A few of my students at Messiah College have left the so-called “Grantham Bubble” and pursued graduate work in library science. Some of them work in libraries, but a growing number are interested in using their library degrees in the field of history. I know that several graduate programs now offer MLS degrees that can be combined with history, public history, or archival management.
I was thus pleased to read David Gary’s post at The Junto about his decision to pursue a library degree after he finished his comprehensive exams in a Ph.D program in history and before he started work on his dissertation. Here is a taste:
Librarians and archivists will be teaching too, but in different ways than department faculty. Instead of offering a body of knowledge to a class over a semester, the librarian or archivist will work with students, often in their classrooms, to impart specific skills or instruct using objects from the collections. This style of teaching might appeal to someone who does not want plan a semester length course. Librarians and archivists can also collaborate with departments to offer workshops on topics not normally covered in classes, like bibliography. Over spring break of this year I co-taught a week long seminar at the University of Glasgow to PhD students in the humanities who had little or no background in the history of the book. It was an excellent way to get students caught up on a field that the university does not generally cover.
Teaching moments for librarians or archivists might include instruction on how to perform research in the digital age, a history subject librarian could offer a workshop on writing historiographic essays, or there could be a deeper, semester-long collaboration with the class to create a digital humanities project. In particular, a dual history PhD and MLS could offer both historical instruction and an understanding of coding, metadata standards, databases, Web site construction, and best-practices of scanning. Librarians and archivists are already working with professors to curate collaboratively made sites as components of classwork.
While the library and archive offers an alternate place to work for those with the history PhD, I agree with Anthony Grafton and Jim Grossman’s October 2011 Perspectives article that students need more flexibility to make this a possibility. While there are dual history M.A. and MLS programs, can a program be devised that takes into account people who want to write dissertations and become librarians or archivists? Could the dissertation be chopped up into a series of journal length articles for someone on that track? There are only 51 library schools in the country, and while some offer online degrees, some areas of the country will find that creating such a program will be difficult. Nonetheless, it is an option graduate students should consider.
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