There are opportunities and benefits to a Master’s in Library and Informational Sciences degree which the statistics do not accurately reflect.

Do you have a response or personal story to share about a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science? Please share in the comments below.

Dorotea Szkolar

I am an alumna of the iSchool MLIS program and am mainly interested in writing about technology and libraries. Contact me at doroteaszkolar@gmail.com or @doroteaszkolar if you would like to chat.

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