Method to the Madness: Reflecting on my First Year of Library School

The end of a semester is always a whirlwind. I am especially trying to wrap my head around the fact that I have just completed my first year of graduate school, seemingly in just a blink of an eye. In an effort to settle my thoughts, I figured it would be helpful for me—as well as for other first-years and those thinking about pursuing MLIS —if I took a breather and reflected on my first year of library school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

This past year has easily been the most transformative time in my life thus far. I was challenged in new ways, confronted with new situations, and as a result, I grew a lot. Everything involved stepping out of my comfort zone. And in doing so, I was really able to find my tribe.

Selecting Classes
Naturally, courses are the basis of any academic program. I found myself facing a fortunate problem: so many good classes, so little time. I learned to be methodical when selecting classes. I had been advised by a friend and mentor to take classes that have a hands-on component and offer the skills that I will need for a job. Every so often, I take a look at relevant job postings to see what kinds of skills and requirements are being asked for. I continuously think about my professional track (academic) and I think about the skills I have already developed through previous experiences, the skills I am currently gaining from my assistantship, and then I assess the areas I am lacking in. For me, it is the technology courses. I often have to force myself out of my comfort zone by taking something different from what I would normally gravitate towards. I took a course in e-resources management and plan to take a programming course next fall, and hopefully a class on digital preservation my final semester.

Similarly, balance is also very important. It is good to take a variety of different classes; ones that can hone your financial/management skills, technology skills, presentation skills, etc. This past semester I took an introductory preservation course, a seminar on scholarly communication, as well as a government information course. The ultimate goal is to make yourself stand out and marketable.

If you can, look at course syllabi before signing up so you can get a feel for the class by identifying the course objectives and estimating the potential work load. I found it helpful to create a list of all the classes I wanted to take at some point and to order them by priority. Did I always stick to the courses I had planned out months in advance? Almost never. Things happen: classes fill up, your favorite instructor isn’t teaching the course, or you change your mind. That’s okay. I just make sure to deviate my credits so I won’t have to take as many classes my final semester when I will need time to look for a job.

Reaching Out for Experiences
Experience. Experience. Experience. Ultimately, that is what employers will be looking for. Earlier this semester, I had a mini freak-out because I had the overwhelming thought that I was not doing enough. I remedied this by applying to HLS, lining up my summer job, joining a student organization, and starting to think about presenting at a future conference. Through this, I have learned that opportunities do not just fall into your lap. You have to go and get them. Always be on the look out. Be thinking ahead. We are fortunate to be in a profession where we like to help out, so do not be afraid to reach out to your colleagues or professors.

Look to see if your university library offers graduate hourly work. Reach out to the local libraries, archives, or museums, to see if they have work or volunteer opportunities. Definitely look into doing a practicum as well as it adds to your experiences and skills.  Almost obsessively, I frequently check postings for library postings at my school and around town just to see what is available. Because I did this I was able to scout and eventually secure a summer opportunity four months in advance.

Your experiences do not necessarily have to be library focused or even offered within your school. Look for opportunities with transferable skills; Tutor for instruction skills, retail for customer service, seek out writing opportunities to enhance your communication skills, volunteer at events for programming experience, etc.

Connecting and Communicating
Contrary to the stereotype, librarians are actually pretty social. Networking is extremely vital in our small and competitive profession. Previously, I was the type of timid student who would avoid chatting with professors, but it is important to build relationships with experts within the profession. Try to find a professional mentor. You can look for a librarian at your university or local library with similar professional interests. You can also reach out to alumni.

However, this is not entirely a career advancing strategy, it is equally essential to connect with your peers for the sake of support. Take advantage of group projects. Join student organizations, or create one yourself. If you are doing an online program, connect with your classmates through social media and then perhaps organize a meet up. Having a group of peers you can freak out with and also have fun with will only make your graduate school experience more enjoyable and enriching.

Setting Goals
In reflecting over my first year, I realized that there are many things I still hope to learn in the coming year. In my second, and final year, I want to continue stepping out of my comfort zone through classes, professional, and social experiences. More specifically, I want to continue building my research and writing skills (especially those transferable skills!) within the scope of academic librarianship. Gaining familiarity with applicable software and technology would be ideal. Other goals include publishing and presenting at a conference. In addition to volunteering experiences off campus, I also want to become more involved with professional student organizations through our iSchool.

Overall, the most valuable thing I have gained in my first year of library school is the confirmation that librarianship is right for me. I also recognized that librarianship is often underrated but through my experiences this past year, I further deepened my own appreciation of librarianship.

What have you taken from your time at library school? 

Image Courtesy of Flickr user fflav

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