Q: School librarian or archival studies? I can’t decide which path to choose in library school.

Q: Hello! I’ve just been accepted into the graduate program of my choice and am incredibly excited to get into the field. But I am having a really difficult time trying to decide whether I want to complete the school library sequence or the archive studies sequence. The school I will be attending in the fall has excellent programs for both of these fields, so the quality of the program is not really an issue. I realize there are many great attributes to both of these career paths, and that ultimately I must decide for myself, but I wondered if you had any advice on how to choose or could talk about things that ought to be considered as I make my decision.

SM: First off, congratulations! That’s wonderful that you got into the program you wanted. Second, this is a tricky question, and a rather difficult decision, so I’ll turn it back to you and ask:

  • What’s your gut decision?
  • What made you choose that particular school/program in the first place (was it one of the sequences you mention)?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • Have you worked as a teacher, or in a school library?
  • Have you worked in archives?

These are both rather specialized fields, and quite different from one another.  I would suggest, if you haven’t already, to attempt to get experience working in one or both of these areas (internship, part-time job, volunteer) to get a feel for the work and for the daily activities and skills needed. I know that each place of work is different, but (seriously) there is nothing like hands-on experience to make you realize what roles you want to pursue and which ones you don’t.

Perhaps, you may say, you are equally attracted to both areas and you’ve gained experience working in both types of roles. And to that I would say, good for you! You may be perfectly suited for both of these specialized roles. If this is the case, you may want to look at the existing job market for archival positions and school librarian positions. Study the job listings, see how many jobs are available, and take note of any requirements that you may need to acquire in order to be a school librarian or archivist, depending on where you live and the specific qualifications of the job. Other things that can help:

  • Interview (see Q&As on informational interviews) librarians working in both of these fields – ask them how they like their jobs, how they got their jobs, and what they would recommend you do while you’re in school, to make you hire-able when you get out.
  • Talk to someone in your library school’s career center. As an accepted student, you should be able to use their services and ask questions about the different sequences and see if they can offer some advice since they know the courses and instructors as well as the job placements of their graduates.
  • Talk to your advisor when you start the program. Find out what it would take to transfer from one sequence to another.

And finally, don’t sweat it too much. You’re just starting out and many people change their minds, and many others try several different roles and that’s all right. You’ll find your path, and it may be completely different from what you originally planned. Just make sure that while you’re in school, use your professors and classmates and colleagues to help guide you along the way, and try to get experience to supplement your education.

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