Careers in Rare Books and Manuscripts: Frequently Asked Questions / Education / Second Advanced Degree
Second Advanced Degree
What education is required to obtain a job in rare books or manuscripts? Is a second advanced degree required?
Having a second advanced degree is usually not "required," but it is often "preferred." Competition for entry-level professional librarian positions can be stiff,¹ and jobs in special collections may be even more competitive than the average. In most cases, the MLS is the minimum requirement for professional librarian positions in special collections. Some manuscripts and archives positions prefer graduate coursework in archives administration, which can be obtained through some history departments as well as through several MLS programs. See: What qualifications do I need to become a librarian? for more information.
Although it is not usually required, having a second advanced degree can give you an edge in obtaining your first professional job. As observed in the Association of College & Research Libraries' Guidelines: Competencies for Special Collections Professionals, "While an advanced subject degree is not a requirement for entry into the profession, it appears in an increasing number of position descriptions and is appropriate as a requirement for many specialized positions."²
There are other useful academic qualifications in addition to a second advanced degree. Many positions list proficiency in a foreign language as a preferred qualification; for some sub-fields, particularly cataloging, it is a common requirement. Specific computer skills may be needed. Coursework in archives administration may be required. Required and preferred qualifications can vary substantially depending upon the particular job. A search of job listings should help you to determine the current requirements for your area of interest.
Additional Resources on Educational Preparation for a Career in Rare Books and Manuscripts:
The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS): Educational Opportunities: A Directory
The Society of American Archivists (SAA): Directory of Archival Education
1. One study found that during a two-month sample period in 2004, only 11% of the jobs advertised in the library industry were for entry-level positions; and that those positions were likely to have applicants with several years of professional experience. See: Rachel Holt and Adrienne L. Strock, “The Entry-Level Gap,” Library Journal 1976, no. 130:8 (May 2005): 36-8.
2. RBMS Task Force Committee on Core Competencies in Special Collections Librarianship. Guidelines: Competencies for Special Collections Professionals. Published on the Association of College and Research Libraries' web site: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/comp4specollect.cfm