Two years ago, in the summer of 2015, my husband and I quit our jobs, packed our bags, and left our hometown for Iowa City, where I would be attending library school that fall. Librarianship had been my dream career since 2008, when I started undergrad. Now after years of planning and several library jobs, I would finally get that MLIS. Despite the fact that this was a big step towards achieving my professional goals, it was not an easy decision to make.
Going to graduate school is part of becoming a librarian so I always knew that my formal education wouldn’t end with a bachelor’s degree. I’d prepared for this inevitability by working in my college’s library, and after graduation, in a public library which was a ten minute drive from my house. After undergrad, I figured, I’d take a year to save up some money and then go back to school. Then, a couple of unexpected things happened. First, I married a hometown boy and second, I got a full time job at a community college library.
I’ve lived most of my life in one town, gone to college there, and worked in several libraries nearby. Now with a job in my field and my husband to factor into my future, staying put seemed like the easy option. My parents and my boss made the case for library school online, and I have to say, it was tempting. Many posts on this site will tell you that online classes can be rewarding experiences, not to mention the possible financial benefits. If I left for school now, I’d risk my financial security, move into a smaller home. My husband would have to leave his job as a junior high teacher and get a teaching license in a new state. To give myself more time to think, I ended up deferring my acceptance. However, in the end, I left my job and left town for an on-site education at the University of Iowa. Two years into a three year program, I am so glad that I did.
For me personally, it was a big deal just to leave home. Unlike many students, I stayed in my hometown and lived with my parents throughout undergrad. This saved money, but it also meant that graduate school was my first opportunity to live and work in a new environment without my family to depend on. Even though Iowa City is only an hour away from where I was, it’s far enough to learn that I can function outside of my comfort zone, without my hometown support network. This realization has encouraged me to dream bigger. Knowing that I have moved and made it work in a new home means that I can apply for and perform that future dream job states away!
Additionally, while I’m here it’s easy to learn about libraries outside of my previous realm of experience. The town has multiple special libraries, public libraries, academic libraries, archives, and museums. This is much more than my hometown had to offer. If a library niche interests me, say digitization for special collections, or conservation, it’s simple to contact someone who does that and set up a meeting. Although it’s not impossible to have conversations with people in all kinds of library work while an online student, proximity has both emboldened me and made encounters with professionals in my areas of interest more likely.
The hands on factor, getting to see things done, meet people who do them, and do them myself has been hugely helpful for me as an archival student. The classes I’ve taken as part of the Book Studies program like bookbinding and conservation, wouldn’t have been possible online. I could have taken classes and study archival theory, but nothing replaces learning to process archival materials yourself, and to help researchers who want to use them. Nearly every position I’ve had in a library, I got in part due to previous work experiences. Although I won’t be job hunting again for another few months, it’s not unreasonable to think that this sort of hands on experience will help me land the next job.
Speaking of jobs, work opportunities on campus are plentiful, and in the best case scenarios students are paid and receive tuition remission for assistantships. Although I took a pay cut from where I was working before, I am able to manage a full course load while making more professional connections and doing work closer to my interests than what I was doing as a community college library technician.
Taking the risk of going to library school as opposed to choosing an online education has rewarded me a few times over. Financially, my assistantship has removed the burden of loans I would have had, had I gone online. Additionally, I have met more professionals in my field, built relationships with my fellow students, and had more hands on experience with archives than I would have otherwise. All of these benefits combined have given me more confidence and expanded my own vision for what I can achieve professionally. From my point of view, choosing to go to library school on site can make it easier to experience what your school has to offer outside of its curriculum and make an overall positive impact on your educational experience.