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Expanding MLS Opportunities beyond Libraries

June 2, 2016

Special Guest Posting authored by Kim Braun

As the pomp and circumstance surrounding commencement fade, it is an opportune moment to contemplate employment opportunities for those with an MLS/MLIS. The degree easily lends itself to careers within library settings (public, academic, and school libraries). Positions in special libraries, such as legal and medical librarians, are also intuitive fits. Job descriptions usually stipulate that applicants must have the degree. However, the research and analytical skills honed during an MLS program can transfer surprisingly easily beyond traditional libraries. Job descriptions in varied fields may not list an MLS, but the required skill set can provide a complementary fit. Whether a librarian has a newly-minted MLS or is reentering the job market, looking beyond the stated required degrees and instead focusing on the employer’s desired skills can significantly expand employment opportunities.

For those with prior library experience, vendor work opens opportunities beyond the physical library, but still within the broader library space. Vendors providing materials, services, and databases value staff who thoroughly understand library issues and can communicate effectively with librarians about their needs. Librarian-trained vendor representatives speak their customers’ language, correctly using and interpreting library jargon. Library science graduates bring their unique knowledge and skill set to influencing, designing, and marketing products and services. In the vendor representative role, MLS-trained employees can thoroughly understand and anticipate customer needs: librarians can naturally create better solutions for other librarians. Here, librarians become the patrons: the representative addresses their needs and provide appropriate services.

Moving beyond the library sphere, the nonprofit world can also prove welcoming. Many nonprofit institutions perform fundraising incorporating prospect research. Prospect researchers work in private educational institutions, universities, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations. They analyze institutional constituents to identify prospective major donors. Researchers use proprietary online databases and complex Internet and deep-web searches to locate prospects’ professional and philanthropic details. This information is then aggregated and condensed into profiles, which fundraisers use to prepare for prospect meetings and donation solicitations. The fundraisers and the institutions act as the prospect researcher’s patrons, receiving the crafted analysis products.

While it may seem more natural to transition into nonprofit or governmental work, library science graduates can also succeed within the private sector. In knowledge management positions, librarians’ classification skills prepare them to create useful taxonomies to organize business information in meaningful ways for retrieval and analysis. Knowledge managers organize existing organizational information so that it can be used and shared by their “patrons” within the company to inform key business decisions. This work can even involve designing business-specific classification, storage, and retrieval architecture from the ground up.

Similarly, librarians’ analytical skills make them well-suited for analyst positions. Market analysts compile and synthesize information from numerous sources to best position their companies to market products. They channel their curiosity to glean insights about why things are the way they are in a business sector. Analysts use the quantitative and qualitative skills honed in graduate study to gather and analyze market data and trends and present colleagues with their findings to position the business strategically.

In today’s information-rich environments, facility and comfort with data are significant advantages. MLS grads not only have the ability to competently manage data, but tend to have a genuine enjoyment (and dare I say love?) of data as well. This personality trait, coupled with the librarian skill set, broaden the range of available career opportunities. In non-library settings, Ranganathan’s five laws of library science expand beyond books and libraries to incorporate all information and services, including users and organizations of all kinds. Today, these reimagined laws guide MLS professionals both within and beyond libraries:

  1. Information is for use.
  2. Each user his/her information.
  3. Each piece of information has its user.
  4. Save the time of the user.
  5. The organization is a growing organism.

Rather than limiting jobs, the degree expands opportunities when the unique skills are understood and marketed as transferrable within the ever-expanding information economy. Don’t be afraid to think outside the library walls – and beyond the MLS.

Ms. Kim Braun is the Associate Director of Prospect Research at Widener University. She can be reached via phone at 610-499-4199 or


2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2016 5:59 pm

    This was interesting to me because I obtained my MLIS while working as a records manager in a law firm. My supervisor was the law librarian and she suggested that I get the degree because classifying, organizing and retrieving records was “a lot like what librarians do.” I later worked as the Records Manager for a mining company and in the office of a university president. I never really planned to work in a library until twenty years ago. I love what I do, but my entry into the profession was not the usual path.

    • Christina Steffy permalink
      November 8, 2016 6:26 pm

      I’m glad you found this interesting, Judith. I often see a library science degree as a possible education background for records management in law firms.

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