Further Questions: In addition to the MLIS, what post-secondary certificates, degrees, or coursework is most useful for new hires trying to get into the field?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question is from Twitter. The person asks:

I’m reaching out to Library Hiring Twitter to see what is more useful in getting my foot in the door to an Academic Library. Should I pursue a second Masters or a PhD? Or should I focus on resume building experience instead? Thnx!

My pool of folks who answer questions includes non-academic librarians and LIS workers who don’t work in libraries. So for those folks the question is:

In addition to the MLIS, what post-secondary certificates, degrees, or coursework is most useful for new hires trying to get into the field? Or is experience more important than any such additional education?

Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College: If you want to work in a four-year college, especially one that also has graduate programs, a second master’s is very handy (and sometimes required.) A PhD could be useful if you want to be an academic library director, but it’s not typically expected below that level.

Generally speaking, I think experience is a more useful resume adornment than additional certifications — especially if you earned your library degree online. I like to see evidence that the applicant knows how to DO things, rather than just knowing ABOUT them.

Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: Personally, unless you are wanting a position in something specific, such as cataloging, I feel that a broad range of experience is more helpful than coursework, especially in smaller libraries.  If I could hire someone with an MLS I would look for a person with lots of experience across a wide age range and with a variety of interests.  If they mentioned that they loved working with “X” and would love to take a class on that, that would be a bonus. 

Anonymous: In my experience on hiring committees, some people may construe a PhD as either an overqualification or as evidence that the candidate went to library school because they couldn’t get a teaching job and is therefore not super involved in librarianship. I would say a second master’s is a nice bonus when applying for an academic library job. The way my second MA has benefited me most as an academic librarian is in interactions with faculty. There have been a couple times where all of a sudden I was a full colleague and not faculty lite in the eyes of one of my liaison area faculty after they found out I have a subject MA and a research agenda. This is all to say that resume building is the key thing, but resume building can also look like grad school. The core advice I’d offer is be able to tell your story well in your cover letter to head off any assumptions people may make about your qualifications and experience.

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: The person asking the question doesn’t say whether they are currently working in a different type of library and hoping to make a change, or just entering librarianship. One strategy would be to look at job ads for the types of academic library positions they are interested in. Some will require, or prefer, an additional graduate degree to the MLS. Most often that is an MA in almost any field unless the position is highly specialized. Entry-level positions would not be likely to required a PhD unless, again, it is something very specialized. These days a lot of jobs require some experience so that’s worth keeping in mind. And many libraries will strongly recommend a second Master’s which could be earned while working and is not necessarily a required qualification for hiring. Reading ads for the types of positions they want, and in the type of academic library they would like to work could help. I am director at a small public liberal arts college library and library faculty are not required to have additional graduate degrees although some do.

I am not a big proponent of committing to a PhD so early on. I have a PhD in Theology which I received before I contemplated going to library school.  A PhD in Information Science would be helpful/necessary if the person is ultimately interested in administration as a library director or dean. And that could happen later in a career. Finding that first job is always the most important step in finding the ones after that.

If the person has access to certificates or professional development at reasonable (or no) cost, there are probably workshops or other experiences that would provide documentation of completion that could be useful. They might be a better use of time and funds while focusing on getting experience. Good luck!

Anonymous (Federal Librarian): For most federal library positions, experience matters much more than additional education. Exceptions to this may include some Library of Congress positions, many legal librarian positions, and maybe a couple of the very science heavy agencies. My agency’s HR will toss out any applications without a library degree before they even get to me, so I rarely even look at the education section of candidate’s resume. I am only focused on determining if they meet the qualifications as stated in the job announcement.  When applying for federal positions, make sure your resume is customized for that position and addresses everything in the “How you will be evaluated” section. For federal positions, the job announcement will specifically state any kind of educational requirement for the position. Be prepared to provide transcripts when applying. The hiring managers never see the transcripts, but if the position has an education requirement, transcripts will be reviewed by HR and candidates will be deemed unqualified if they don’t meet the educational requirements as stated in the job posting.

Jaime Taylor, Discovery & Resource Management Systems Coordinator, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts: I hate to say “learn to code,” but…maybe learn some advanced technical skills.

The hardest positions for us to fill in the last couple years have been those that require technical skillsets such as Python, SQL, XML, APIs, database management, data analysis, full stack application development, and similar, *while also* requiring the standard librarian skillsets. And I see library work only moving further in that direction. We obviously need these skills in library systems departments, which is where I work. But we also need them throughout the library. Metadata and cataloging librarians are doing less single item cataloging, and more batch processes and metadata transformations, some of which can only be done effectively with the above technical skills, especially in next-gen catalog systems. Reference librarians are increasingly being asked to help patrons scrape enormous quantities of information out of databases instead of locating the perfect single item, especially at university or research libraries, which means knowledge of APIs, SQL, and advanced spreadsheet skills. Data management is a growing subfield. And open source systems, which often a lot of customization and ongoing support, are quickly proliferating.

Most librarians do not have these skills, because they are not yet considered part of the standard librarian toolkit. We are not taught them in library school – which is increasingly an oversight on the schools’ parts. It can be expensive to foot the bill for that professional development yourself, and libraries increasingly do not have the budget lines for it either. But, if you want to stand out, that’s my best advice. If you have these skills, you might be the only viable applicant for a position that is asking for them. So, learn them, keep them up to date, and have interesting examples of them in your portfolio. Then apply to jobs that list them in the required or preferred qualifications – or, when applying to jobs that don’t, demonstrate how much more efficiently you will be able to do that work with those skills.

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Our librarians are faculty, so those with a second master’s degree in a scholarly field are often better prepared for the kind of research and writing requirements for promotion and tenure. We don’t necessarily require it but it’s useful and will often get your foot in the door for academic jobs. It’s been many years since I was first on the academic job market, but I do remember that more institutions were interested in me due to my educational background (liberal arts undergrad and M.A. in musicology with German proficiency). If you are interested in academic library management, I would highly recommend a PhD in higher ed, although doing that before you are hired for your first job is not necessary. 

Ellen Mehling, Job Search Advisor/Instructor and Brooklyn Public Library’s Job Information Resource Librarian: This really depends on what kind of library work you want to do. I recommend using real, current job descriptions for research purposes: look at a bunch of job postings for positions you are interested in. If you see a certain requirement or preference that you don’t have, again and again in these job descriptions, you may want to look into obtaining that skill/experience/training etc. prior to applying to those types of jobs.

I would also make use of your network here. Ask people you know who are currently doing the type of work you want to do, what their advice is. You can also post a question about recommended additional certificates, degrees, skills, or coursework to a LinkedIn group that focuses on that type of work.

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

I’m reaching out to Library Hiring Twitter to see what is more useful in getting my foot in the door to an Academic Library. Should I pursue a second Masters or a PhD? Or should I focus on resume building experience instead? Thnx! – 

I would have to say that many community colleges do not require a second master’s degree. Instead we would be looking for teaching experience, instructional design, curriculum support, experience with community college students (possible FTIC, workforce studies, varieties of pedagogy used in design and delivery.) With that said I would say that other education that would help you might be:

  • an instructional design degree
  • web degree (either universal design experience, web design – intellectual and technical)
  • computer science or IT degree
  • possibly second master’s in other languages (if the community college you are interested in has a large population of students with other languages)

In addition to the MLIS, what post-secondary certificates, degrees, or coursework is most useful for new hires trying to get into the field? Or is experience more important than any such additional education?

While education opens doors, application of education is great either through full time experience, internships or projects/work specific to areas in demand such as:

  • fundraising
  • design thinking
  • facilities, architecture (public spaces in higher ed)
  • strategic planning
  • public policy or public affairs
  • management of non- and not-for-profit environments
  • curriculum and instruction
  • teaching and learning
  • Libguide hosting/design
  • website hosting/platforms
  • online IL curriculum design
  • managing e-resources including negotiation, multiple-platform management or integrating software into Blackboard, the library’s website, etc.

I should add that in many community colleges additional degrees either initially place employees higher on salary scales or push them up the scale upon degree completion. Obviously additional degrees make it possible in many states for librarians to teach in their college (or in others) if they have the terminal degree in other disciplines. Also, many community colleges today as well as many four and six year environments require PhDs for Deans of Libraries or the highest attainable library or learning resources management position. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or shouted out on stage by a performer at an outdoor music festival. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.


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