Is My MLS Worth It?

Recently on the SAA SNAP (Society of American Archivists Students and New Archival Professionals) Roundtable listserv a certain Forbes article “The Best And Worst Master’s Degrees For Jobs” by Jacquelyn Smith has ruffled some feathers. Smith proclaimed in her article that the number one worst Master’s Degree according to her dedicated research was that of Library and Information Science. This being said she relates the degree to the earning potential of $57,000 at mid-career level for the common positions of “school librarian, library director, and reference librarian.”

This article being in Forbes denotes the obvious, that “librarians” are not paid enough to make a master’s degree worth the time or money. However the article does quote Katie Bardaro of Payscale.com as stating, “Evaluating the benefits of a master’s degree is not just about the potential for higher pay, but also about the opportunities it will bring, the skills and knowledge it can provide, and overall satisfaction.”

Reality Check: Basic librarian jobs (i.e. public or school librarians) do not pay well at all. The profession over all is a very difficult uphill battle which only begins by getting your foot in a door somewhere (anywhere, even volunteering your good time). Getting a job in the profession or its related fields including those of the archival bend are a combination of boots on the ground hard work, networking, and dumb luck.

The former and the latter is how I found my current position. My job is not ideal, but I have a wonderful opportunity to create an archive and increase my future potential while building something for the library I have come to love. I have wanted to be a “librarian” for over 30 years. Granted I was not sure where I would end up and even explored the option of working for NASA during my high school years (Something about math. I can’t remember exactly).

During high school I worked part-time as a library page in Virginia. I did a lot of research and knew even then that the professional field was not an easy or well respected/rewarded one. The one thing I did know was that to go further in the profession you needed a master’s degree. Life moved on and I eventually received a BA in History (another one of those worthless degrees apparently). Life moved on again and I found myself at a crossroad. Did I want to work in a grocery store deli all of my life?

The answer was a resounding NO! This little epiphany came to me one day while I was being chewed out for not checking behind my co-worker to make sure he was doing his job. It was a sort of out of body experience where I was hearing what was said, but I just didn’t care. All I remember thinking was I had to get a library job and I had to pursue my MLS (And where are my birthday balloons?).

Nobody had to do a sell job on me this was my dream. Unfortunately others have expressed their personal reluctance at obtaining an MLS, incurring monstrous loans (For which I am struggling with Direct Loans about), being lead down a primrose path by recruiters, and general lack of good information via government statistics on job growth potential.

Reality Check: My advice on the latter is to stop looking at numbers and find a person to talk to about the profession. If you want to be a school librarian talk to a handful likewise with archivists. You have to talk to the professionals in order to find out the nitty gritty details. And while you’re at it ask if you can volunteer to see if this is what you want to do with your life before you get yourself in too deep.

While the Forbes article spouts off about the best job i.e. Physician’s Assistant (Just wait 5 years for that market to be saturated.) versus the worst, Librarianship it does not take into account little things like squeamishness about bodily fluids (i.e. I leave it up to your imagination). Another problem that is not addressed in the article is that considerations for employment are dependent on having a master’s degree in library and/or information science, archives, or history (or other related offending studies). Forbes even posted an article a month prior on the merits of gaining the illustrious degree. Charles Purdy, senior editor for Monster.com is quoted as saying “Library science is a really hot degree right now”  in relation to the field of Data Mining for those of the technical persuasion (“10 Jobs That Didn’t Exist 10 Years Ago” by Meghan Casserly).

Confused yet? Maybe it is in the way we niche ourselves in the market. Many have noted in the comments to the former Forbes article that everyone is not working as a public or school librarian some, shocking as it seems, are working in fields entirely unrelated (well not entirely, but enough so someone with a master’s in journalism could find the connections – Was that too low a blow?).

I lived and breathed history for seven years in England and nine in the tri-Colonial area of Virginia. The archival profession fits for me. And yes for a lot of other people too. I just need to work a little harder for my professional pay out (which has nothing to do with money just good old satisfaction of living my dream – Too cheesy?) hence this blog which no one (not even my mom) is reading.

Happiness and job satisfaction was also a theme of ALA President, Maureen Sullivan’s response to the Forbes article in American Libraries Magazine. Even so many comments to her response are in the realm of negative reality checks. Getting a job is hard. Finding a career is astronomically difficult especially at this time. No one will hand you anything in this world unless you have lots of dumb luck.

If you have received your MLS and want to praise or vent please take the time to partake in an online survey sponsored by the Scholarly Communication Institute for Alternative Academic Career Paths available until October 1, 2012. Or leave a comment below. No whingeing please, I don’t think I could stand any more at the moment.

And the answer to my initial question?  H*$l yes!

Now if only Direct Loans will cut me a break until I can afford to pay my loans back . . .

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