For some reason I can’t quite understand, this blog gets under a lot of people’s skin, and subcutaneous blogging can be messy sometimes.
All the anti-AL fanatics should get the twist out of their knickers and realize this blog is a public service. I guess I’ll have to be more specific for some of those people.
AL Public Service Announcement #1: If you can’t afford it without loans, don’t do it.
That advice is good for a lot of activities, and if more people had followed it the housing bubble that destroyed so much of the economy would never have happened. But in this case I’m talking about library school.
I’ve been giving this advice for years, but not enough people are listening and then they regret it, like the commenter last week who wrote: “I’m $50k in the hole for a degree, graduating in December, with no jobs to be had.”
If you take out big loans for library school, you’ll graduate owing more in loans than you’ll make in a couple of years even if you get a job, and those loans can take a long time to pay back, and by the time you’ve paid them back with interest, you’ll have paid more than you’ll make in four or five years. Do the math, people.
Back when the ALA was still foolishly touting a librarian shortage, I was warning wannabe librarians that the market was actually quite tight, and that was before the latest recession.
And when the market is tight, what you don’t want to do is spend a lot of money you don’t have getting a degree that’s not going to get you a job. This isn’t a degree in comparative literature, after all. If you get an MLS, you expect to get a job. Why else put up with the tedium of library school?
There are jobs that are worth taking out loans to get. If you’re going to be a surgeon, it might be worth it, but not a librarian.
Even if the ALA hadn’t been promoting a librarian shortage that never was or will be, it was never a good idea to take out a lot of loans to pay for library school, because librarians on average don’t make a lot.
There was also never much of a market as such, because most libraries, through choice or necessity, will take the cheap candidate over the best candidate if there’s a conflict, so salaries stay low for most jobs. Look around at most of your colleagues. Do you really think your library is paying top dollar for talent?
Librarians know this; they just don’t want anyone else to know it.
Am I suggesting people not go to library school? Not necessarily, though if you’re thinking about it disregard every positive statement about the job market uttered by the ALA or your prospective library school. And there are things you can do to improve your chances, but that’s a topic for another post.
But if you can’t afford to pay for library school upfront, don’t go. A couple of years later, you might end up tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no good job prospects, and you’ll regret it.
Sure, right now you think you won’t. You think it’ll be worth it in the end, when you’re finally basking in the warm glow you’ll get every day from doing nice, helpful library things for people.
It doesn’t help that the sort of people who end up in library school are often naive and idealistic, with the exception of the career changers later in life who just know that anything would have to be better than what they have been doing. A lot of people want to be librarians because they genuinely want to help people.
That explains why librarians in general tend to be nice people. It also explains why they sometimes end up heavily in debt and without good paying jobs. Idealism often shatters on the hard rock of practicality, like when you have to choose between paying rent and paying student loans.
If you don’t take out loans, how can you pay for library school?
The cheapest way is to go to a school that will give you a tuition waiver and a stipend for an assistantship of some sort working in the library. That way you get library experience while getting paid to go to school. You won’t make much, but if you live frugally for a year or two, you’ll be better off in the end.
Next best, work in a library somewhere and use your meager earnings to pay for library school, the absolutely cheapest library school you can find. That will also give you valuable work experience, plus the important lesson in frugality that will serve you well as a professional librarian.
After that, the next best is having someone else pay for it, like parents or a spouse or a sugar daddy or sugar momma. Basically, anyone but you. That’ll free you up to spend time doing library work no real librarians want to do, but without actually getting paid for it. Welcome to the exploitative world of internships!
That’s the end of the list. Others might say, work at any job and pay for school yourself, but if you’ve never worked in a library, I suggest not going to library school. You really have no idea what you’re in for. I won’t make that a hard, fast rule, but it’s a good rule of thumb, and it’s another PSA.
There, you’ve had two public service announcements in just one blog post. If you’ve never worked in a library, don’t go to library school; and if you go to library school, don’t take out loans to pay for it.
If you ignore my advice, you’ll probably regret it, but you won’t be able to blame me for that one.