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As a relatively new-ish archivist, here are some questions I would recommend pondering before committing to a MLIS program:
-Is it possible to take a year to work in the archives field before going to grad school? Volunteering and internships are great for getting a taste of the work, but aren't necessarily reflective of the day-to-day reality of being an archivist. (In my experience, there's a lot of effort to give non-paid folks the most interesting projects, in order to keep them showing up. ) The Student Conservation Association and Americorps have opportunities that could be a good fit to get you paid experience. Plus, leaving grad school already having professional experience is very attractive to hiring managers, and can give you an edge over other recent grads.
-Are you able/willing to relocate multiple times over the course of your career? Archives are somewhat like academia, in that jobs and career progression often require multiple long-distance moves. It is very difficult to make a career as an archivist without being able to relocate, especially as someone first starting out. In the past 10 years I've lived in 7 different states for school and work.
-How much of a student loan burden will you be able to bear, both from undergrad and grad school? On the whole, archives are not a terribly lucrative profession, despite the requirement for advanced degrees. I've seen the pressure to make loan payments derail the careers of some of my grad school classmates, when local jobs didn't pay enough to live on and they didn't have the funds to move elsewhere for higher paying jobs.
-How much financial aid will you have from a MLIS program? It's certainly possible to work part/full time and go to school, but you'll likely lose out on extracurricular projects and opportunities that can give you an advantage after graduating.
I hope this doesn't discourage you! Archives is an incredibly rewarding career, but there are definitely barriers to entry that need strategic planning to overcome!
Thank you so much for your reply! You’ve given me quite a bit to think about.
With regards to taking a year to work in archives prior to grad school, I had never considered it, but it sounds like a great idea. Also, relocation is actually ideal for me— I’ve always been attracted to the idea of living in several different places, and I never thought the archival profession could allow for that.
And as far as finances go, I give constant thought to how, and if, I’ll be able to bear the brunt of those loans. My father is stuck on the idea that I’ll have to seek out an internship and have those employers pay for part of my MLIS degree. Something about being trained the way they’d prefer me to be trained, thus my work being invaluable to them...He says lots of employers would prefer people without experience for this reason. Sounds like a myth to me. I’d love to find the job posting that says “no experience preferred.”
But anyhow, thank you for the advice!