Starter Kits

[Series] Library School Starter Kit – The First Term

Below is a timeline that roughly follows my own experience in library school and what I have noticed other successful library students doing. Most of the activities are simple non-time intensive ways to help create opportunities to improve the quality of your library education.

Day 0
Day 1
1st Week
1st Month
1st Term

Day 0

Start a blog. Librarianship is more and more a profession that demands communication, management, and leadership. Start a blog now. It doesn’t matter what you write about (although libraries should be involved in some way), but get practice writing for an audience. If you become a public librarian, you’ll have to write book reviews and memos. If you become an academic librarian, it will be libguides and memos. Special Librarian? Memos, reports, and some sort of other information product. A blog will help you when you become a professional; it will help you in library school, and it may even help someone else.

Day 1

Set up your email on the first day of classes. You should either have your school email kicked to a Gmail account, or run a school provided Microsoft Outlook account. Either way both Microsoft or Google provide enormously productive software through their cloud computing services. This is especially helpful when you have to collaborate with classmates on group projects. After you configure your email, set up a calendar. It doesn’t have to be complete, or your main calendar, but both Google and Outlooks calendar functions will aid you in scheduling meetings. Outlook is particularly good at this. Once this is done, spend some time playing around with the product suites. It’s always good to get to know your tools. As a librarian, or information specialist you will be expected to evaluate and rate products and teach people how to use them. Also, it can be annoying when someone doesn’t want to use a particular product and then goes to an untested third party product that sucks.

While I recommend using Outlook if your university provides it (a lot of institutions us it as their email provider), you MUST create a Gmail account. Some people hate Microsoft, so you’ll either have to use crappy third party sites, or use Google’s great document suite for collaboration. Even if you love Microsoft consider using Google Docs, seriously it’s Da BOOM! for collaborative writing.

The 1st  Week

You should be talking with your advisor and professors. It’s not really an option, especially if you’re in a distance program. I’m not going to talk to you about that. In your first week, you should start scheduling informational interviews with librarians. I did this my first week and it was the best thing I’ve done in library school so far. If you want to be a public librarian, start talking to people at the local public library. Find out what they do, what skills they have, and what courses they took. Your professors are (hopefully) smart, capable people; some of them may have actual experience as a librarian and some of them may even be current librarians. However, you should talk to as many people who currently work in libraries as possible before you graduate. You’ll have to develop your own style of librarianship eventually; it will be a remix of your personality and the experience of people who have come before you. Learn as much as you can now so you can be ready to be a librarian on day 1 of your post MLIS job.

The 1st Month

Officers of LISSA at the University of South Carolina

Officers and Chairs of the University of South Carolina's student ALA chapter

If you haven’t already, join your student organization. It’s a great networking tool. Student organizations can also be a good place to blow off some steam and have fun. A lot of them do weekly or monthly happy hours or meet-ups. Plus, a commitment to professional development is one thing hiring committees look at. So, get started early and join your student organization. You should do this day one, but it should definitely be done by the end of your first month. If there isn’t one for your program, start one. You can do it!

Write a blog post, and/or letter examining your experience up to this point. What have you learned? What challenges did you run into? How has this met or failed to meet your expectations?  I wrote both and found it to be an enormously rewarding experience. Writing about your progress will allow you to reflect back on your growth later on. It’s a great way to track your progress.

The 1st Term

Write down your plan! By the end of the first term you should have some idea of what you want to do. You may want to do a ton of things; shoot for the hardest. If you train to be a marathon runner you might not be the best sprinter, but you can sprint. If you train to be a sprinter you might be great for that short burst, but running a marathon might be out of your reach. That’s my advice. My own personal library school philosophy involves becoming as much of a library badass as possible, so take that particular advice as you will. Either way, you should know what you want to do when you’re done, and have a plan.

Join a national professional organization. It’s a great way to get supplemental material, advice, mentoring, and networking. Also, see the above advice on joining your student organization. National professional organizations also offer webinars; oftentimes members get free or discounted admissions.

Finally, you should attend a local conference or business meeting of a state level professional organization. These are great networking opportunities, but moreover they are a great way to learn about the libraries in your state, not just in your local area. You should also considering joining one of these organizations as well. If you’re in the south consider attending InfoCamp SC. It’s a two day unconference examining issues of user experience, information design, and information architecture. It’s going to be at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia SC. Full disclosure, I’m helping to organize it.

In library school, you’ll have to chart your own course, but I hope this timeline helps you structure your experiences in a way that maximizes the opportunities you’ll be exposed to.

28 thoughts on “[Series] Library School Starter Kit – The First Term

  1. Agree with everything! I have to say, though, I think these things can be spread out across the semester; for those of us with stress issues, it’s nice to say to myself “it’s okay, you have all semester to do this” – so when I get to the end of the semester and I still haven’t created a blog, I can do it over winter break (as I did last year).

    Also, I’d say that in lieu of committing to a full-blown blog that might fall by the wayside (see, that blog I created over winter break), interacting on Twitter is a good second place. Twitter users can create opportunities that blogging can’t, due to the interactive conversations

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    • The point of a blog being important to me is to help people get used to producing ideas for consumption by others.A tweet is a bit to short for that. I do think that twitter’s important, it’s just doesn’t do the same thing as a blog conceptually.

      That said, no one should stress out about it. I don’t think students need to worry about having a full fledged blog with a regular update schedule (though it will help you get traffic). My own blog averages about 1 post a month. These aren’t spread out either. I get burst of productivity, and focus on maximizing those. So I might have 4-5 posts in a month and then nothing for 6 to 8 weeks. Which is why I recommended starting one before you start. Sure you might not have a lot to say at first, or even at the end, but over time you build up a portfolio of writing samples, and a set of abilities that can make you valuable in the job market.

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    • Also, I think that your spot on about not necessarily worrying about when you get to things. This is a suggested time line, I know people who haven’t done these things that have done really well. Think of it as a suggested activity list, which would be sort of like a suggested reading list.

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  2. This post has provided some fantastic advice for an incoming library student! I especially appreciate the advice on interviewing other librarians in my area of interest…I’d planned to do it, but didn’t realize it would be a good idea to do it during the first week. I’ll be getting right on that. :)

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  3. I agree with the tip on talking to librarians in the area. I did that my first semester as part of a class exercise (otherwise I probably wouldn’t have thought to do it) and it was fantastic. I got some excellent advice from three recent graduates who all got full-time jobs, pretty much right out of school. I picked their brains on how they did that and they were so kind to share advice. The main one is having a support group throughout school.

    Great post Zach, I wish I had read it a year ago when I started.

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  4. Great, useful piece! I really hadn’t given much thought to informational interviews. I’ve been so head down trying to find things to do volunteer or otherwise, I didn’t much pay attention to the fact that I could just talk to these people I’m reaching out to :)

    Thanks for the tips!

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  5. I agree that networking (online, in person, and with peers) is essential for new students. I thought I was ‘prepared’ for library school but as a person with a heavy Fine Arts / Humanities background, I initially felt lost in classrooms where practical skills took precedent over abstract critical thinking. During my first year, I got a job at my campus library, attended some student group events, joined twitter, did an internship, and stopped stressing out about experimenting with new technology–and I found myself using some of those ‘practical skills’ I was learning about in class.

    I will say, another ‘must do’ for me when I decided to pursue my MLS and choose a private school with more networking opportunities and career support was to scout for funding opportunities. Funding does exist and even a lot of little scholarships can go along way. While I was scouting for funding, I also did a lot of accidental research on local and national library organizations.

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  6. Excellent post!! I needed this. You’ve given me new ideas on what to do once I start library school. I got the set up a blog part down… now I just need to be consistent with writing in it.

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    • In terms of consistently writing on your blog, I put my “blog time” on my google calendar. Then, when I have my calendar up when I’m at the computer and I have an idea or a link or something I want to mention in my blog, I put it in a note in my calendar. I also am kind of obsessive about completing whatever is on my calendar, so it is an extra incentive to get my blogging done!

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  9. As much as you can, I found socializing and spending time with my cohort an invaluable community building tool. Get to know your classmates outside of your coursework. They will be the colleagues you work with after your schooling is long and done. :)

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  11. I wonder if you have a blogger who can elaborate on the doctoral level ‘starter kick’? I thought the comments were very practical and helpful and they are all things that we tend to procrastinate about when we are trying to get registered, find the laundry room and looking for a parking space…but very valuable, nonetheless.

    I think that some of these could be tailored to Doc students, who may first and foremost, need to reach out to the professors.

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  15. To add in some late night cynicism and be somewhat critical, I’m going to say that if you needed to read this post in order to start an email account or if you have no idea what actual librarians do, there’s a chance you might not be cut out for this profession or probably should have done a little due diligence before entering school. That being said, I feel that the best thing you can do if nothing else is to have an open mind and not be afraid to try new things.

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  22. I’m excited to discover this website. I need to to thank you for ones time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely liked every little bit of it and i also have you saved to fav to check out new things in your blog.

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