Q: I am getting ready to graduate with a BA in English Literature. I know I want to become a librarian (preferably public), but I am not sure how to get my foot in the door. Would it be best for me to continue on to graduate school now or get an entry level job at a public library and work my way up, eventually getting my MLS?
SM: It really depends on your situation, so I’m not going to tell you to put graduate school on hold, but I will tell you that you need to have that experience under your belt before you graduate. So, if you do decide to pursue your MLS immediately after getting your BA, then plan on working in a library while you attend school.
I do think that working in a library before going to library school can be beneficial because it gives you a better sense of what the profession is like and you will (most likely) figure out what you like to do and what you don’t like to do, what you are good at and what you are not so good at; which will help you to design your curriculum when you enter library school, and help you to be more selective with future job prospects and/or internships. When looking for jobs, keep your options open and get as much experience (in different areas, different roles, different technologies) as you can. You may even be drawn to a type of role or type of library that you hadn’t even considered.
Another benefit of getting a job before going to graduate school is that you might be able to keep your job while you attend library school. And, another good thing about getting that first library job is that it makes it so much easier to get your next library job. Even if you work in a public library for a year or so, and then move to another state for library school, you will have that necessary [public] library experience which will help get you a job in your new location. We can’t say it enough: the degree is necessary, but it really comes down to experience, experience, experience.