Rants & Reflections

You need a Master’s to be a librarian!? And other LIS questions answered

Hello beautiful people! It’s another day of NaBloPoMo, and I’m going to ignore the facts that I’m sick, that the fate of the free world gets decided today, and that I’m having course registration issues and altogether about to have a breakdown and instead talk about what I’m currently doing with my life: studying library and information science (also I wrote most of this post yesterday. Shhhh.) I am close to finishing my second term in my program, and I have also now been working in a public library for about 6 months. This is not a long time, but in that time I’ve gotten many questions from different people about what I do/want to do when I finish my degree. I’ve found that a lot of people don’t really know what librarians do, so I’ve decided to answer some of those questions here!

1. Wait, you need a Master’s degree to be a librarian?

Yes! In the US, most libraries nowadays will only hire people who have MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) degrees for full-time librarian positions. Back in the day, this wasn’t as ubiquitous of a requirement, but now it is. There are very few places that offer Bachelor’s degrees in LIS – it’s just not really a thing. Most MLIS programs are also considered “professional” programs, as opposed to academic – I didn’t have to take the GRE to enter the program. While you do study theory in LIS school, the majority of what you learn are practical skills rather than purely academic study. Most MLIS students (in my program, anyway) are either career-changers or people who have worked in libraries for a while but need the Master’s in order to move up (I am the former of the two).

2. What do you learn in library school besides the Dewey Decimal System?

That honestly depends on what your career goals are. LIS is an incredibly broad field, from rare book archiving to bioinformatics. LIS professionals manage information, and in a world where information is increasingly available and accessible, LIS is an incredibly hot career path right now. Maybe you’re going into digital preservation, ensuring materials that exist only in digital form are preserved for future study (i.e. the Library of Congress is trying to curate a Twitter archive, which probably includes all your tweets from the last 5 years.) Or maybe you’d rather focus on digitization, the process of taking analog materials and converting them into digital versions to increase accessibility. I am studying to be a librarian in the more traditional sense, so yes, the Dewey Decimal System is something on the syllabus. I also want to work with teens, so I’ll be taking classes focused on YA lit and resources for youth, community engagement, collection management, etc.

3. What else do librarians do besides find books for me?

That depends on the type of librarian. Reference librarians (the type of librarian people are usually referring to when they say “librarian”) are masters of finding the information you want to find. My reference class had weekly exercises of random questions patrons might ask, and you had to know where to look for the answer and how to use the source you chose. You were then graded not only on getting the correct answer but also on how you got it (no Google allowed). I once helped a patron who wanted to date an antique pipe organ at her church and another patron who wanted information on eyebrow microblading (which apparently is sort of like getting your eyebrows tattooed on – who knew!?).

Some librarians work only on library programming. Programming can range from ESL classes to computer classes to children’s storytimes to teen cosplay nights to genealogy clubs to test prep to knitting circles, etc., etc., etc. You name it, there’s a library somewhere that offers it. Programming is a huge part of what public libraries do, and it’s someone’s job to manage it.

Other librarians work in Interlibrary Loan departments, some work in Technical Services, some are Outreach Librarians, some specialize in Collection Management or Circulation. And I’m only naming librarians that are  associated with public libraries in this post – there are whole other worlds of academic libraries, school libraries, archives, special libraries, museums, corporate libraries, etc. that I’m not covering here. So, a lot.

4. Why do I need a reference librarian when I have Google?

Because Google is a commercial search engine and what they display on the first page of results is what is going to get them the most clicks. I’m not knocking Google, it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. But it can’t find everything. If your information need goes beyond what is available in a simple Google search, you’re probably going to need some extra help if you don’t know what else to do. In the new generation where information is only a Google search away, people will be needing reference librarians even more, because people will no longer be trained to find things that aren’t on Google.

5. Does anyone use libraries anymore?

Very much yes. Libraries are especially important for underprivileged groups of people. A library is a place with free internet access, free books, and free warm comfy chairs. It’s the only place some people use to get access to the internet. Some libraries also offer programs for people learning English or looking for jobs. The library where I work even offers citizenship test preparation classes. We also offer an online high school program for those 18 and older seeking a high school diploma. Also Zumba.

Point is, there are a lot of things public libraries offer that people don’t know about or don’t think about. Most libraries in the Chicagoland area offer museum passes for checkout that get you into Chicago museums for free.

Really the goal of the library is to be a free and open place for learning to occur, regardless of who you are. And it makes me so excited to one day be able to say this about myself:

 I am a librarian - the mummy

Thanks for reading, loves. If you have questions about libraries or librarians, feel free to leave them in the comments!


28 thoughts on “You need a Master’s to be a librarian!? And other LIS questions answered”

  1. Oh my god. I think I just found out what I want to do with life.

    Wow. One of my goals in life is to live in the US, and why not go and study to be a librarian there? This is so exciting and awesome!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post !

    I think many people do not realize there are tons of resources (especially very good, academic ones) that are not freely available on Google. (Hence the outrage over the Fox News employee’s tweet about academic libraries being useless. Does she not know what kinds of expensive, academic databases/journals libraries subscribe to?!)

    That said, I have a friend with her MLIS, and she finally admitted to me she believes the degree is somewhat just a barrier to entry to winnow down the field. I mean, I definitely believe people learn things in the programs, and she does, too, but do you really *need* a master’s degree to run book discussions, shelve books, cut out circles for craft time, etc? I’m not sure. She defended her program to me at the time by saying “Well, we’re learning how to use the specialized search engines.” But I believe that if you need a master’s degree to use a search engine, that search engine is incredibly badly designed.

    Again, I’m not saying the degree is pointless and people shouldn’t get it. However, I think it would be great if bachelor’s programs were more available and accredited and if post-bac programs were shorter/more affordable. It’s unfortunately true that full time library jobs are hard to come by these days, and I think requiring an expensive master’s degree to compete for the jobs available is not the way to go. I’d love for more people to be able to pursue the career without feeling the master’s degree is too expensive a barrier to entry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are many facets that are quite complicted; some of my readings are over my head regarding classification theory and other topics. Learning to read MARC records that are used for bibliographic metadata (basically cataloging) is like learning a new language. It definitely depends on your focus. A youth librarian is similar to an educcation major and the info science tracks are basically Computer Science. But I agree that it should not be an advanced degree, because everything you learn, regardless of your area, can certainly be taught in a Bachelor’s program.


      1. I definitely think it depends on your specific focus, what level of job you’re going for, etc.. I know my friend also talked about learning about copyright theory and other theoretical stuff, but in about three years of working hasn’t found the theory impacting her job at all. She found the theory interesting, but the internship and on-the-job training was most useful to her. Of course, that’s her individual experience. I imagine the people heading the Library of Congress might have more theoretical bents than someone running children’s story-time at a small library. Either way, though, I definitely think ALA should look into accrediting bachelor’s programs. I was reading an article that said few exist because the degree is essentially meaningless–it’s just something they’ll accept in very small, rural libraries because they can’t attract people with a master’s degree or, sometimes, any undergrad degree at all.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Definitely! Work experience is valuable; my program pushes really hard for students to do a work experience practicum (I already work in a public library, so I won’t be doing one because it’s equivalent – pairing my work with my coursework has been incredibly effective). I think it’s a problem too because LIS is not necessarily the most lucrative career path, so requiring an extra degree is an unnecessary bar to some people wanting to enter the profession.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome post- *definitely* agree that we need libraries!!! (mostly for the warmth and comfy chairs 😉 ) This is really cool as an insight into actual librarianship! And yes- having had to search for random things in google- just cos I’m weird- I can say for certain it can’t find everything! (and it definitely does that annoying prioritising thing!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The workers at my home library admit that you don’t really need a MLIS to work at a public library. Learning theory and how to curate collections and digitize archival material is all well and good, but you’d probably have to work at an academic library or some sort of historical society for that sort of thing. If you walk into my public library, the workers are joking about how all the MA’s are sitting there cutting out circles for craft time. And when you consider that library jobs in America are scarce and that most jobs are part-time, it really doesn’t make sense to require individuals to get an advanced degree. I think it’s a shame that it’s being used to narrow the applicant pool so that only people who can afford to spend the money or go into debt can get a library job. It would make far more sense to have on-the-job training, but unfortunately we’re seeing that no one wants to pay to train their own employees anymore, so the burden falls on the individual.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely – Briana said the same thing. I think that’s true for starting positions in public libraries, but if you want to work your way up to management rolls, the Master’s becomes more useful. My managers don’t cut out circles, lol. What I’m learning in school is really valuable, but none of it is material that a Bachelor’s program couldn’t teach. It reminds me a lot of my Bachelor’s, which was in English and Secondary Education. You learn more as a teacher from actually teaching than from taking classes, but the classes help give you a foundation for your practice. I wish places offered Bachelor’s in LIS and in turn that libraries hired people with Bachelor’s in LIS so that you don’t have to get an extra degree.


      1. I’m sure it varies from library to library, but in mine there are basically three levels of employment and I have seen everyone cut circles aside from the department head. The department head and maybe one other person in the department are full-time (This is true for each department from what I can tell). The rest are part-time and are usually working another job in retail to pay the bills. So, to me, it’s not really ethical for a library to place the financial burden of employee training on the individual when most librarians will never make that investment back from working. I feel the same way about a lot of advanced degrees, though, not just the MLIS. They’re just a way for businesses to get out of paying for employee training/narrow down the field of applicants. And I think we need to be more upfront with that when we talk to students about what it means to go into extra debt to pursue an advanced degree. Is it worth it if you won’t recover the money?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, it definitely depends on the library. That’s an interesting point, too. I’ve heard many people make the comment that “Master’s are the new Bachelor’s”…it’s almost as if we are experiencing educational inflation across many fields. And with the cost of high education, it’s a major problem.


      3. Yeah, you definitely need a Master’s anymore to get a decent job. But it still seems to me that you shouldn’t have to go into debt twice to get that job. And I worry about the specialization. What if I get a degree in “hotel management” and then realize I don’t want to manage a hotel? What do I do with my very specific degree?? Must I go into debt again for a different degree? It’s all craziness. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I never knew that librarians needed a master’s degree! This post was so informative. I just thought that random humans who can talk to people are hired, no degrees or anything. Maybe that’s just in my country though. You have such a cool job! I’m definitely going to look up LIS.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great post! I definitely agree that libraries are still so important, even in the digital age. It’s great that there’s a place that’s free for the public to access, and a place that offers such a wide range of services too. Plus, anywhere with free books and comfy chairs is always awesome. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  7. ROSE!! Thanks man. I needed to read this. As I said in your other post, librarian science as a degree is a fairly new concept to me (the question in your title for this post was my exact reaction when I first heard of the degree). The information management part got my attention and I think that’s what I really want to get into, if I should pursue this degree. My current job is basically as a journalist, but the majority of my time is spent on data entry, which I don’t mind doing but I’d like to go further with it, or devise ways to easily gather and process certain data…(I’m still thinking it out). And I am trying to avoid taking that GRE too, though many programs require it. I had friggin exams.

    Liked by 1 person

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