I’m not sure how far along you are in your studies, but here are a few things that I learned along the way that have taught me a thing or two. Sorry, I’m going to information vomit all over you…
1. Work in a library as soon as you can. Even if you are the low man on the totem pole, it will give you some insight as to what the requirements are for where you want to be, and it gets you the experience you will need. What I mean by this is that there is a big difference between working with records and archives, public libraries, academic institutions, children, adults, special collections, rare and fine books… the list goes on. You will learn that there are things you will enjoy in a library setting, and things you will loath. Also, it will clue you in to the pressures librarians are facing in your community, what the job market is like, and areas of growth. Lastly, most libraries want you to have at the very least a year of work experience, even after you receive your masters.
2. Know the level of education you will need, and what you will specialize in. There is a difference between librarians and supporting staff. For example, the wonderful ladies behind the reference desk at my library are reference librarians with MLIS degrees. The amazing ladies behind the circulation desk are not. They have skills and education in management, clerical work, etc.
Be aware that you must have a masters in Library and Information Science from an ALA accredited academic institution to be a librarian. Also, pick your BA wisely. This is the foundation for what part of a collection you will specialize in as a librarian in an academic library. Most academic librarians also have a subject masters in conjunction with their MLIS degree. For example, I have a BFA in Art History, and another in Drawing and Painting. I would work in the arts/ art history collection at a university, and will probably have to snag my MFA. People that work with records and archives specialize in that, and focus on it during the pursuit of their masters. Media specialist, which work in school also have a specific requirement for education. Most of the time they are certified teachers, and then get a MLIS that is specific to being a media specialist. You can also snag a post-doc certification for that too… In short, research where you want to be, and then tailor your education to suit that. I wish I would have known what I was going to do a lot sooner, lol
It is important to realize that not everyone that works in a library, or runs one is a librarian. Those IT guys? Nope. Circulation? Nay I say! People that shelve the books? Probably not librarians either. Figure out exactly what you plan to do, and see if that is really being a librarian.
3. Snag another language. If you are going to be working in the US public libraries, learn spanish! It gives you an edge. If you are specializing in a specific field where there will be a large amount of information in another language, well, it doesn’t hurt if you can read the books in your collection.
4. Self-educate. Check out the ALA website, they will give you some pointers, and you might also want to checkout the annoyed librarian at http://blog.libraryjournal.com/annoyedlibrarian/ She’s sassy, and insightful. Talk to the librarians in your town or at your school too. Those ladies and gents have been around for a long time and can be a wonderful wealth of knowledge.
5. Take off your rose-colored glasses. Times are tough, and the government has blown all our money on I don’t even know what. All I know is that it isn’t books, education, or healthcare. Realize now that you are going to have to work very hard, and that not everyone gets to work at Yale, or the Library of Congress. Public librarians and media specialists work their asses off, and there isn’t exactly a ton of intellectual stimulation going on. You need to be prepared to do your time, and work your way towards where you want to be. Make your peace now with the fact that you might have to work in ANY library that will take you at some point.
6. Choose you school wisely. Librarians are underpaid and overworked, so you want to get your masters with as little debt as possible.
7. You sound like you want to research and write? About what? Are we talking fiction novels or dissertations? If you like formalized research then being in an academic library might work for you. Usually librarians at universities are the research teams that support the professors in their area of specialty. Example: a professor says “I wanna research and write about this” and you as a librarian find all viable information available, and sometimes even participate in research and writing. Academic librarians are also expected to publish just like the professors, so make sure you like to learn about Library Science, or you will spoon your eyes out.
8. READ EVERYTHING. Librarians are expected to know about what information is coming out in their area of expertise, so if you want to be a young adult materials librarian, then you need to know what YA publications are in demand, if you are English Lit, well, you get the picture.
9. Learn how to teach information literacy. This means that you will be expected to speak publicly, sometimes teach people how to use information resources such as databases or search engines, develop classes or events for patrons, etc. If dealing with the public isn’t for you, pick a different field. Librarians are now expected to work constantly with the public, and work well, unless they are hidden away in a back room cataloging. BTW cataloging is mostly done automatically these days.
10. Promote libraries, information literacy, and the freedom of information. Take every opportunity to let people know that libraries are important. People often overlook the fact that while this is an information age, it is only one open to those who have money. If you do not have the means to pay for internet access, a computer, smartphone, ereaders, books, etc. you are completely cut off from the cannon of information our world contains. Public libraries are what make sure that you do not become mindless sheep with no means to see anything other than what you are told. Librarians must be the first to fight for the right to information without censorship, and ensure that it is offered to all. Be prepared to fight for your books.
I hope this helps you, and good luck with your studies.
Love and Support, Stacks