Monday, October 01, 2012

LIS graduates, the information industry & job hunting

As a member of the board for the Special Libraries Association (SLA), I am part of a 9000 member association that welcomes information professionals from a variety of backgrounds. We acknowledge that some of our members - yes, even those with an MLS/MLIS - have moved away from "traditional" library positions and into positions in the larger information industry.

When I attend the Computers in Libraries conference, I am among library workers - some of which do not have an MLS/MLIS - who see how technology can be used in libraries of all sorts.  Some of the attendees are more like IT professionals than LIS professionals. 

When I look at the career opportunities for those graduating with an MLIS degree, I see opportunities in all areas of the information industry.  I see them using their skills in organizations and corporations, in libraries, IT departments, marketing departments, and more.  In fact, let's be honest...our iSchools and some LIS programs recognize that we can't just prepare students to work in libraries.  We must prepare them for the places that need their skills.  We are preparing them to work in the information industry.

DenialIf we are educating future librarians, then it is easy to identify the potential employers with whom they should interact and the types of jobs that they should be seeking.  However, if we are educating them to be information professionals, then how do we connect them to employers that need the skills of these graduates but who recoil when they hear the word "library" (as in "I have a degree in library and information science")?  Do we tell our LIS graduates to market themselves as having an M.A./M.S. and to not mention LIS? Should they talk about their classes and skills without using the word "library"? 

If the answer isn't that LIS graduates should downplay their degree, then is it that an LIS graduate must find the "right" potential employer who understands the degree?  And how does a LIS graduate find such an employer?  Is it just luck?

Here could be a place where SLA or another association could have a huge impact.  What if an association hosted a job fair at its annual conference and invited employers who are looking for information managers, etc., and marketed that job fair to graduates of LIS programs?  That could develop into a signature event.

I must admit that this topic is personal.  When I graduated with my MLS degree, my first job was in a corporate data center as part of the IT staff.  Yes, what I had learned and done in graduate school prepared me for that job. As everyone does, I also picked up additional skills on the job. I spent five years in IT before moving to the corporate library.  Over the years, my IT background has been important to my career.  I know that walking out of grad school and into a non-library position is possible, and I want it to be possible for everyone.

And now I need to turn this frustration into action and find ways of making it happen - not just for the few, but for everyone.  Will you join me?

Addendum (10/2/2012): While I likely do not agree with the entire premise of this book, this text from The Demise of the Library School: Personal Reflections on Professional Education in the Modern Corporate University by Richard J.Fox caught my eye (p. xviii).  It seems appropriate to include here:
The emergence of the library and information science paradigm began the transition of library schools from a single disciplinary approach to a more multi-disciplinary knowledge base and, in an even more transparent fashion, from an orientation to the library profession to a plethora of information professions including librarianship.


Eva G. said...

This is such an interesting and relevant topic! I actually took my MLIS into philanthropy and it's been fantastic. What a great field and so in need of information professionals. I still use the ole "L" word, but that's because I still work at a library part time and that's truly where my research chops came from. However, I'm always interested in listening in on why people in our field want to cut out the word "library."

Paul Signorelli said...

That article is a wonderful addition to the ongoing discussion about what an MLIS means today and how it can be used not only to benefit those holding the degree but also the wide variety of people who benefit from the work of those who have completed this particular educational achievement. Like you, I see the degree as being useful in a variety of setttings, and I believe the clients I serve are appreciative for the what we do together with the background provided by my own MLIS work. Here's hoping that we continue to expand our horizons, recognize that what we bring to the information industry is significant, and continue to expand our thinking to see the wonderful connections between libraries, information management, and lifelong learning--for those we serve as well as for ourselves.