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You’re Considering a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. Now What?

You couldn’t put down that one book. In fact, you’ve reread it every summer since. Or maybe you love kids and want to be the facilitator of story time … forever. Perhaps a stroll through a history museum gives you a natural high. Or maybe you’re like me, and you stumbled into librarianship after receiving invaluable advice from a professor: “You should consider getting an MLS degree.” No matter what made you decide to pursue librarianship, welcome!

As a first semester library science student fresh out of the application process, I’m here to help you achieve your dream of becoming a librarian. Now that you’re considering a degree in library and information science, here’s what you need to do.

Why become a librarian?

Excitingly for librarians, 2016 has made it clear to the public that libraries are about more than just books. Way more.

Open access, digital literacy, sustainability, the makerspace movement: these are not just buzzwords that come up at library conferences. They are proof that information professionals, everywhere, are redefining the future of libraries. Librarians also have interests in big data. Here at SU, students can even supplement their studies with courses that teach database management, coding, and more.

Syracuse University offers an MSLIS, which is a master of science in library and information science. SU also offers their LIS degree with a specialization in school media, which prepares you to work in K-12 schools (take note of this program if you’re also considering a teaching degree!). You may also see other acronyms that also mean a library science degree, such as MLS, MLIS, or MSLS. Other library schools may offer slightly different programs. For example, an “MI” is a master’s of information.

What degree is needed to apply to an LIS master’s?

The awesome thing about deciding to pursue a master’s in library and information science is that you can bring your own background to the degree and the profession.

Maybe you’re a lifelong book lover, an English major, or maybe you previously worked at a library.

Or maybe you’re an artist, a teacher, a medieval studies major, geography major, biology major, French major, sociology major — the list goes on.

At Syracuse University’s iSchool, I’m proud to say we’re an eclectic bunch of majors. Jenna Bossert, a first year MSLIS student at SU says it perfectly. “The field of librarianship is changing and you can go any way you want with it. You can specialize deeply … or be as broad as you want. It’s what you make of it, everyone can enrich the field, no matter what background you come from.”

9 things to do before you go to school for an LIS degree

1. Take the GREs, but don’t freak out about them.

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. The questions test one’s critical thinking, analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning skills. Those skills gain more strength over time in high school and undergrad.

You probably already learned what will be on the test at some point, you just need a little practice. I was able to take GRE practice tests through my public library’s Gale Learning subscription. Check if your local library offers something similar before purchasing a review book.

2. Think about who will write your recommendation letters way ahead of time.

This one is kind of a no-brainer. You probably had to ask teachers or mentors to write you letters of recommendation for your undergraduate university. The same holds true for most graduate programs.

3. Apply to ALA-accredited schools.

ALA stands for American Library Association, and ‘accreditation’ refers to the evaluation of a library program and curriculum. If a library school is ALA-accredited, that means that the ALA approves of the library school’s MLS program. (i.e., its course descriptions, internship requirements, etc..) Currently, around sixty library schools are accredited. Read more from the American Library Association.

4. Apply early.

I cannot stress this one enough! Graduate assistantships and scholarships tend to be awarded on a first come, first serve basis, and there’s usually an early deadline to be considered for awards. For example, the iSchool’s deadline to apply for award consideration is February 1. Other schools may have earlier or later deadlines. Do your research!

5. Visit the schools that accept you, and see what kind of vibe you get.

If you click with current students and get a good feeling after talking to faculty, you’ll probably enjoy being a student there. Here are some things I encourage you to do:

  • Email the school and request a visit.
  • Keep an eye out for an “accepted students day” for an opportunity to also meet your (potential) future classmates.
  • Ask for a meeting with a faculty member, or to attend a class.
  • Ask questions about everything! From internship opportunities to what neighborhoods students tend to live in (don’t forget to ask about cost of living!). Don’t be shy; this is about your future!

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6. Find YOUR kind of library.

“Try to get a hold of librarians in different positions and settings. Try to understand what they like about their work [and] the parts they can’t stand, as well.” – Patrick Walker, second year MSLIS student at SU

You will quickly learn that there isn’t just one kind of library. Public libraries, special libraries, academic libraries, and school libraries (K-12) are the big four, but not the only four. Stemming out from special libraries are law libraries, medical libraries, prison libraries, museum libraries, and more. A quick visit to INeedALibraryJob.com will prove that library graduates are not just working in libraries.

7. Attend a library conference if you can.

When I was considering pursuing an MLS, I talked to Darcy Gervasio, a librarian at my undergraduate university, SUNY Purchase. She invited me to attend the SUNY Librarians Association (SUNYLA) conference, which was hosted at Purchase College that year. If you explain during registration that you are contemplating library school, some conferences will agree to offer you the discounted student registration rate.

8. Check out libraries near and far, and frequent book sales.

A few weeks before I moved to Syracuse, I went to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidential library in Hyde Park, NY with my grandma. It was a beautiful day to explore the grounds, and learning about the origination of presidential libraries was quite fascinating.

I left the library feeling excited to start my MSLIS and also went to book sales this summer. I was able to establish my own miniature library in my new apartment in ‘Cuse. My classics are arranged in alphabetical order by author’s last name. My children’s books are propped on shelves in a way that displays their vibrant cover art. I even have borrow slips. Too far?

9. Volunteer at a library.

I actually didn’t end up volunteering in a library before starting my MSLIS, but it definitely doesn’t hurt. Soon to graduate MSLIS candidate, Felicia DaVolio’s advice to contemplative library students: “Get as much experience as possible in different areas because you may figure out you like something more than you thought you would.”

Finally: congratulations on your decision to pursue graduate school!

“Librarianship is not what it used to be or what people think it is … it is better.” – Sandy Deom, MSLIS candidate at SU

Do you have any tips to help future librarians make the most of their LIS degree? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Kayla Del Biondo

Kayla Del Biondo

Kayla is a first year MLIS student, and the current student liaison for the Library and Information Science Master's program at SU. She is interested in children's literature and academic libraries, and aspires to be both a librarian and a small farmer.

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