In my late 20’s, I decided that employment as a System’s Administrator might not be how I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do, which was, as of then, still cloudy, and decided a career in Knowledge Management (KM) would be a logical move. The field overlapped with many of the technical and business skills I already possessed. Five years out, here are some reflections on the experience:
1) The job market: the big lie as I still refer to it. From orientation, to graduation, we were told that many librarians in the field were retiring and that there was high demand for people with our skillset and credentials. This is not, and has not been true for a long time. Beyond the anecdotal, where I know people who took up to two years to find professional employment, the supply of card carrying librarians outstrips job market demand, with retirement rates far lower than touted. Further, people in the field aren’t clamoring to retire. With job security, and that 2008 market downturn, people have held on to their jobs.
Going into *any* graduate program, I would strongly suggest researching job market data. Unfortunately, the school you go to may not make this as transparent as one would prefer. I respect the school I went to, but there is absolutely a conflict of interest. Library school is not alone in this. I would argue most graduate schools likely are. This is the cost of running a school as a business.
2) Getting a job in a library (or an archive, or in KM): if you’re in library school, and can get some time actually working in the sort of library you’d like to work in professionally, do it. Having actual experience will make you far more competitive than others in your cohort who have no experience in the context. This can be extended to Knowledge Management or Archival streams. My relevant experience, which I continued building while I was in library school, definitely situated me to be more attractive to potential employers.
3) If you’re not looking for a library job, understand what elements of your education and previous working experience can be leveraged in the job market. In the language of HR coaches everywhere, think of your transferable skills. The line is a bit of a cop out, but if you can create a story for yourself, matching your skills, education, experience and areas of interest, you will be a far more interesting candidate. I liked the taxonomy development part of Knowledge Management, which is related to what I ended up finding a job doing.
4) Be mobile: just because your library school is in a particular city, does not imply that city has a job market that can support your entire cohort. You may be extremely lucky, and find a job there, but many do not. Your chances of gainful employment go way up when you expand your search geographically.
5) Connections matter: I’ve met some really great people in library school, who I keep in touch with, irregularly, years later. The best people, the greatest people.. I kid, enough Trumpism. Maintaining a professional network, following library school, can prove helpful in unexpected ways. In the language of KM, social capital matters.
So with all this in mind, do I regret library school? Not at all. It was useful in launching my career in an entirely new direction. I made some great connections, learned quite a few diverse skills that I use at work regularly and was able to improve my on the job happiness. I do however wish that grad school in general was a little more honest about career prospects.