Honesty / Professional Life

What It’s Like to Work Full Time in Library School

In today’s post, several Hackers discuss what they have learned about the challenges and benefits of working full time while in library school. Whether you are wondering if full time work is right for you or struggling to balance your obligations between work and classes, it can help to know that you are not alone. Rebecca Katz, Kara Mackeil, Lesley Looper, and Samantha Winn share their experiences, coping mechanism, and productivity tips after the break. Do you have a story about working full time while in school? Join us in the comments!

Becky:

I am not a stranger to being busy (I suppose none of us are!) so I determined early on that I would handle work and school by being very specific about scheduling my school work. The nights I have class, and Sundays, are for school. The rest of the time is for work and play. In general this has been effective for me, but there have been specific challenges:

1. Courses offered during the work day. (I mentioned this briefly in this lemony scented post.)
2. Field trips.
3. Work crises.

Since I don’t work in a library, I feel like I have less flexibility in asking my boss for accommodations for my school schedule. Don’t get me wrong: my boss is FANTASTIC. He would probably let me do whatever I wanted. (It might help in this regard that he hired me knowing that I was going back to school, so it isn’t like I changed the game in the middle.) That doesn’t mean I can or should take advantage of that. So I try to limit asking for school accommodations to the truly necessary. Summer class that starts at 5, twice a week for six weeks? Only offered in the summer, offered at 5 every summer, required for my specialization? Ask for an accommodation. Boss was fine with it; the people who expect me to be available during work hours (which for me are until 6) were less so.

Field trips are a different story. Luckily I’ve had only one, but it was frustrating to be expected to put school ahead of work. In this case, I took vacation hours because I’m fortunate to have them, and the professor took our schedules into consideration when arranging the field trip. However, when one of my classmates was late, pushing the presentation we were going to back an hour, I missed a work meeting.

Finally, work crises. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not all that important. I’m not an ER doctor and I’m not someone whose name is going to end up in the paper if something goes wrong. But my clients’ bosses’ names could end up in the paper, so their crises deserve to be taken seriously. And let’s face it: crises don’t happen at 9:30 in the morning. They happen at 5:45 in the afternoon. I’ve been late to class because I’ve tried to clear up a crisis before leaving the office. I’ve printed out documents to edit by hand during class. I’ve taken deep breaths and sent emails telling people that I would work on their issue after class. Which means that I’ve done work for work at 10:30 at night.

To sum up: be very deliberate in how you schedule your activities, but know that however your schedule your activities, you don’t have control over keeping them scheduled.

Lesley:

Since my full-time job is in a library, I’ve really benefitted by the support and encouragement of my colleagues. They’ve been so supportive, occasionally even helping with finetuning paper topics or volunteering to be a speaker or panelist at for a class or a ALA Student Chapter function.

Early on, I made Google Calendar my go-to calendar for personal and school deadlines and events. My to-do-list has gone virtual too, with Remember the Milk.  One of RTM’s best features is the ability to make tabs for different lists. Doing that helps me break down different projects, helping me to plan and keep from feeling so overwhelmed. I’ve created a different tab for each course, too, and that’s helped me stay on track. (I keep an ongoing grocery shopping list on RTM too.) iPhone apps for both Google Docs and Remember the Milk have been really useful.

One of the benefits of working FT for a library has been getting some professional development travel money for ALA conference attendance. That assistance, on top of registering at the awesome student rate, has made attending ALA Annual and Midwinter more affordable.

One of the reasons I chose the MLS program at North Carolina Central is because all of the classes are offered at night and on Saturdays. I’ve also been able to take two summer school classes online, which was a big help with the more intense  summer schedule.

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make is free time with my boyfriend, friends, and family, as well as time alone. One thing I did to help with that is to go from taking two classes (my first semester) down to one class at a time. It was lengthened the time it’ll take me to finish the degree, but I think the tradeoffs have been worth it, for the most part. While I’m really looking forward to finishing the degree, it’s given me more time to take advantage of student rates for professional organizations and conferences, all of which will help me after I graduate.

Kara:

I work full time but not in the library field, and I have to travel for work about once or twice a month, from one to five nights at a time. I’ve done a lot of work in airports and on trains.  Earplugs help, as do white noise apps, but the key for me is setting mini-goals: I’ll finish this essay on that flight layover, these readings on this layover, etc. When not travelling I spend roughly 2 hours per work day commuting, though I do get to work from home one day a week (normally Wednesday). It can get rough, and I’ve had to accept that there will be many weekends that  are completely taken up with library school to-do’s. Luckily my SO is also a grad student (unrelated field), so he understands the time commitment and even prods me to do my classwork when my motivation is lagging.  We lean on each other for healthy eating/exercise/keeping the house in order.  Typically, if I’m going to exercise on a commuting day I have to get up at 5 and do it before work, or it won’t happen.

Before each semester, I read through my syllabi and write two schedules: one a weekly template for recurring things like discussion boards and readings, and tells me what I should be doing each day of the week.  The other is all the major assignments, and that goes into every calendar I possess, both work and personal, so that I can ask to be let off less important work trips if they coincide with a due date, or plan ahead if the trip is unavoidable. Then at the start of each week, I write a detailed to-do list with columns for each class and my personal life, and revisit it daily.

My biggest ingredient for making it work l has been to get as much reading done on the weekends as possible, preferably all of it.  This means I can use my evenings (and lunch breaks if need be) to keep up with my class discussion boards and work on larger assignments.  I’m very lucky that the online program at UMaryland is only 2 classes per semester (it includes summers so you finish in 2 years), I really don’t think I could manage three.  I can’t even imagine how people manage with kids, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it. With all this said, we do try to eat dinner away from our desks and go out and see friends at least one night every other weekend or so, otherwise we turn into crabby hermits.

Sam:

I worked full time throughout my undergraduate degree, but my experience in grad school has been really different. In addition to providing health insurance and income, working full time while in library school has benefited me in many ways. The flexibility of online classes allows me to work a regular Monday through Friday job in an academic library. I get to learn from the work of exceptional professionals across a broad range of information science careers. My daily experiences provide important context for the case studies I encounter in school, and I can apply what I have learned in class to my work projects.

Working full-time in the field has challenged me in both my personal and professional life. My graduate course load takes precedence just about every evening; I never run out of homework. Sometimes, I find it difficult to concentrate on work when I have a big assignment looming. Professional conferences almost always take place right in the middle of a quarter. When my professors assign field trips and site visits, I have to plan my trip well in advance. Since most professors will not allow students to use a place where they work or volunteer, I typically have to drive well out of my way to find an appropriate site. This also means taking time off work and making travel arrangements with my spouse. On the upside, this has lead to some great networking opportunities.

During my first two quarters, I struggled to keep up with exercise and maintain healthy eating habits. After getting home from a full day of work, I generally just wanted to throw something in the microwave, do my homework, and go to sleep. The result of that routine is about what you would expect. Now, I try to be very intentional about preparing food ahead of time and squeezing in some yoga. It has also been hard to give up some of the extracurricular activities I enjoyed as an undergraduate, like weekly karaoke nights and theatre. I know it is only temporary, but it’s hard for my friends and family to understand.

While I cannot commit to any long-term extracurricular obligations right now, I try to give myself permission to unwind every now and then. For me, that means setting aside my homework anxiety to see a movie with my siblings or play a board game with some friends. I used to feel really guilty about taking any time off. After hitting a wall of academic fatigue this quarter, I found that intentional downtime helps me prevent burnout. I also gain a lot of encouragement from fellow library school students across networks like Hack Library School.

I have found a few strategies which make it easier to balance work and school obligations. I was deeply inspired by Dr. Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture, which includes awesome advice for becoming more productive.  I use Google Calendar for homework notifications, with color coded reminders synced to my e-mail and mobile device. This has definitely helped me keep on top of my assignments. I do most of my work from a tablet, which allows me to read and research while I am away from home. I do most of my reading at the gym or on my lunch breaks. The apps I use most frequently for school are Dropbox, Google Drive, Blackboard Mobile Learn, and Spotify.

7 thoughts on “What It’s Like to Work Full Time in Library School

  1. I can relate a lot! It’s very challenging to balance both school and work, especially if work is not in the library field. I can organize my time well enough to get two classes done and work full time at a demanding job, but I feel like neither gets my full attention and I’m not getting everything out of the school experience that I need to in order to network and get a job.

    I’m in a fully online program which makes it easy and hard (hard due to the reasons mentioned above). I’m having a hard time right now figuring out how to do an internship. My program offers virtual internships but I really want to do an onsite internship so I can give it my full attention. I kind of feel a virtual internship will be kind of like my classes — something I do on top of work and have to get done.

    Luckily, I can take some weeks off work unpaid to do the internship, but I just found out that my program requires me to spread the internship hours over the entire summer. This means I can’t take 5-7 weeks off but rather would have to take 10 weeks off, which is not as doable. My employer is great but I don’t think I can take that much time. I wish there was a better option to get the experience I know I need and make it work with my job.

    Separately, to echo above, I have to set aside certain times of the week to do schoolwork. Tuesday and Wednesday nights plus all day Sunday at a minimum, with more if I have assignments or big projects due.

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  2. I work full time at a university but in a non-library position and I take 2-3 courses towards my MLIS each semester, including summer. My entire program is online, which is great because I live 5 hours away from my school. To be honest, my only regret so far is that I didn’t secure library employment before beginning the MLIS program. I need to work full time for financial reasons, as my husband is also a student (non-traditional undergraduate in computer science – which means he doesn’t have the flexibility to work full time hours like I do), and finding a full-time paraprofessional job within commuting distance of where I live has been nearly impossible. I’ve debated taking a second part-time job, but it would honestly be too much. I’ve done a distance internship and I just started an in-person archives internship, which requires 10 hours per week. Luckily, the hours are flexible and I can work in the evenings and weekends. I estimate I spend about 75-80 hours a week between my job, my internship, school, and professional development or obligations to organizations like Hack Library School. You only have 167 hours per week, and I spend about 50 hours a week on sleep, which only leaves me with around 35 hours waking hours outside of work and school. When you consider that includes everything else in my life – spending time with my husband, exercise, walking my dog, hanging out with friends and family, eating, showering, etc. – it’s not much.

    There are some great benefits to working full time, however, even if it’s not in a position that I would like. I enjoy the amenities at the university. The best benefit is that I get free tuition each semester at a university system school of my choice, so my program is covered. I also get a fair amount of vacation time, which I use for conferences, job interviews, and other professional development. It’s wonderful to have the time off, but I don’t get to take a “real” vacation, so it feels like I’m always working. I’ve been able to work with the library on some projects for my job and I try to attend relevant events or workshops on campus. For example, yesterday I attended a workshop on copyright in the classroom, and I learned a ton. It’s even inspired me to possibly write a HLS blog post on copyright! I echo Sam, though – it can be difficult to focus on your job when you have assignments due, an upcoming conference, or a great idea for a blog post just popped in your head. I work with graduate students at my job and it’s strange spending 45 hours a week focusing on their needs as graduate students when I also have to think about my own.

    I really struggle with work/life balance. Last semester was my first time taking 3 classes and I was up until 2 AM or so nearly every night. Not good considering I have to be at work at 8 AM. I also said “yes” to nearly every opportunity that came my way. The pay off was that I got perfect grades in school and started building my resume, but I also started to feel really burnt out. I decided this year I would put myself first. I ended up dropping a few of my commitments – including the docent program at my university museum, which I loved and had been doing for years. I make it a priority to walk my dog first thing when I get home from work and I try to go to sleep at a decent time every night. Exercise is still a struggle, unfortunately! It’s mainly because I prefer group activities – zumba, Bikram yoga, etc. – and my schedule doesn’t allow me to make most of the classes available.

    I used to only think I would be able to get stuff done if I said aside long periods for each task. However, I realize now that you can accomplish a lot in small increments. I have the NYPL planner and I find that it’s essential to have something like this to track assignments, professional development deadlines, blog post due dates, and more. I make a big to-do list at the beginning of each week and just cross off as I go.

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  3. Kara, I don’t know how you survive with a job requiring travel! I have a hard enough time scheduling classes around my regular 9-5 (actually 9:30-6) job and Jewish holidays, and I know when those are before registering for classes! Color me impressed.

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  4. Like Kara, I work full-time in a non-library environment and I used to also work a part-time restaurant job, about 10-12 hrs a week, plus volunteer at a public library one evening a week and at one point I was doing all of these things at the same time I was heading a local LIS student organization. What has resulted from trying to have everything in motion at once is being in school a year longer than planned because of lack of retention, lack of proper performance (grades), and also lack of focus on what I really wanted from my education. I slowly dropped all of these activities and the last year has just been the full-time work and school, and I have to say I’m all the more happier and more successful because of it. While the volunteer work and student organization were great experiences, I wish that I would have given myself more of an opportunity to be a student – I think it would have saved me a lot of sleep and money in the long run. However that is the road I have naturally taken, and I feel that I have arrived closer to my graduation date of May 2014 with a good perspective and a genuine readiness.

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  5. Pingback: You, Too, Can Be a Change Agent | Hack Library School

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