Erin Dorney

Blogging life & librarianship

Implications of a School Media Degree?

with 6 comments

I recently received an email from a current graduate student who was wondering whether getting an MS in LIS with a School Media specialization might limit her when it comes to applying for jobs in other environments such as academic, public, or special libraries.

Because I’ve only been on one search committee since I’ve become a professional librarian, I could only really share my opinions and observations. I basically told her that I don’t think it will limit her as long as she can make a strong enough case for the skill set required. She has experience interning in an academic library and clerking in a public library, demonstrating that she is exploring multiple options. That hands-on experience already catapults her above many new grads who will have never worked in a library in their life. I think if her cover letter is strong enough, and if the job is the right fit, she should be able to justify it.

I also took to Twitter/Facebook and asked some of my colleagues what they thought about the issue.

? from LIS student: will getting a school media degree limit career choices (academic/public/special)? #librarians pls chime in

Library school student Amy Pajewski – “from what i’ve heard in face-to-face class..once you choose school lib, you do nothing else. However, the old director of the Lanc Pub Lib System was a school librarian who became director of a public library and then went back to school libraries bc it was her passion. I think it would be easier to switch school to public rather than special/law/academic.”

Recent LIS grad Kiyomi Deards states that in her opinion – “Might make it hard to get into an academic library, education liaison might work, but I don’t see it translating to corporate”

Library school student Maria Rachelle Bedia – “school media are given specific courses and electives to take geared towards becoming a school librarian… I think this is a bit stricter than the other concentrations… at least that was what I saw when I looked at the curriculum for each specialty.”

Recent LIS grad & librarian Peter Coyl – “I don’t think so. The only way they’ll know is if you put it on your resume or job app, and nothing says you have to do that”

Academic librarian & professor Ryan L. Sittler – “School media COULD be limiting. But in practice… not really. There are no limitations in regard to public librarianship. And for academic? There are few, if any. That said, depending on where you apply… there may be a perception that the degree is not as “robust.” Even though it requires more credit hours…” and later “Depends on the type of job, too. A SLM person transitioning to work as a Teen Services Librarian at a public library or an Instruction Librarian at a college/university might actually be a better hire.”

Librarian Philippe Cloutier – “Definitely not limiting. It creates more opportunities if anything.”

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments (I’ll be pointing the student here to read any additional responses).

Written by Erin Dorney

July 12, 2010 at 10:25 AM

6 Responses

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  1. I think Peter hit on an interesting point, and that is that no one is aware of the school media focus on your resume or CV. You still have an MSLIS (or the equivalent) from an ALA accredited school, which if you are serious about being a librarian you should do anyway. I think the problem comes in the experience. As a school media person, you have to (to my understanding) do student teaching – and your experience will exclusively be in schools. The degree is important, but it’s what you do with it that makes the difference. I think if one is not committed to staying in school librarianship, or trying hard to have very broad experiences in the school (which seems to be difficult) then you might be stuck. It seems that broadly librarians get pigeonholed – as a public librarian, academic librarian, etc. From the conversations I have had, it’s difficult to change to a new specialization.

    As a former educator with teaching experience, I will tell you that teaching very much supports some of the core functionalities of a librarian and bolsters many of the skills that are highly sought after by potential employers. It’s a hard gig, though, especially in this day and age.

    I think, then, my answer would be, “It depends on what you want to do with your degree…”

    Jason Dean

    July 12, 2010 at 10:46 AM

  2. I recently accepted a job as a K-12 Librarian at an international school overseas. I start at the end of the month. I don’t have a SLM concentration, but I do have one in youth services. Before I accepted the position, I was worried about being pigeon-holed. What if I wanted to go into Public Librarianship later on, would this position hurt me?

    So I spoke to a few Library friends, and they all said it would not. One said she was a youth services Librarian but ended up working in an Outreach Department, where 15 years later she is now the head, and another who is now a Library director said if anything it would cause her to ask why someone would switch from one type of Library from the other, but it wouldn’t be a negative: the experience working in Libraries is what was important to her.

    But I still stand by me tweet, only her experience will give away the fact she has a SLM concentration, but she doesn’t have to mention it on her resume. And if anything with the job market the way it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if over over the next 5-10 years we see a lot of hoping between various types of Libraries.


    July 12, 2010 at 11:28 AM

  3. Being a School Librarian I would not find it limiting. In fact I would find it the opposite. Collaboration is a large part of school librarianship which all levels seem to be stressing now. Also the ability to teach successfully to any level is pivotal which I have gained significant experience in my 2 years as a teacher librarian. It is all about how you present yourself. Portfolios change depending on the position you apply for. I would say it is always good to vary your experience. I volunteered in a public library for years during middle and high school, worked in a law library, academic library, and interned in school libraries. It is very important for librarians to be flexible and multifaceted.


    July 12, 2010 at 12:21 PM

  4. Erin! I have been weighing both sides of this debate since I started looking at library jobs. I got into school media to keep my options open, but I’ve been noticing that many of the non-schmed positions (mainly in academic libraries) require experience that my degree track did not afford. As you said, it’s all about the skill set: my program afforded me


    July 13, 2010 at 9:21 AM

  5. Erin! I have been weighing both sides of this debate since I started looking at library jobs. I got into school media to keep my options open, but I’ve been noticing that many of the non-schmed positions (mainly in academic libraries) require experience that my degree track did not afford. As you said, it’s all about the skill set: my program taught me many things that I could take into young adult or children’s services, and my classes in library management are pretty ubiquitous, despite the focus on school media centers. My primary question in this debate is, “I don’t have this experience… would I have gotten it with a general degree?” Unless I’d chosen another specialization, such as cataloging, I’m not sure that I’d have those specific requirements anyway. I suppose my real answer won’t come until I’ve been hired. Until then, I’m thinking about how my schmed experiences are adaptable to each library environment- something a good librarian (or any employee, really) should be doing anyway.


    July 13, 2010 at 9:26 AM

  6. Hi Karen,

    I agree it’s mainly about translating experience to address the job requirements. It’s pretty common in academic situations for the initial evaluation to be done using checkboxes as they go through the completed applications. Those with enough checks move on to the phone interviews and/or have their references checked. I think that other librarians would see the value of the skills from a school library media position, but I also know that a lot of the time someone outside the library, like an HR firm, makes the first cut. Which means that you can’t assume the person reading your cover letter will understand library speak or how your skills transfer if you don’t make it clear how they transfer, non-library proof readers can help a lot with making sure you’re not using too much library speak.

    From my friends experience in corporate libraries some exposure to their resources would give you an edge, but that can mean as little as one reference course, or exposure through a part time job, a month or two volunteering, etc.

    From my experience with my academic library job search I’ve seen mainly positions which want a very specific type of experience/skills. I.E. Working experience within the field or a second masters, at most places these seem to be fairly equivalent as far as points toward considering you. None subject specific positions I’ve seen have been in Emerging Technology, Outreach (probably this would be easy to campaign for with a schmed experience), and cataloging (it should be kept in mind that many places seem to be shifting cataloging positions off campus so if you have a problem with that make sure and ask before you write a cover letter applying for such a position).

    As with any job search, being flexible (as many before me pointed out) and able to move is a huge plus.

    Good luck!



    July 15, 2010 at 8:43 PM

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