Librarians Everywhere | Careers

It’s a growing trend: each year more library school graduates report working as librarians outside of libraries in LJ’s annual placements and salaries survey.

In the trenches with trained librarians on using their skills outside of libraries

It’s a growing trend: each year more library school graduates report working as librarians outside of libraries in LJ’s annual placements and salaries survey. They also report that private industry salaries are noticeably higher. The 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that top-paying fields for librarians include the federal executive branch; computer systems design and related services; legal services; securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments and related activities; and scientific research and development services.

We checked in with respondents who are applying their Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree outside of libraries to see how they are putting their library expertise to use in these different work environments. They report that library skills are widely transferrable to other positions, especially those that are data-driven and tech-inflected, and that at least some bosses and human resources professionals are savvy enough to seek them out specifically. They enjoy many aspects of their roles, but one common thread connects them: compensation. The need for secure, full-time work at good pay with good benefits and in the desired geographic area is leading library school graduates to cast a wider net, rather than an intrinsic desire to break new ground.

The accidental pioneer

“Do not go into the library profession,” some of his co­workers told Matt Cipriani. “It’s dying a slow and terrible death.”

But there was another segment of the staff at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, where Cipriani served as a reference assistant, that he describes as the kind of “cool, hip people I never thought librarians could be.” They not only showed him the library ropes but also pointed out that a librarian can do a lot beyond work at the local public library.

So Cipriani pursued his MLIS degree online from the University of North Texas, Denton. In spite of some of his coworkers’ advice, Cipriani had every intention of continuing in library work—until a position fell apart two weeks after he accepted it.

“I was out of work for five months after my baby was born,” Cipriani says, “and no [institutions offering] library positions even called back for an interview. Living in the [District of Columbia] metro region, there’s a lot of competition. Most people have some sort of master’s degree, and I had no plans to relocate.”

Cipriani checked out and found a posting for a knowledge management & member engagement manager at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). He was intrigued by the knowledge management (KM) aspect, the close proximity to home, the work-life balance, the tremendous benefits, and an atmosphere not dictated by profits. So Cipriani took a librarian position outside of a traditional library.

For Cipriani, having a library degree and experience was the only reason he landed his interview. Even his coworkers who may not have initially understood why they needed a librarian get it now.

“Many staff are beginning to see why the library experience and degree are useful in my position as I have gotten to work with them and get to know them better,” he says. “I show them and apply many elements of library science, especially in KM, archiving, training, and database administration that they have never been exposed to. And they appreciate that.”

Always Plan A

Alison Fisher is using her MLIS as a digital asset management (DAM) specialist for J. Jill, a national women’s apparel retailer. While “librarian” is not in her official title, Fisher says she’s essentially a librarian for digital assets, serving as part cataloger, part teacher, and part tech support, using metadata to ensure assets get tagged and flow the way they should.

Fisher knew before starting her MLIS program at Simmons College in Boston that she wanted to work in a corporate setting. Familiar with job prospects in academia, she didn’t wish to pursue a career in which work would be unstable or hard to find.

“And, to be frank,” she says, “I knew the money would be better.”

She recognized what she enjoyed during her MLIS program but not necessarily how it would translate to a job title, so she did a lot of googling. She also used

“Nontraditional careers were not emphasized in my MLIS program, so I don’t feel it adequately prepared me to know what jobs to seek,” Fisher says. In fact, her advice to MLIS programs is to avoid pushing traditional library/archive jobs as the only viable career path.

“LIS skills are valuable in all sorts of positions,” Fisher says, “and it seems defeatist not to acknowledge that.”

While looking for candidates, Fisher’s boss at J. Jill specifically charged human resources with seeking people who held LIS degrees from Simmons.

“They did their research before starting the hiring process,” Fisher says, “and they knew a library degree would be valuable.”

They were right. Fisher says her MLIS helped her attain a service-oriented perspective, identify good and bad metadata practices, become familiar with databases, and be able to ask open-ended “reference interview” questions. Her annual salary is currently $57,300.

Fisher’s advice to those pursuing their MLIS? “You don’t need to become a programmer, but learn as much about technology as you can,” she says. “Having a firm grasp on the basics of databases and XML, plus the flexibility and confidence to learn new systems quickly, will make you a stronger candidate for a DAM position.”

Fisher herself didn’t have firsthand experience with DAM software when hired, but her focus on technology made up for it.

If you’re still in school, she suggests finding an internship at a corporation to determine whether you like the ­environment.

benefits of working for vendors

Samantha Bartley’s title has never been “librarian,” though a metadata librarian role might be in her future. Currently, she is senior content editor for ProQuest LLC, an information-content and technology company. She says she uses her MLIS but not in the traditional way.

“As I focused primarily on digital libraries and metadata, my degree coursework has helped me maneuver into more technical positions and has set me on a managerial track.”

She also says her coursework allowed her to explore skills needed to contribute to project creation from concept to completion while her on-the-job training and daily tasks have provided the needed experience to be a better digital librarian and creator.

Bartley makes just under $54,000 per year, which is enough to cover a studio apartment in the Washington, DC, area.

“We have pretty darn good benefits here, too,” she says, listing 50 percent matching 401K, four weeks of vacation after five years, and 40 hours of sick time up front, plus three different and affordable health-care plans, education compensation benefits, a wellness program, and transportation subsidies.

Bartley recommends metadata and tech classes that teach about databases, automation, data analysis, and data visualization as well as management and interpersonal communications/business communications.

“Librarianship is evolving at a rapid pace,” Bartley says, “and it isn’t just about serving the front desk anymore. There are so many things a librarian needs in order to be successful in today’s and tomorrow’s field.”


A curatorial assistant at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Emily Graham provides support for the database and digital projects in Collections Operations, a department that works in tandem with the more traditional departments of ichthyology, entomology, and mammalogy.

“After high school, I read Richard Fortey’s Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum [Knopf],” Graham says. “It sparked an interest in...what it would be like to work behind the scenes at a natural history museum.”

While attending library school, Graham assumed she would land in university archives but then found a job posting on the Harvard job board and decided to go for it. She spends her days cataloging entomology specimens following the Darwin Core metadata schema based on Dublin Core, documenting specimen information (taxonomy, caste, condition, preservation method), collector information (who found it and when), and locality data (country, region, specific locality, GIS coordinates, habitat, microhabitat), and other relevant info and structuring it in a meaningful way that allows researchers to search the database. She says her position was created, in part, to care for E.O. Wilson’s ant collection, so Graham works exclusively with ants. Her library degree provided a background in metadata, databases, and collections management, all of which helped her quickly acclimate to her current role.

Graham says she makes just enough to continue living in Somerville, MA (next door to Cambridge), but not enough to live without roommates, and she appreciates the ability to take Harvard classes for $40.

Advocating for library skills

Cipriani is grateful for his MLIS degree, even if he hadn’t originally intended to pursue it and isn’t using it the way he had imagined. At $67,000 per year, he’s making his highest income ever.

“I always said after I finished undergrad I would never go back to school,” he says. “I was a terrible student in high school and not much better in undergrad. But look at me now! I still can’t believe I got my master’s and with a 4.0 GPA. I have a great job, a wonderful family and a house, and I live in one of the most culturally accessible cities in the world. I never thought I’d be where I am today.”

His advice to librarians just starting their degree programs is to advocate for yourself.

“There are so many companies and positions out there that need folks like us,” he says. “Sometimes they don’t even know it. Be your own promoter and make the argument that you and your skills are useful, regardless if it’s a library position or not. There is so much more out there to [which you can] apply your library skills, to make a difference, to be appreciated and rewarded.”

Denice Rovira Hazlett (; @charmgirl on Twitter) is a feature, profile, and fiction writer

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My first job out of my LIS program wasn't in a library. I went to work for the Institute for Scientific Information. Not my first choice but it paid the bills. I also learned to use the Science Citation Index like a pro (that was in the days when it was still all - or mostly - print) and that ultimately helped to make my way into the library profession. Just because you aren't working in a library position now, post-MLS, it doesn't mean that you never will.

Posted : Jun 28, 2018 10:38



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