As I finish up my MLIS (August graduation!) and start my certificate program, I find myself wanting to share a little library school wisdom. So things might get a little feelings-heavy, but bear with me; also, this advice goes to both new and returning library students:
Library school is a journey. You will encounter numerous experiences, guides, and opportunities along the way. But you will also almost certainly encounter a number of challenges, hurdles, and roadblocks. As Joanna wrote in her fabulous post, Apply Yourself, so many lovely opportunities are just waiting for you to take the initiative and grasp them! We’ve also featured numerous posts about how to do proactive things like changing your curriculum or doing an independent study. As you navigate numerous challenges and opportunities on your library school journey, here are some obstacles you may encounter and some productive ways to overcome them:
When others block your path
There will be times when you are fired up and ready to go about an opportunity and someone will try to discourage you. This won’t often be the case; most librarians and library school professors and administrators are very inspiring people who will try to help and encourage you. However, sometimes, either through ignorance, shortsightedness, or just because they’re having a bad day, someone will say something to the effect of “That’s a bad idea.” This happened to me last year when I was just starting to look into my certificate program. I had started forming the idea for my program of study and I went to someone at my institution for advice about how to proceed and whom to contact. This person proceeded to tell me that my idea was not viable, that students here did not study things like that, and that I should not proceed with my plan. I was very distraught; I had started looking into the certificate program and had thought I would be a good fit. In this situation – when someone is blocking your path – take a step back and ask yourself if there is a way around them. I’m not saying to subvert your school’s administration or go behind people’s backs. But rather, before letting yourself become defeated, think about whether or not there is anyone else you could go to. After my discouraging meeting, I still ended up meeting with the professor who I thought would make a perfect advisor; he ended up loving my program idea and signed on to write me a letter of recommendation that day. Thus, when you encounter a discouraging voice, take a step back and see if there is a way around that person, such that you can continue down your path!
When you block your path
There will also be times when you try to block your own path. I know what you’re thinking: “Nicole, I am a proactive person! I applied to library school, got in, and am working towards my dream! I would never block my own path!” But trust me, you will. During my first semester of library school I unknowingly blocked my own path. I had been applying for library jobs and assistantships to no avail. I was very disheartened but was determined to find a job. A few weeks into the semester I heard about a job opportunity in the College of Engineering. It was basically a writing teaching assistant job in a senior design class; the writing TA would teach engineering students technical writing and presentation skills and then grade their final papers and presentations. While not a library job, it was teaching experience and it was paid. But, after reading the job description, I knew I wouldn’t apply. They said the TA was “typically a Ph.D. student in the English Department,” so I thought “oh, that’s not me,” and passed over it. Path blocked! Luckily my mother pointed out to me that I had plenty of writing and teaching experience and that I should still apply. And voilà! They hired me! Thus, the keys in these types of situations are to 1) try to be open to opportunities, even when they don’t look how you thought they would, and 2) surround yourself with people who will call you out when you block your own path.
When a path turns into a dead end
Occasionally you will encounter paths that just aren’t happening; after persevering you will find that it’s just not for you. This is OK. It happens to all of us; in the words of the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want.” When you’re sure you have exhausted your options, sure that no single person, yourself included, is just blocking the path, and that it really is impassable, give up the ghost and learn from it. Do not see these instances as failures, but rather as learning opportunities that can help you in the future. For instance, this past winter I spent hours working on a submission for my library system’s exhibit contest; every year graduate assistants are encouraged to come up with dynamic exhibit ideas and submit extremely lengthy proposals and the winner gets to be exhibited! So I spent an entire weekend of fairly non-stop work creating my proposal. Unfortunately I did not get picked; and while it would be easy to see the experience as a failure, I don’t. It gave me invaluable experience in terms of creative exhibit design. I’ve since channeled that energy into the displays and exhibits I create for the library where I work. Thus, when a path truly isn’t an option, try to learn from the experience and move on.
While much of this post probably seems fairly intuitive, it often helps to have such common-sense ideas reinforced and fresh in your mind. I hope it helps you as you forge your path through library school. Feel free to share your own obstacle-overcoming strategies and experiences in the comments!