Why Study Library Science?

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Raise a glass (or book) for Librarians everywhere. It’s National Librarians Week and my oath–they deserve the acknowledgement! I once dreamed of being a librarian; imagine spending every day in a gorgeous library, surrounded by books. How could that NOT be your dream job? But like many people, I truly didn’t understand what was entailed with being a librarian. Hell, I didn’t even know there were tertiary degrees in Library Science until my best bud enrolled in one. Unlike me, however, she was not dreaming of dusty archives and rolling ladders across bookshelves. In fact, the majority of graduates in Library Science/Services do not end up in your standard libraries at all. Today, Library Science degrees will open more than just the staff door of a library. They can open up a whole range of career options you may never have even realised existed. 

To celebrate Librarians Week, I asked a few Library Science graduates about their qualifications and professional experience. What exactly is a Library Science degree? What was their favourite part of their studies? And how has it helped them in their careers? Because let’s face it: Just because you have a Library Science degree doesn’t mean you have to be a librarian. But they sure do come with a nifty skill set and a pocketful of superpowers!!

What is a Library Science Degree?

First, let’s clarify. Library Science degrees are available to study through tertiary educational programs (i.e., universities and colleges). They can range from Bachelor’s degrees to Master’s, including Post-Graduate diplomas. You do not have to study a Bachelor of Library Science to qualify for post-graduate studies in Library Sciences, so long as your study relates across the two. For example, one of my interviewees graduated with a Bachelor of Information Technology before completing a Post-Graduate Degree in Library and Information Services. 

Many librarian positions require you to have completed some form of Librarian Science qualifications. During your studies, you may undertake a practical placement to gain some real-world experience. But that doesn’t automatically mean ‘library’. For example, one interviewee was placed in a State Government Railway Department to assist with their archiving. Over four weeks, she helped them archive a range of memorabilia, including old train tickets, timetables from the early 1900s, and entire sections of war troop transport records. Unfortunately, part of this process was also assessing the quality of these items and whether they could be retained in digital format. This was going to require more than a solid knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System. It was the perfect example of how librarians are more than book cataloguers. They are the embodiment of data and information management.

What Will You Study in Library Science? 

Like many degrees, there are core subjects, and then there are electives to help you specialise. Both groups of subjects will differ across all of the educational institutions, but they will usually include courses in Information Literacy, Reference Services, Cataloguing, and basic IT skills. Library Science degrees straight out of university are great for giving you the basics and may be required for most general library roles (such as Library Assistant or Library Page). 

Elective subjects are the embellishments of your degree. When I talked with 20 different Library Science graduates, the number one elective they all recommended was Copyright / Intellectual Property. That one is probably a given and may even be offered as a required subject in some courses. Basic Business Management was a close second, followed by Event Management in third place. While business management also seems like a logical choice, event management is growing in popularity thanks to social media presence and the wide range of services offered in libraries. 

One tip I heard quite frequently was to study Library Science as a post-grad and then ‘farm yourself out as a specialist.’ For example, adding your post-grad to your Bachelor of Information Technology can lead to roles in Systems Administration, Business Analysts, Information Architects, and Chief Information Officer. Every mid-tier to top-tier law firm has its own onsite Law Library (so does every court registry). And one colleague who works at a major Art Gallery in Australia says she had the advantage for a promotion thanks to her Post Grad in Library Science. 

But What Did You Love the Most About Library Science?

Tertiary education is EXPENSIVE. If you’re going to chip in the time and money for qualifications in Library Sciences, you want to make sure it’s worth it. I mean, if you’re dreaming of a career amongst the stacks and then you finish reading this article about other jobs–I can imagine you might be feeling mighty disappointed. But that’s not the case.

Talking to Library Science graduates showed me something rather special about Librarians in general: they care so very much about sharing information. And often for the greater good. Even those who ended up in the most private of institutions or companies (eg. equipment/asset manager for a mining company) were still focused on their skills for sharing information across the organisation. 

Jobs for librarians outside your traditional libraries are growing faster than the industry can keep up with. Our obsession with data and information management demands people with skills who can … well, manage it. Library Science degrees give the skills to understand how to manage and secure our data, how to cross-reference for accessibility, and how that information can be shared to improve situations.

“I loved seeing the patterns in information and learning how to collate that.”

“Sometimes it isn’t about knowing where something is; it’s about knowing that we don’t have it anymore and understanding why. Information is a wild animal and I have the joy of taming it.”

“Managing all of the company’s policies and procedures has made the workplace so much better.”

“I’m cataloguing aid and equipment to disaster areas. Never thought a librarian could save lives but here I am!”

Big thanks to the many Library Science graduates who took the time to answer my questions about their qualifications. Special mention to Dominique Flanigan, who has used her Library Science skills to help find “a purple book” on more than one occasion.

For more articles on alternative careers for Librarians, check out fellow Book Rioter Sarah and her detailed list here. It’s also worth reading Ashlie’s article The Best Places to Find Library Jobs here. Enjoy!