Some of my favorite questions to ask librarians during informational interviews revolve around surprise: What has most surprised you about your current role or about your career path? Is there anything you wish you had known sooner? I’ve found their answers to be particularly useful as I try to figure out how to focus my time and energy during school. As my second semester of library school draws to a close, I’ve been thinking about how I would answer this type of questions myself. What has surprised me about library school and what unexpected lessons have I learned so far?
1. The power of creating opportunity: if you ask for what you want you may just get it. And if you don’t you probably won’t. At the very beginning of library school I didn’t quite know how to go about looking for professional opportunities beyond the ones posted on the school listserv. I didn’t know—or at least it hadn’t fully registered—that I could ask. Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned this school year is the value of being brave and proactive enough to ask other students how they found work experience and to ask for opportunities like informational interviews and guest blogging. Very few opportunities are just handed to us; we have to apply, show up, and ask. Granted, asking for something doesn’t mean you’ll get it; I applied to quite a few part-time library jobs and internships before even landing an interview, but my approach to job searching became increasingly proactive with each disappointment and I ended up with part-time work that I love.
2. So much of library schooling takes place outside of the classroom. While I began library school knowing that I would need to get some hands-on work experience, I didn’t quite grasp how integral that experience would be to my learning. Yes, I think the concepts we cover in class are an important foundation, but there is so much more to know, the world of information is changing rapidly, and master’s programs are short. There just isn’t time to take all the classes that could be useful and the classes we do take can only go so far. Instead of worrying about that, I’m putting more energy into learning beyond the classroom: working, volunteering, professional development. The goal is not to learn everything, but rather to be able to continue to learn.
3. Grades don’t really matter. When practical work experience takes precedence, focusing on grades doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yet, during orientation last August I was totally surprised to learn that the letter grades I would receive on my assignments and courses would not be the letters I was used to; the graduate schools at UNC operate on a scale from L (low pass) to H (high pass) with only P (pass) in between. In most cases, P covers from B- to A and the vast majority of students seem to fall in this range. As someone who identifies with Hermione Granger, I was put off by this new system at first, but I’ve actually come to appreciate the fact that I cannot worry about my GPA. I still put effort into my classes, but I feel like I have more breathing room to try new things. I don’t know how prevalent this kind of system is in graduate programs, but I’d imagine that the underlying principal applies broadly: employers care about your experience, skills, and degree, not that you received an ‘A’ in Digital Libraries.
- Bonus: Snacks. Snacks are the secret to library school success. I am constantly amazed by how often my instructors and classmates have brought food to class. I don’t know what it is—libraries and baked goods just go really well together.
What most surprised you about library school? Please share in the comments!