On Being a Generalist Librarian & Not Having a 2nd Master’s

They let you work in an academic library without a second master's

After I started my first professional librarian position at an academic library in 2003, I had every good intention of getting my second master’s degree…in something.

In fact, it was required if I wanted to stay employed at my job. But then there was a lawsuit (or something to that effect) and the university – which had hired art professors with a terminal MFA and social work professors with a terminal MSW – found out that they were holding librarians to a higher standard: MLS + an additional graduate degree. The requirement was promptly dropped. So with that, coupled with no financial support from my institution to actually earn the degree, I let the second master’s slide off my radar.

You see, I’m one of those librarians who went directly from bachelor’s degree to MLS and then right to work.

And for librarians who told me a second master’s degree was essential (ABSOLUTELY essential!) to be an academic librarian? Well, I’ve never had any problems with just my MLS and I’ve been employed at four different academic libraries. Is it required at some institutions? Sure. Is it helpful for your resume? Of course it is. And for the jobs where it is required–say a subject specialist: Law Librarian, Asian Studies Librarian, etc… well, those jobs never interested me in the first place.

Why yes I am the expert

I’m a generalist librarian. A jack-of-all-trades. I know a little bit about a lot…and I’m completely OK with that. My focus has always been on reference and instruction. I love not knowing what I might get asked next. In a two-hour shift at the Reference Desk, it could be anything from Census records to British literature. Last week, I had a chat reference question about “natal homing in migratory fish.” And you know what? Even though science is not my strong suit, I did OK. Maybe I should try out for Jeopardy!.

I look at the information literacy sessions I have scheduled this semester: music, education, communication, political science, history, social work, psychology, biology, environmental science, English composition, Spanish. I don’t fear the range of subject areas. I embrace it.

That’s what I love about being a generalist librarian: the variety. From reference, to information literacy, embedding in online courses, working with non-traditional students, handling the library’s social media activities, participating in special studies with assessment and space planning: There’s always something different to do.

This has been my path. I’m not discounting subject specialists at all: We need those! We need librarians who are passionate about their subject speciality. And there’s definitely a need for subject specialists at research institutions. However, my experience has primarily been at undergraduate institutions where you wear a lot of different hats.

I no longer feel bad about not earning that second master’s degree. Priorities shift and you begin to assess what’s really important to you personally and professionally. I also like having my student loans all paid off. At this point, for me, it’s not financially prudent to sink money and time to earn an additional degree that likely wouldn’t make a hill of beans difference in the long run. Unlike others, I can put a price on education.

And then I think back to my original plan: What would my additional grad degree have been in? Certainly not history (which is my BA). Maybe an MBA or a master’s in educational technology would be helpful? Recently, a professor stopped me and asked, “So when are you getting your PhD?” I just laughed. A PhD to be a generalist librarian? No thanks.