Q: I’ve been working at an academic library since I finished graduate school four years ago. My question for you is this: what would be the best second master’s degree for an academic librarian to get?
I am very interested in pursuing more education and it seems like it would be an advantage to get a second master’s degree, as academic librarians are being asked to be subject specialists more so these days, and I’d like to get a second degree to do just that (and to remain employable). But I’d like your opinion to know what you think are growing trends in regards to higher education — and what potentially overlooked opportunities there are for academic librarians hoping to specialize. For what it’s worth, I’m the library faculty liaison to the College of Education & Psychology here at the university. But if you could recommend a second master’s specialization that would be appreciated!
SM: This is a great question! I have recommendations for you, but the real answer to your question “What would be the best second masters degree for an academic librarian to get?” is… there is no right answer, and it all depends on the job.
A certain subject degree can be valued more for a specific job, because that job deals with that specific subject. A library might be looking for a reference and instruction librarian, but that librarian might also need to be a subject specialist in history, or political science, or mathematics or whatever subject that particular library needs at the moment. And, since you are currently the liaison to education and psychology, and (let’s say) you want to stay in that position, it “may” be beneficial for you and your library to get that second masters in one of those areas. However, since you are already in the role and didn’t need the second masters to be a liaison, then (it seems like) you could probably pursue any subject you would like, although you may want to talk to your supervisor first. If you imagine that you will be job hunting in the future, think about what roles (if you want to do liaison work, and like you said, many academic librarians do) you would prefer. Also, think about how many people have degrees in the humanities (literature, history, etc.) and how many of these people you may be competing with for any given job. In this case, something a little more obscure (like the natural or applied sciences) might make you more desirable as a candidate and more specialized as a librarian, but there may not be as many of those jobs.
Another option might be to pursue a different kind of degree in something like educational technology, or social media, or computer science, or instructional design, or media studies, or public relations, or marketing, or management… where the second masters degree isn’t so much a “subject” but a skill or tool for you to use in your role as a librarian.
My advice for anyone contemplating getting a second masters degree is to go for something that you want to study, something that interests you, and something that you think will be useful to you as a librarian (in future positions as well as your current position) – and this may not be a typical, straightforward subject degree.
Another piece of advice is do not put yourself into massive debt to get a second masters degree. If you are working in an academic environment or applying to academic librarian positions, ask about tuition remission and look into the types of degrees offered at the institution. And, keep in mind that while many institutions require that you have a second masters degree, many of those will let you get the second masters on the job. And, the best part — they pay for it. These positions will usually state in their job ads that a second masters is required for promotion and tenure. When you apply for these positions, you should say in your cover letter that you are very interested in pursuing a second masters degree. An advantage to getting your second masters degree “on-the-job” is that you may be able to tailor it more to your current role and the needs of the library. A disadvantage is that you are limited to that institution’s (or system’s) offerings.
Whatever path or subject you decide to pursue, just make sure it is something that you enjoy, something that challenges you, and something that will enhance your career.