3 Unexpected Library School Lessons

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.


image via flickrCC

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!

7 replies

  1. I agree with the first two “lessons” in your post. However, i’m a bit on the fence about #3. I do agree that overall grades don’t matter when compared to (professional) experiences, but I think grades are a good way to gauge/measure a student’s understanding of the concepts taught in library school.

    For instance, I completed my program with straight A’s. This isn’t too hard if you’re a studious person. But I remember some classmates that did not put any effort into their work or try to fully understand some of the more complex theories (digital preservation?). While i’m on the job now, most of the terms, concepts, and theories i’ve learned in school directly pertain to the work I do now. It makes me wonder how my classmates, if they are working in archives (i’m archives concentration, library students may have different perspective), i’m not convinced they would excel or have a smooth transition without additional training.


    • Thanks for your comment! Great points and I agree that putting effort into coursework is important – I don’t mean to advocate for not trying! I’m coming to the ‘grades question’ as someone who has worried/focused a lot on grades in the past…and as someone who cares a lot about academics in general. Perhaps a more appropriate title for my third section would be “Grades aren’t as important as I used to think” or “Grades aren’t the only thing that matter.” I’ve been refocusing on putting more balance into how I spend my library school time (homework, work, attending panels and other professional development kinds of events) to experience lots of different learning scenarios.


    • “This isn’t too hard if you’re a studious person.”

      If only being studious was a guarantee for grades. Like with all schooling, other factors can play a big role in determining good grades. If you have a good home life, supportive friends, can really help. Also there are teachers that I have encountered even in library school who play favorites and it does affect grading. I would think at the grad level we would have gotten past such things but apparently not. Also health plays a big role. I have a chronic illness so I can only do so much despite how studious I am. And I have friends who battle mental illness.

      I’m not saying that there aren’t people who are huge slackers and don’t deserve the mediocre grades they get. I’m just saying it’s not quite so black and white as study/not study.


  2. Reblogged this on Robbin Zirkle and commented:
    In the midst of finals craziness, finding time to craft a great blog post is (regrettably) low on my priority list. Fortunately, Hack Lib School and my real-life-good-friend Julia Feerrar have some poignant things to share: what exactly are the “Hacks” for library school? Check them out below!


  3. I always enjoy your blog and find your postings though-provoking and interesting!
    While I like your first point, I particularly agree with your second point! So much of what I was forced to study in library school has nothing to do with my day-to-day work.
    Unfortunately, in my province your third point is simply not true. I seem to work in the only profession where you have to submit a transcript with your job applications. And if your grades aren’t high enough, you simply won’t get an interview! I think this is true in more library systems than we may realize!
    I honestly found the masters program more of an endurance test than merely an opportunity to be studious! Working hard, networking hard, working at my job and various professional experience opportunities and somehow still maintaining the high grades necessary was just grueling!
    On the upside, I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for anything!


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