Alternative Careers for LIS Grads
11/02/2014 § 8 Comments
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Alex Berman.
Alternative careers for LIS graduates is something that’s not often discussed and, in classrooms, is often ignored. Yet you might be surprised to know that your LIS degree is good for more than just libraries and archives. In this post, we’ll look at LIS skills that are in high demand (almost all of them), what kinds of alternative LIS jobs are out there, and (using my own experience) how you can go about getting yourself one of these jobs.
It’s a tale as old as time: Go to library school, take a lot of classes in library school, get a job in a library. But what happens when this narrative goes off the rails? What happens if you decide that working in a library isn’t for you? Or if the choice is even tougher: what if you can’t get a job in a library? As the LIS field becomes more saturated with recent graduates and non-retiring librarians this scenario is becoming the new norm, not an exception. For people on the tail end of their LIS education this can be an extremely frustrating experience. You’ve taken out loans, put off a career, switched careers, and may even have a family to support – and now you’re confronted with an extremely tough job market. In this case, LIS school job boards aren’t much help since they aren’t really geared to helping graduates get non-library jobs. Professors are similarly of minimal use because the whole reason they are hired is because of their expertise in the LIS field. So is it all for nothing? Is your post-graduate life really doomed to be a series of part time low wage jobs? Nope. Although LIS schools are focused on giving you the skills needed by the library and archives professions, those same skills are in high demand in many other industries.
When I graduated from Simmons GSIS in 2011 I was at a cross roads. Over the last two semesters of library school I had come to realize that I was not suited for, or particularly enthused, to work in a library or archive. Instead I focused my classes and extracurriculars on all things digital information management. With graduation looming, I figured that there MUST be opportunities in digital librarianship and archives for someone like me. Unfortunately, I did not find these opportunities upon finishing the program (May 2011). My job search started with jobs focusing in digital archivist and general librarian positions at both public and corporate libraries. I figured I’d like these kinds of positions and that I would be qualified. After a few weeks of applying (at a rate of approx. 30 applications per week) I expanded my search from libraries and archives to academic positions (tenure + non tenure track) because I was receiving no feedback from any place I had applied. When this broader approach didn’t produce any results, I started searching by job skills. This led me to Kaplan Publishing, which was looking for an XML + information science specialist (Content Manager). It was definitely not where I expected to land after graduating from library school, but at that point I was desperate and taking the job at Kaplan as a Content Manager allowed me to not take a second job and seemed slightly related to my education. I’d also like to note that I was limited to jobs in the greater Tri-State area as I was moving to NYC in August 2011 and that I was profoundly ignorant as to how to an efficient job search worked. My shotgun approach is definitely not something I’d recommend repeating however educational it might have been for me.
I was at Kaplan Publishing from July 2011 to December 2013. During my time there I utilized all of my LIS skills every day. I regularly created metadata for Kaplan Publishing products. Additionally, I implemented metadata standards for our content, married existing metadata “libraries” (each Production Editor had their own system) with new standards, and fought quite a few political battles over the business case for streamlining the implementation and usage of metadata.
I was notified in October 2013 that my job with Kaplan Publishing was ending on Jan. 1, 2014. At that point, the value of my LIS skills became readily apparent. As I searched through job listings, was referred to employers by co-workers, and went on job interviews I received the same message over and over again: We would love your skills on our team. What skills? Metadata management, information and content management, ability to leverage existing knowledge resources and produce results, and a whole bevy of skills that are emphasized by an LIS education. More to the point, I realized that despite the rhetoric coming from LIS schools, blogs, and even your own peers there is a huge DEFICIT of information science professionals. Companies like Audible.com, Crown Publishing Group (Gone Girl) of Random House, Fodors, Wiley Publishing (Academic Books), Oxford University Press, Nasdaq, Knewton (a leading Ed-Tech Innovation Company), and Reader’s Digest are all looking for people with LIS skills – and they are willing to compensate recent graduates well for their time (average salaries start around $52-55k). Thanks to my education and experience, I eventually received four job offers and started a new position as Business Analyst for the Publishing Technology at Reader’s Digest in NYC.
The lesson to take from my experience? An LIS degree is a fantastic asset in your job search and your career.
Here’s a list of skills that employers find highly desirable and that you probably already have upon graduating:
Taxonomical management (how to select and utilize taxonomies)
Metadata management (how to select, curate, and implement metadata standards)
Handling different kinds of customers (different people, different approaches)
XML/HTML/CSS (You don’t have to be an expert, but any knowledge is going to set you apart)
Rich media management (photos, blogs, videos, etc.,)
Content strategy (how to use and strategize content creation, usage, and leverage said content)
You may not even realize that you have these skills until you look at a job description and have that “AHA!” moment. More to the point, you’ll probably notice that many of these skills are linked to jobs with excellent job growth opportunities. Some job titles that you’d be well suited for upon leaving LIS school include Content Manager/Producer, Business Analyst, Digital Asset Manager, Content Strategist, eBook Technician, and Metadata Specialist.
Here are my final pieces of advice:
Utilize your network. You never know who could help you land your next job.
Manage your brand. It’s not about quantity – it’s quality. Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, a website: these are all your “brand.” Manage these outlets so that you present the best possible version of you to any prospective employers. Remember that the entire purpose of these outlets (in relation to your job search) is to get you an interview. Once you’ve got the interview/s you’ll have to do the heavy lifting.
Get someone to look at your resume (use your networks). I would have someone who is NOT a close friend/family member do this for you. The reason is that the closer the person is to you, the more likely they are to give you an easy A. You want someone who’ll tear your work apart …. and give you constructive advice.
Be flexible with your ideal first “job.” If there’s one thing I learned it’s that you never know what you’ll end up loving so you might as well be adventurous.
The thing to keep in mind is that if you can’t find a job in a library or archive do not lose hope. In fact, you should feel extremely optimistic about your job prospects as you prepare to leave LIS school. Your degree has many, many applications beyond the traditional confines of the degree and is in great demand in many information management reliant professions.
Alex graduated from Simmons College Dual MS/MA program in 2011. He’s worked for Kaplan Publishing, as a Content Manager, and recently joined Reader’s Digest as a business analyst and product owner for the company’s internal CMS systems. In his off time, Alex runs marathons, eats a lot of the chipotle butter corn at Alfies in Hells Kitchen, reads books, and loves taking his French Bulldog, Moxie for walks. You can reach him on Twitter or LinkedIn at any time.