Editor’s note: Some of our amazing HLS writers have just finished their first semester of library school! They want to give you the full story on what they learned, what they didn’t, and how you can make the most of your first semester.
It seems like yesterday that I was writing my first Weekly Roundup for HLS about my first official week of library school at “bootcamp” in Madison, WI. And now, I have an entire semester of library school under my belt. The two classes that I had this semester (“Information Agencies and Their Environments” and “Online Searching for Information Professionals”) were the first online classes that I’ve ever taken. Needless to say, I learned a lot about distance education over the past 3 months. I was apprehensive going into it, but I love it! Distance education is flexible, it makes for great collaborations, and it forces you to learn how to do things you might not do in other educational environments.
First, the flexibility of online classes is fantastic because you can go at your own pace, within limits of course. Both of my classes were asynchronous and ran on a weekly schedule, with lectures, assignments, exercises, discussion posts, and a TON of reading for a specific topic all due within a given week. There was a lot to do each week, but I loved being able to set my own schedule and goals for getting the work done. Second, I was really nervous about group projects going into library school as a distance student, and one of my classes had a semester-long group project as the primary assignment for the class. There are challenges that come with any group project, but, as Brenna noted earlier in the semester, there are particular challenges that come with doing online group projects. However, thanks to all the online collaborative tools out there (especially Google Hangout!), it was the most productive group project I’ve ever been part of, and I felt like I made good connections with my groupmates. What I like about online group work is that it’s already established that you’re going to have to take the initiative to set up time to collaborate (there aren’t going to be any in-class worktimes or after class meet-ups), so when the collaboration happens people tend to come ready to work with purpose. Finally, my group and I had to give a 25-minute live presentation to our classmates online. Now that is a skill I don’t think I would have acquired this early on if I wasn’t a distance student!
If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering – what the heck did she actually learn in her classes this semester? The truth is, I learned a little bit of everything. That’s kind of how these introductory classes go. I practiced collection development, I wrote a grant proposal, I learned how Google works, I learned how databases work, I read some Derrida, I made a research guide, and I got a whole lot better at explaining to people why we information professionals matter. My advice to people embarking on their first semester of library school is to make it your own. If you can, personalize your assignments, discussion posts, and what readings you do to suit your interests. And, at the same time, don’t shy away from topics that are new to you or that don’t seem to fit your interests perfectly. You never know what you might end up loving, and the first semester is a great time to find that out.
Hmm… can you ask me again in a few months? My first quarter of library school finished about a month ago, and I still don’t entirely know how to process it. At the University of Denver, quarters are only 10 weeks, so the time seemed to elapse before I really knew what had happened. To this end, I suppose my biggest piece of advice is to keep your wits about you. Even during longer semesters, the first term can be a real whirlwind. It’s important to stay present, organized, and alert in order to get the most out of your time and tuition money.
This quarter, I took two core courses: “User & Access Services” and “Foundations of Libraries, Archives, and Information Science.” I certainly didn’t do as much of the assigned reading as I should have, which might come back to haunt me as the program progresses. I also often found myself thinking the material we were covering was already something I had learned on the job as a paraprofessional. This attitude probably hindered me, but I think it was inevitable for me to feel this way. I’m itching to move beyond the intro-level basics. However, these courses did do a great job of acclimating me to the ins and outs of writing in APA format, which was useful in my transition from humanities to social studies writing. And, to my surprise, I was pretty proud of my first literature review. It’s annoying to hear again and again, but cling to your style manual. In the long run, understanding the expectations for written assignments can save a lot of time and stress.
As I hinted at in my recent article on conferences, I felt that my most useful and illuminating experiences happened outside of the classroom. Attending a local conference, interviewing and shadowing professionals, and visiting libraries allowed me to explore and gain a better understanding of the profession. This counts for connecting with classmates as well – I feel like I know so much about the people who are learning alongside me just from some intense in-class discussions on ethics. Being a commuter made it hard for me to form any strong connections, but the foundations are there and I am excited that my classmates are going to be my future colleagues. As much as you can, supplement your classroom assignments with meeting and connecting with people. It can be difficult and awkward, but it’s worth it.
Technically, I just finished my second semester of library school, having started my program at the Catholic University of America this past summer. Like Jennifer, I’m working my way through those core courses, having taken “Organization of Information” (whose final paper I’m still trying to crank out before tomorrow’s due date) and “Information Systems in Libraries and Information Centers” (what a mouthful!). I admit I came into this program with a bit of an attitude. I’ve worked in libraries, academic and public, going on seven years now, and wasn’t quite sure what they could teach me that I didn’t already know.
While I admit I had a leg up in both of these courses because of my work experience, I was not expecting to like my information systems class so much. Initially, the required reading for the course consisted of articles so dry and technical that I thought I would have to drag myself through the end of the semester. But as I learned more about information systems and how integral they are to libraries, I realized that I had ideas of my own. And as cheesy as it sounds, I had one of those epiphanies: “I can do this!”
My last takeaway from this semester is related to this realization. Recently, when I was thinking about what to write for this post, I found myself thinking about how intimidated I was to be starting a graduate program, despite all my work experience. For me, undergrad was grueling, to say the least: a small, private liberal arts college with extremely high standards and a pervasive culture of overwork. I could only conclude that graduate school would be twice as hard as that.
To a degree (pun intended), college was a lot like high school: taking a lot of classes you have to have to graduate, whether you like them or not, sprinkled in with some electives. And don’t forget the extracurriculars! I worked two part-time jobs while also directing/acting/or otherwise participating in theatre department shows. While I still have to balance work, school and a social life, I’ve found that graduate school is much easier. Not academically of course; I’ve definitely stretched my boundaries and test my knowledge since I’ve started this program. It’s easier because I like it. I took Psych 101 and Intro to Statistics in college because I had to have a certain number of science and math credits to graduate. I didn’t like those classes, which made them much harder to get through. And while library school is certainly challenging, I find it far more enjoyable.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I should really finish this paper…