Robin Camille Davis
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Hello from New York! My new job, how I got here, and the value of my MLIS

November 05, 2012

Readers, I am happy to say that I have moved to New York, and as of late August 2012, I have taken a job at John Jay College of Criminal Justice as the Emerging Technologies and Distance Services Librarian!

Haaren Hall, John Jay College of Criminal Justice (photo by me for @johnjaylibrary)

Haaren Hall, John Jay College of Criminal Justice (photo by me for @johnjaylibrary)

Living and working here has been fantastic so far. I am really enjoying my new job. Friends have asked me what "emerging technologies" means in a library. It's sort of a catch-all term, but this semester, I am

  • exploring new ways technology can aid student and faculty research, discovery, and output
  • migrating the library website from static HTML pages to Drupal
    • customizing the responsive Drupal theme and upgrading the library's brand
    • updating the website's information architecture to reflect the library's changing roles
    • conducting usability testing on the beta design with students and faculty members
  • researching and implementing effective distance librarianship practices (e.g., how do we provide instructional and reference services to students who will never set foot in the library?)
  • serving on or chairing a few committees, both within the library and campus-wide
  • behind the reference desk for a few hours a week
  • see more at my Emerging Tech in Libraries blog »

One of the best things about the position, in addition to wonderful and supportive colleagues, is that librarians are faculty members. This means that research time is built into the job, and in this library, we are encouraged to pursue any and all research interests (not just library science). As a newbie, I'm on the tenure-track-track. This means that my future application for tenure is contingent upon me obtaining a second master's degree. Happily, CUNY graduate courses are free for faculty at John Jay (a CUNY campus). At this time, I'm considering studying computational linguistics, since I found the text mining class at GSLIS to be so enjoyable, intellectually stimulating, and applicable to new library technologies. (2013 update: I'm now in the comp ling program!)

I am really excited to see how my job evolves. I feel so fortunate to have found a position that I enjoy and for which I am using everything I learned in graduate school.

About my job hunt

Aside from noting the beginning of this new and exciting chapter in my life, I thought it would be useful to write about my experience coming out of an MLIS program and being able to choose a job that I love. Some numbers for you:

  • Thousands of job listings read
  • 82 job listings considered and researched
  • 23 job applications submitted
  • 9 phone interviews (ranging from 15 minutes to 1 hour)
  • 4 full-day on-campus interviews (in one, I was interviewed by 17 people total)
  • 5 months since first application submitted to final job offer*

* My situation was unusual though. I originally applied mostly to jobs in California and a few dream jobs elsewhere, but in the middle of my job search, my partner at the time had an incredible career opportunity in New York City, so my location target changed.

It may be gauche to share these, but I'd have found it useful. I have no real idea where these numbers fall on the spectrum of MLIS student job hunting experiences, but I do think these are on the smaller side. I was applying to niche jobs that I felt qualified for, having built up a certain skill set. I've heard anecdotes of people applying for 60+ jobs, especially for reference librarians. I've also heard that the average time from first application to job is 6 months.

So if you're looking for a job, especially in this field, do not underestimate how much time you'll be spending on this. Also, if you are looking for jobs at universities, be aware of the job cycle. In my job hunt, most applications for university positions were due in December, January, February, and March. That means you need to start your job hunt in November at the latest!

GSLIS course preparation

At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS), I focused my studies on humanities data curation. These are the classes I took, in general order:

  • Information Organization and Access
  • Foundations of Information Processing in LIS (Python)
  • History of the Book
  • Digital Preservation
  • Libraries, Information, and Society
  • Practicum (at the Center for Multimedia Excellence on campus)
  • Foundations of Data Curation
  • Metadata in Theory and Practice
  • Project Management
  • Systems Analysis and Management
  • Introduction to Databases
  • Electronic Publishing (XML technologies and standards, including TEI)
  • Administration and Use of Archival Materials
  • Intro to Network Systems (how computers and networks work)
  • Text Mining

They have all been useful so far in the short time I've been employed at a library. For students pursuing interests or jobs similar to mine, I would most recommend studying databases, metadata, Python (or another coding language), web technologies, and digital preservation. I would also strongly suggest that every LIS student study databases and project management, in addition to becoming proficient (masterful!) in at least one emerging technology, e.g. web development, data analysis/visualization, coding with APIs, and social media.

Update from 2015: These are the classes I wish I'd taken:

  • Instruction, since teaching turned out to be a bigger part of my job than I'd thought
  • Reference, ditto above
  • Law Librarianship or Legal Information, definitely. I get questions about legal info almost every day. Moreover, in NYC, almost everyone has had at least one legal issue with a landlord, including me. So I've learned a lot about legal info in a pinch, but boy, do I wish I'd taken a semester-long class in it.

Jobs, internships, and volunteerships that prepared me

I love classes! Classes are great. But work experience counts more when you're interviewing for a job. These are the jobs I've worked in the past five years that I brought up most often during interviews, in order from earliest to most recent:

  • web and graphic design positions at various campus offices while an undergraduate, freshman to senior year
  • tutoring three English learners while studying abroad in France as an undergraduate, junior year
  • internship at a local library, inventorying the city documents collection and writing scope/retention statements, summer before graduate school (I did not take any time off between undergrad and grad)
  • graduate hourly position (10 hr/wk) at DCEP-H as a designer building the DH Curation Guide, first and second semester of grad school
  • coordinating a campus-wide survey and conducting interviews concerning media preservation, second semester of grad school
  • internship at the Smithsonian Institution Archives focusing in web preservation (more about this internship), summer after first year of grad school
  • research assistantship (20 hr/wk) at DCEP-H, working as a designer and co-editor of the DH Curation Guide, third and fourth semester of grad school
  • volunteering at the Visual Resources Center at U of Illinois (scanning and Photoshopping slides), end of fourth semester of grad school

List of titles of jobs I applied to (or almost did)

Because I was studying the somewhat nascent field of humanities data curation, I couldn't really look for specific job titles. Instead, I combed through thousands of job descriptions looking for the key skills I'd obtained and the responsibilities I had prepared myself for. Here's a sampling of the titles of jobs I applied to or considered, primarily in academic institutions but also at some tech companies:

  • Archives Technician
  • Curatorial Assistant/Bibliographical Assistant
  • Data Management Specialist
  • Design Researcher
  • Digital Archivist
  • Digital Archivist for Special Collections
  • Digital Asset Administrator
  • Digital Collections and Online Services Manager
  • Digital Humanities Developer
  • Digital Image Curator
  • Digital Learning Initiatives Librarian
  • Digital Preservation Librarian
  • Digital Scholarship Coordinator
  • Digital Stewardship Librarian
  • Discovery Solutions Coordinator
  • Documentation Specialist
  • Emerging Technologies Librarian
  • Emerging Technologies and Distance Services Librarian
  • Information Architect and UX Strategist
  • Information Services Librarian
  • Interaction Designer
  • Knowledge Management Specialist
  • Library Collections Technician
  • Library Project Specialist
  • Metadata Coordinator
  • Metadata Technology Specialist
  • Museum Inventory Technician
  • Project Archivist
  • Research Data Librarian
  • Resource Management Librarian
  • Science Data Librarian
  • Special Projects Librarian
  • Technical Services & Electronic Resources Librarian
  • User Experience Researcher
  • Web Content Manager
  • Web Developer
  • Web Services Librarian

There is so much more to library and information science than just being a "librarian"!

Resources I used heavily in my job hunt and interview preparation


(July 7, 2014: this is a revision to the post, as I hear more and more about student debt. Figured this could be a question, too.)

I was extremely lucky to receive a generous Data Curation in the Humanities fellowship for the first year of my graduate program. It covered tuition and gave me a stipend for living expenses. Before I knew I had landed the fellowship, I was on the verge of deferring for a year to move home, scrounge around for a job, and save up money. That was a depressing prospect, but more depressing was the vision of many thousands of dollars in student loans. For my second year, I took out loans to cover tuition and worked a 20 hr/wk research assistant job to cover living expenses. (My rent in Champaign at the time was under $400/mo, which, wow.)

My loan payments kicked in 6 months after graduation, conveniently not until I started work. For one year of my master's degree, monthly loan payments are around $180, and I'll be paying those until 2022. Combined with my undergrad loans, it feels heavy but ultimately manageable. If I'd had to take out loans for another year of tuition, it would be very challenging. So if you're considering a graduate degree, try not to burden your future self too much.

Pride in my MLIS

There are some negative voices out there saying that a library science degree is a waste of time and money. Like any graduate degree, this is true if you keep your head down, do the bare minimum of coursework, don't chase after work experience, and expect a job to be handed to you upon graduation. It's also true if you only enroll in a graduate program to put off the job hunt or because you can't think of anything else to do. Financially, it might be true if you can't offset the cost of tuition with a graduate/research/teaching assistantship, scholarship, or fellowship. And it's definitely true if you think you'll be reading all day and that you can get by without confronting advanced technologies and new ideas about what libraries are and do!

As for me, I am proud to hold an MLIS and am so grateful for my education from GSLIS! The combination of in-depth courses exploring different technologies coupled with solid librarianship values was excellent preparation for my budding career and research pursuits. I also had the opportunity to work great on-campus jobs and travel for awesome conferences (including DH2012 in Hamburg!) through GSLIS. I felt and still feel extremely well supported by people who earnestly want me to succeed and believe in me. (I know that sounds so cheesy, but it's true.) In particular, I am very grateful to faculty members Allen Renear, Julia Flanders, Cathy Blake, and Kevin Trainor, and to fellow graduate Trevor Muñoz and colleague Megan Senseney, for advising, pushing, and encouraging me throughout the program. I do miss GSLIS already, but I am also very happy to have been able to choose a job that exercises my intellect, kindles the passions I have developed, and allows me to keep learning. Now the real fun can begin! I'll be blogging about what I do at John Jay College at my other blog, Emerging Tech in Libraries.

Leave a comment or get in touch if you have questions about my experience at GSLIS, looking for a job after obtaining my MLIS, or about what I do now.

Edit November 6, 2012: The Signal, the Library of Congress' digital preservation blog, just published a post about how antiquated definitions of "librarian" are negatively impacting librarian job statistics and libraries as a whole: "Librarianship is an increasingly technology-focused profession and that’s only going to become more true in the future. There are still all kinds of stereotypes (or worse) that have to be dealt with, but if we don’t act quickly to define the new face of the profession, others will do it for us, and it won’t necessarily be in our favor." Recommended reading!