5 Sept 2014

The value of the MLIS

Guest post by Sarah Kennedy.

It’s that time again when students are getting themselves ready to start or go back to college and that has me thinking about my ‘back to school’ experience entering the Masters in Library and Information Studies in UCD back in 2012 and how valuable the experience was for me.

I have to be honest and say I never expected to walk out of college and straight into a paid library job. Be that as it may, I didn’t realise just how difficult it would be trying to get a job in the library world. However, having said that, I don’t at all regret my decision to go back to college and study for my MLIS in UCD. I knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park when I made my decision and I am of the belief that a bit of hard work to get where you want to be in life isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes you even more focused and determined.

Following the MLIS I had a fantastic experience on a JobBridge scheme but of course we can’t survive on JobBridge schemes and unpaid work experience forever. They are fantastic for gaining necessary experience but staying on these schemes long-term isn’t sustainable for a lot of us (and nor should it be). I think in the current climate it is important to also ‘think outside the box’ (in this case librarianship) and maybe examine non-traditional roles where people with the skills gained through the MLIS can excel. For example, I currently work in the Research Department of my organisation, a role I wouldn’t have gotten were it not for my experience in the MLIS, both in terms of the research modules I was required to complete and the research I was involved with for my Capstone project. Currently, I’m involved in literature search and review, data management and data analysis, all of which I gained the skills to do during my MLIS year. 

And research isn’t the only non-traditional role in which MLIS graduates could find themselves. The MLIS offers a good range of diverse modules that could lead you in various directions, for example information architecture, web publishing and social computing modules were all on offer when I was doing my degree. And now, this year’s intake are offered Mobile Application Development and a module on E-health.

Of course, like me, many will have done the course (or are thinking about doing the course) with the expressed desire of becoming a librarian but I believe that the really important thing is that upon graduation we are out there using our skills and showing people what information professionals can do. At the same time I also think that should the climate change and library jobs become more available then being qualified and having experience in diverse areas should only help your application rather than hinder it. You will be able to offer qualifications and something different to your employer. In truth many library jobs are now becoming so varied that they are merely a shadow of their ‘traditional’ selves with librarians taking on tasks like social media marketing, research, troubleshooting IT issues and web design and management, so every extra skill you can bring could be hugely valuable.

I would hope that a potential employer would see that I am able to understand different research methods, have experience with funding applications, have undertaken data analysis etc. and that this would make me an asset in a library environment where I would be able to understand the needs of the library users involved in research activities or even assist with conducting research on the library service itself.

Plus, because of the MLIS and my work experience I still have all the traditional skills that are important like cataloguing, teaching and designing information literacy courses, understanding issues in digital librarianship, dealing with reference questions etc. And these also translate to non-traditional jobs if that is where you choose to stay. For example, cataloguing modules make you understand the importance of organisation of information, labelling and making folders and files easier to navigate and find. This is an asset in any organisation.

One other very important part of the MLIS that I really have to mention is the fact that it is where I started building a network of information professionals. Without developing connections with my peers and being able to discuss various modules and group assignments with them I would never have had the confidence to branch out and seek to expand my network. (A network, which over the past 18 months, has been hugely important and beneficial to me.) Information professionals are among the most generous people I have ever witnessed when it comes to lending advice, sharing knowledge and ideas. I really commend SILS for inviting guest speakers, hosting the careers breakfast and promoting groups like NPDIreland, thus encouraging their students to reach out and get involved even before we’ve left the course. I also enjoyed that the management module involved going out to organisations and meeting experienced professionals thus benefiting from their knowledge. I would even encourage more of this, perhaps with library visits to view different library management systems etc.

I believe and I think that many would agree that being an information professional, be it as a librarian or in a more non-traditional role, means lifelong learning and continuous professional development are essential aspects of the job. It is important that we continually seek out new opportunities and knowledge as new technology changes our field. I would have to say that the MLIS in UCD was a great base for me and that while the lecturers taught me a great deal, they also encourage their students to investigate and build on what they are discussing in class through great constructivist approaches and assessments. This approach is extremely beneficial for life outside of college and encourages CPD.

For those going back to do the MLIS that already have library experience or have done the GradDip I think the addition of the new, more technical modules is very welcome and makes returning all the more worthwhile.

For all these reasons I would say the MLIS has a great deal of value. It has been extremely valuable to me and will, I am sure, continue be valuable to me in the future.

I wish the very best of luck to the class of 2015.


Post a Comment