Alex Lent, the Information Studies PhD Student
Alex took his MLS and found himself on an academic trajectory.
1. Can you tell us about your current position?
I’m a PhD student in the School of Information Studies at McGill University, where I also occasionally teach. This past semester (in the States, we would call it Spring 2012, but in Canada, they call it Winter 2012. Sadly, I am not joking), I taught Humanities and Social Science Information, which was a lot like my favorite course when I was doing my Master’s degree, so it was fun to get to teach it.
2. How did you get into librarianship?
I worked in Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst when I was an undergraduate there. The head of the department and the curator of collections encouraged me to apply to Simmons, where they were both adjunct professors. I got into Simmons as well as a Master’s program in philosophy, which is what I did my Bachelor’s degree in, but ended up deciding on the former. I loved studying philosophy, but I realized I liked working in libraries more.
3. What work training and education did you have to prepare you for your career?
I did a liberal arts Bachelor’s degree and followed it up with a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. That pairing is pretty common. A little less common is that I started library school right after college. It’s changing - library students are getting younger - but it’s still a bit unusual.
It’s also unusual for a librarian to do a PhD, but there were questions that I wanted to spend time exploring, so it was the right choice for me.
4. What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the field?
I like that the field has both practitioners and researchers. The researchers push the boundaries of the field while the practitioners keep the field grounded. I also like that for researchers, there’s a lot of freedom as to what to study. My work is largely about the history of science, but I also work on publishing. I have classmates who study virtual worlds, management, and health information. The research diversity is great. On the practitioner side of things, the diversity of patron questions is really fun and keeps things challenging.
There are a few things that frustrate me about the field. On the research side, the standard LIS Master’s degree is a taught degree, not a research degree, so it doesn’t always prepare students for the PhD like other Master’s degrees do. On the practitioner side, it’s hard that a lot of entry-level jobs strongly prefer applicants to have an additional advanced degree. If a student gets her BA, then her MLIS, she may have trouble getting the jobs she really wants. If she gets an additional Master’s after the MLIS, by the time she’s done and on the job market again, she may have let her library resume get a little stale. Students following that path have to be careful to make sure that they stay active in libraries. The best way to do it is to get a BA, then a non-LIS Master’s, then the MLIS.
5. What is your advice for readers interested in librarianship?
LIS is a great field, but it’s not all reading novels and helping patrons find their next favorite book. Some days are very hard. That said, I really love being a librarian. It’s a great job and a great professional community.
For people interested in becoming librarians, I would recommend getting experience working in libraries before applying to library school. For current students, that’s pretty easy. A lot of university libraries have opportunities for students. People who aren’t students can volunteer at their local library or email a librarian at a nearby university to ask if they can shadow them for part of a day.
If you’re ready to apply to library school, I have something to say about that as well. US News and World Report ranks library schools in the United States that are accredited by the American Library Association. These rankings are somewhat helpful, but as long as you get your degree from an accredited school and get as much experience as you can before you go job hunting, you’ll be fine. Some schools are extremely expensive. Going to a lower ranked school won’t hurt your job prospects, but may save you a ton of money.
I would also recommend that students try to work in libraries during library school. Doing so will give you work experience and hopefully a paycheck, but more importantly, it will remind you why you are in library school.