HLS/ACRLog: First Generation College Students and the Job Search with an MLIS

Today we welcome a post by Chloe Waryan as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Chloe Waryan is a MLIS candidate at the University of Iowa. She entered into the library field by way of urban public libraries, as a patron, a volunteer, and eventually an employee. She now works as a technical editor for an academic journal. Chloe’s professional interests include access, preservation, and outreach.

I am not sure if any time is “the best time” to choose to go to graduate school for library and information science, but 2016 was definitely an interesting choice. Growing up, I knew very few professionals with college degrees, so I was not prepared for the relative poverty that most graduate students live in today. Like many of my classmates, paying for library school is constantly on my mind, as it is the biggest purchase I’ve ever made. There is an immense privilege attached to going to college, yet it comes with an extreme price tag. Despite our oversharing culture, high tuition has become the new normal and it is hardly ever discussed. It’s a confusing time. Is it hypocritical for academics to complain about high tuition? Can students be against degree inflation while still being supportive of the education we are receiving? The hardest part of starting library school last year wasn’t the coursework or the final exams. It was attempting to wrestle with the value and the values of my soon-to-be-obtained MLIS.

 

We’ve all heard the phrase: “the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma!” This means that despite the high tuition, the college students today are not the elite. Students from all economic classes are awarded the great opportunity to attend college, with help from scholarships and loans. According to the 2010 study from the Department of Education, an estimated 50% of all college students currently enrolled are first generation college students (including myself), who are statistically at a greater risk for dropping out due to many factors, one being imposter syndrome.

 

Have you ever hesitated to apply for a job because you think you’re not qualified? That is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome has the potential to follow students not only through their bachelor’s programs, but their graduate programs and job search.  According to many postings on the ALAJoblist, one must have an MLIS to become an academic librarian. Often time, a second master’s degree or Ph.D. is preferred. Amidst the ever-changing environment of higher education, we are no longer advocating towards lifelong learning as “a key to longer, healthier, more satisfying and productive lives,” (Education and Continuous Learning, ALA) but rather, pushing “lifelong learning to stay employed,” (Kim, 2). If degree inflation continues in this rate, a Ph.D. will be required to hold a librarian position. If that becomes the case, who will we be excluding?

 

I admire librarians who have decades of library experience but no college degree. When I graduate, they will still be far more experienced than I. They are the toughest, smartest, kindest professionals, and I consider them pioneers in their field. My hero librarians have gained their expertise by working in a professional environment, taking classes as non-degree seeking students, critically thinking on their own, and of course, through reading books. They do not see gaining a library job as an endgame, but rather as an opportunity to potentially learn what they were not afforded to learn in college. If they applied for another job either laterally or higher up, they would not get the position because of their lack of formal education. Potential employers would be missing out on their creativity, productivity, and entrepreneurial spirit. I have also known librarians who have Ph.D.s who have seem to forgotten the core values of librarianship. We are working with two different sets of standards: one set is formal education and one set is experience. Hiring committees should be able to reflect in their postings that both sets have merit. If anyone can compromise between two different sets of standards, a librarian can.

 

By putting a college degree on a pedestal, we exclude others who have chosen not to get or who are barred from getting the education with which we are privileged. If degree inflation continues, I predict that the LIS field will include those who feel comfortable in an academic setting, thus excluding the first generation college students currently enrolled in America (which, as a reminder, is half of everyone currently enrolled in college). Why are we not hiring people who accurately represent the demographics of our school? I will add that this is not necessarily all our fault, as much of this comes from administration and union restraints, from the competitive job market and from our fear-driven economy. The anxiety and fear we face as library professionals in America right now is overwhelming. We can only try to be more welcoming to those who offer unique perspectives.

 

To be clear, I do not think that the MLIS isn’t valuable. It is a huge accomplishment. Aside from luck, convenience and privilege, I work towards a master’s degree because I want a job that I enjoy, and I want to prepare myself for that job through a combination of schooling and work. However, I must admit that the thought of applying for a job as an academic library is incredibly intimidating. I have heard stories about the all-day interviews. I have been told to save a few thousand dollars to travel to interviews. I have also been told to brush up on my dining etiquette because the casual lunch “counts.” Even after overcoming the struggles of a first generation college student, I fear that I am unemployable. As academic librarians, you have a responsibility to your students and your applicants. It is your responsibility to show these new faces that they have unique perspectives needed in their respective fields, their institution is proud to be represented by them, continuing education is something to be admired and it is never a burden to ask for help. You also have a responsibility to yourself. Show that the journey doesn’t end with the completion of the degree. Welcome and learn from your coworkers. Despite the larger issues in America, patience and compassion towards everyone, no matter what socioeconomic background, can create a new era in which everyone will want to become librarians.

Thank you to ACRLog and Hack Library School for this opportunity.  

 

References:

 

Cardoza, Kavitha. “First-Generation College Students Are Not Succeeding in College, and

Money Isn’t the Problem.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Jan. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/01/20/first-generation-college-students-are-not-succeeding-in-college-and-money-isnt-the-problem/?utm_term=.d26f3ac65369.

 

“Education and Continuous Learning.” About ALA, American Library Association, 13 May 2013, www.ala.org/aboutala/missionhistory/keyactionareas/educationaction/educationcontinuing.

 

“Home.” First Generation Foundation, First Generation Foundation, 2013, www.firstgenerationfoundation.org/.

 

Kim, Bohyun. “Higher ‘Professional’ Ed, Lifelong Learning to Stay Employed, Quantified Self, and Libraries.” ACRLog, ACRL, 1 Apr. 2014, acrlog.org/2014/04/01/higher-professional-ed-lifelong-learning-to-stay-employed-quantified-self-and-libraries/.

One thought on “HLS/ACRLog: First Generation College Students and the Job Search with an MLIS

  1. Hi Chloe,

    I just wanted to say how wonderful it is to see an upcoming librarian question a professional fundamental – THANK-YOU!!

    Despite the fact that librarianship only exists because people (in our communities & organisations) ask questions, challenge their preconceptions/biases/prejudices & say “I don’t know”, many of us are not willing or able to do that of our own profession or our individual professional practice. Some of us even criticise, complain about & act aggressively towards our fellow librarians who have the insight & the courage to ask questions of our profession & professional practice.

    I hope that you experience a long, fulfilling, challenging & enjoyable career as a librarian, & I hope that you continue to ask fundamental questions of librarianship & librarians. It is the courageous & questioning librarians (new & established) who will keep us connected to our clients & drive the profession’s continued relevance.

    I don’t know enough to comment on the content of your post (as I don’t work in the US) but it does remind me of some concepts critical to an evolving professional identity & professional growth no matter where you are on your journey – practical knowledge, confirmation bias, reflection-on-action, reflection-in-action & lifelong learning.

    Best wishes to you & to all the other soon-to-be librarians out there!! Sandra

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