Non-Traditional Career Paths for Librarians

By Elayna Turner

The October 2016 discussion focused on alternative career paths that those with an MLIS can pursue. The careers discussed stray from the traditional “reference librarian” position and cover more “unique” positions that can be found. As someone who has felt that being a traditional reference librarian did not suit me, I have a strong connection to this topic and the struggle of trying to find a place in the library world that is outside of the norm.

While the discussion took some time to get started, it picked up after I had sent out a second email which detailed a branch of the library profession that I am interested in which is working as a Library Systems Trainer and Consultant. This career path focuses on setting up and training library staff on how to use their library automation system. An automation system can be open-source or purchased from a company such as SirsiDynix, Innovative, and Ex Libris. This career is typically found in companies that can afford to hire specialists on their software. The position involves extensive travel to other libraries across the country, strong teaching skills, knowledge of all of the functions of a library, and a high level of knowledge and experience with library automation systems.

One respondent, Melissa, mentioned looking forward to the discussion of the topic due to being underwhelmed by her public library experience and citing issues with questionable professional ethics. I have found that this feeling more common than one would think in talking to former librarians who have chosen to either leave the profession or find a non-traditional position within the library world. However, it is important to note that this is true of any field where you are dealing with expectation versus reality. Personally, it surprised me how many people in my graduate courses were pursuing their degree in library science and had never worked in a library before. The popular notion of a librarian as someone who sits in the library reading and helping others find books to love is far more complex than that rosy picture. The job which often involves local and organizational politics, keeping the library functioning at 100% with fewer staff, and developing and implementing innovative programs and ideas to keep the library relevant. Even if the career options discussed were few in number, I hope that Melissa and others found this discussion helpful and that it opened their eyes to the other possibilities of librarianship.

Another respondent, Renae, talked about her experience in Disability and Access Services. She provided a deeper look into her specific position in the field. She worked to obtain accessible texts, convert texts to an accessible format, install and troubleshoot accessibility technology, and coordinate the testing room. One of the points of interest for Renae was being able to work with students who were new to discovering what accessible technology could do to enhance their learning process. This type of work is not limited to any particular field either as one could find the need for this in nearly any organization that possesses this kind of technology and a population that needs it. An MLIS is the perfect complement to a position like this as many librarians are dedicated to ensuring access to materials and this is one of many ways that a librarian can ensure a population is being fully served. A career like this requires a dedication to providing access and skill with technology. It may not be for everyone, but it is a strong option for those looking to provide access to underserved populations.

G.W. touched on the topic of working in Digital Collections. He was able to take a temporary, unpaid position working on scanning dissertations and earn a benefitted position by improving the workflow and streamlining the project’s pace. I felt that this was an excellent explanation of what it’s like to find a non-traditional library position and where a position like that can take you. Unpaid internships and temporary positions can offer unique opportunities to discover an aspect of librarianship that may not be readily found elsewhere and they are useful tools for discovering what your niche might be. A bonus of these kinds of positions is getting experience in an area that most other people have not had and this is useful during the job hunt.

Ray mentioned the usefulness of the Special Libraries Association in finding off the beaten path positions. Sometimes it is easy to forget that libraries exist in more than just municipalities, county systems, or colleges and universities. A wide variety of places need them because there is more to the information profession than simply books. From private corporations, museums, and historical societies to entities such as NASA and the CIA, there are libraries in unexpected places and they rely on librarians to apply their research skills to accomplish the mission of the organization.

One of the most important takeaways from this discussion is realizing the sheer diversity of the library profession. Granted, only a few career options were discussed, the examples come from a wide range of disciplines. There are many places that a library science degree can be useful for. While some may claim that the age of the Internet has eliminated the need for librarians, in reality, the Internet has expanded the need for information literate professionals to locate accurate, unbiased information. It is important to remember that information is everywhere and so are librarians.

Links shared during discussion

Special Library Association


Disability and Accessibility Services:

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