Q: Hello! I am currently a Sub-Instructor/Reference Librarian at a college. Prior to this, I worked for five years as a Library Associate at a research library. I received my MLS in 2011 and was very grateful to get a chance to take this substitute position which could very well turn into something permanent. I, for sure, will have to go back to school for a second masters to remain a librarian at the college level. However, I’d rather just do a PhD because I think that will go further and it’s more of a personal accomplishment for me. I guess my question is would it be a good idea to go for the PhD now? Going for the PhD in Library and Information Science means I will have to move (which I am fine with) out of NYC. Would this be worth it? If this were to become a permanent position, should I abandon the PhD idea? I’m currently 28 and I want to get this out of the way while I am still kind of young and because I know PhD programs can last up to 6 years. I was wondering if someone who has graduated with their PhD can provide me with some guidance on that? Also, where should I begin in terms of looking for PhD programs? How many should I apply to? How did you find funding? If I were to go ahead with this I’m looking to be back in school by Fall 2015. I’ll be 29 by then!
SM: So many questions! So much ambition! I’m exhausted just thinking about going back to school for another degree. Whew… let me catch my breath. Actually, I recently finished an MFA program, which took me five+ years, but I did it — very part time — while I was working (and I’m much older than 29).
I like your motivation and that you are thinking about the future of your career in libraries. Your substitute position sounds great, and the best part is that you are gaining experience to add to your resume, even if the position is only temporary. The question of getting additional degrees, and whether you need to or not, has long been discussed and debated among librarians (we’ve written a few times about PhDs and second masters). There are many academic library positions that do not require a second masters, so don’t think that it is always a necessity. Will it help you get a job? Quite possibly. Do you need a PhD? Probably not. Will it expand your job prospects? Maybe. However, the time you spend getting your PhD will take away from the time you could spend working, which equals experience, which is what gets jobs. A PhD in library and information science is a requirement for being a professor in a LIS graduate program and will make it easier for you to teach (part time or full time) at the graduate level, so if that is where you see yourself someday, go for it. Should you quit your job to pursue more education? Well, that’s a tough decision that only you can make.
Since I don’t have a PhD, I will point you to a few other, really smart librarians, who have written on this topic. A friend, Geeky Artist Librarian, who just happens to have her PhD, wrote “MLS, MA, PhD, EdD… Academic Librarians & Degrees.” And, on the other side of the conversation, Mr. Library Dude wrote “On Being a Generalist Librarian & Not Having a 2nd Master’s.”
The main points that I want to get across is you should do what you want to do, do it for the right reasons, and make sure you enjoy it. Don’t feel like you absolutely have to go back to school for additional degrees. Don’t put pressure on yourself to complete a degree in a certain time frame (trust me, you’re still young and the PhD programs will always be there). Don’t rush into putting yourself into (more) debt for something you may not need, and don’t make yourself miserable in the process.
However, if getting a PhD is something that you absolutely want to do, and you won’t be happy or content until you do it, then by all means, pursue your education. Figure out what area of library and information science you want to focus on, and research PhD programs. Look at their curriculum, their faculty, their areas of concentration, their requirements, and what their PhD candidates are researching and/or writing. All of this may influence your decision. You can find accredited ones by using the American Library Association’s Searchable Database of ALA Accredited Programs. Limit by “PhD.”
As for funding, if you are accepted into a PhD program, most, if not all, will provide some support or funding for the duration of the program. It is a competitive process and if you’re accepted, they want you to stay – they also want you to teach (TA) and work (RA) for them, as part of the program, which will provide you with funds to help support you along the way. Most programs will provide information on the types of funding available on their web sites.