Find Your Path: How to Figure Out Your LIS Career Direction

diverging paths in a snowy forest
Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding

By now, I think we’ve all heard that an MLIS degree gives you nearly unlimited career options like: content consultant, cybrarian, director, instructor, public librarian, academic librarian, and acquisitions manager. Options abound in marketing departmentstech companies and government, not to mention knowledge management, technical writing, UI design, research, and so much more.

In some ways, all those options are amazing and freeing and super exciting. But all those options can also be somewhat paralyzing. So how should we choose? Through thoughtful consideration and real-world experiments.

Think About It
First, use the tools the iSchool and SJSU provide. The SJSU Career Center provides a list of online self-assessments you can use to help understand yourself and what you enjoy. You should also think about what you like to do, who you like to work with or support, and what environments you prefer. The Career Development team developed a worksheet you might find useful as you consider all of these points. The Career Pathways pages and Career Environments pages have a ton of useful information; there’s both breadth and depth there, so definitely spend some time there.

Finally, remember what questions Jill Klees told me I needed to answer:

  • What do I REALLY enjoy doing and WHY?
  • What elements of this bring me the MOST satisfaction?
  • Why did I choose to come to iSchool?

Take It for a Test Drive
sign pointing to main trailNow that you have an idea, be it general or specific, you need to try it out in real life. Maybe you take a cataloging or metadata class to see if you like that kind of work. Definitely take advantage of the vibrant alumni network we have and conduct some informational interviews. If you’re in library school, you are probably inquisitive and curious by nature, so use those skills to learn more about this (possibly) new LIS world.

You should also consider getting involved in professional organizations. The iSchool has active student chapters; learn more about them in this recent Collaborate session where your classmates extolled each group’s virtues. They are a fun and easy way to network and get to know your fellow iSchool students. For even more about each of these student groups, last semester I highlighted each one here on the Career Blog:

Finally, you should take your career idea for a test drive. Get an internship or a job in your ideal field, and see how you like it. Internships generally have a built-in end date, so if you hate it, you know you’ll be done at the end of the semester. Once you complete an internship or two, you will have fresh, marketable skills, more self-confidence, and a better understanding of both the industry and the LIS landscape. Be an awesome intern, and you will also have great references and LinkedIn recommendation sources. No internships in your area of interest? See if you can find an opportunity to do some volunteering in a relevant organization or environment.

As you go through these steps, keep asking yourself if you like what you’re doing, the setting, and the people. Are you excited to go to your job or internship each day? What do you enjoy, and what parts of the experience could you live without? Are you bored or consistently learning and growing in your role? Are you happy?

Pay attention to your answers, and be prepared to alter your original plans. Maybe you hated that cataloging class or found out you really loved social media marketing or your law library internship. Good! These are important things to find out now. Grad school is the perfect time for exploration, and if you’re going to change direction, now is the time to do it. Say yes to as many opportunities as you can – the next one might just be your perfect fit.

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