The Other Side: A Library Technician in an MLIS Program

I am at the halfway mark of my MLIS experience, and being asked to write a guest post for LTAIG made me very happy.

There are several important questions that library technicians should consider when thinking about library school.

Why do you want to go?

Are you looking for job security? If so: don’t go to library school! There are more and more organizations that would rather hire a library tech than a librarian. This is mostly because techs are cheaper to hire, but sometimes a tech is the best fit for the job that needs to be filled.

Are you looking for promotions? If so: maybe. This is the primary reason why I came to library school: for the direction I want my career to take, I need the MLIS to get the positions I am interested in and go in the career direction I want.

Do you want to be a manager? While there are some tech jobs that include supervisory or managerial duties, most don’t. Librarians on the other hand are told (again and again) that they will be hired as managers.

Do you like your tech skills? MLIS programs are fairly light on the practical skills scale. There are a lot of essays and theoretical discussion. But the mandatory cataloguing skills taught (at least at my school) are not nearly as robust as the ones that you learn during your diploma, and the computer skills that you already have put you well ahead of most people in the program. You might be surprised, but there are no typing tests here. I really hate to consider why.

Are you prepared to be frustrated? I spent most of my first semester torn between frustration and boredom. I called it “Library 101” as the required courses (at UWO) are: Perspectives on Library and Information Science (Philosophy and Functions), Organization of Information (Intro to Cataloging/Techniques I & III), Information Sources and Services (Reference), Research Methods and Statistics, and Online Searching (Information Retrieval).

Sometimes it felt a little like having the two years squished into one semester. There were a number of new things that I learned, but I often felt that the instructors at Langara did a better job.

Another source of frustration can be the entire “librarians vs. techs” debate. It can be a chore when people ignore the skills of paraprofessionals and other library staff. It can be even more frustrating when your instructors starting talking about library technicians stealing the jobs of librarians.

Some good things about library school

This is my first time as a full-time student, plus last semester was the only time that I haven’t worked while going to school (I fixed that problem this semester). Because many of the students here are full-time, you get the same sense of camaraderie and closeness that you do while attending Langara or UFV. And there are just as many amazing, nerdy people who love libraries here as there are in the tech programs.

You do get a chance to take some really great courses after the core ones are completed. For example, this semester I get to learn about Database Architecture & Design, Web Usability, Social Software and Instructional Strategies. Some of my classmates are taking entire courses on working in Medical Organizations, Law Libraries, or working in International Information Organizations. There are of course classes on services to children and teens, community development, web design, archives, and reader’s advisory. There is a certain urge to take them all.

Students are also strongly encouraged to develop their research skills by writing and submitting papers to journals and conferences. And like the library tech program there is a certain amount of making your own opportunities. There are student groups to join, tours to sign-up for and a large number of networking events that you can attend. Western also has a great Co-Op program (paid work!) that places students all over the country for 4-8 months.

If you do choose an MLIS program you won’t be alone; I know 5 other library technicians in my program, including a couple of great friends.  Also, a number of my classmates worked in libraries for many years without formal library training before they came to library school.

I don’t always love library school but I don’t regret it. If you are interested, go for it! Having a library technician background really helps.

Sarah Felkar is a current MLIS candidate at the University of Western Ontario, and received her Library Technician Diploma in 2009 from Langara College. She is a former co-chair and blogger for LTAIG.

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4 Responses to The Other Side: A Library Technician in an MLIS Program

  1. philfeedback says:

    Some interesting thoughts. I am always amazed at the diverse paths people arrive by to this profession. I loved about 90 per cent of my library tech program at U of Fraser Valley. I immediately felt a synergy when I first looked into the program. I was looking for a 3rd career totally different from my two previous ones. I spent a lot of time pulling out my hair at first especially on cataloguing and classification. I fell in love with children’s and youth services. Still want to explore archival materials. Was oddly fascinated by Records Management. The most valuable course I took was Database and software management researching ILS. And so it goes. We should make this a regular column.

  2. Ashley Van Dijk says:

    Thank you Sarah for your perspective. It’s interesting how the two programs overlap (and the debate of Librarian vs. Tech will just keep going!). I’m currently finishing by BGS so I can continue on with an MA, and UWO is one of the schools I’m looking at. It was great to hear from someone who is currently in the program.

  3. Mary Afonso says:

    Hi Sarah!

    Great to hear you are doing well. I’m glad you posted this article as it’s nice to hear what your perspective is on things and what your experience is in getting your masters. Way to go!

    Mary

  4. Julie McCann says:

    I was thrilled to come by your article! I have worked in Reference services in a public library for 14 years and am nearly finished my Library Tech. through distance at Mohawk in Hamilton. I have often thought about persuing my MLIS, yet at my age, I wonder will I be ready to retire before I graduate! ha ha! Wonderful to hear that you went through with it. I wish you every success 🙂

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