This summer I had the opportunity to slightly switch gears and work at the International Area Studies Library at my university. Specifically, I assisted the Slavic Reference Service Team with their summer research laboratory. The University Library at Urbana-Champaign is highly regarded for both its collection and services in Slavic and Eastern European Studies. The Summer Research Institute, which has welcomed both fledgling and seasoned scholars for over forty years, is also internationally renowned. The purpose of the research lab is to encourage use of library resources in order to proliferate scholarship pertaining to the region.
My main duty was offering general library instruction tailored to the visiting scholars’ research needs as well as assisting in reference inquires. However, I also had the chance to update research guides, convert webpages from one platform to another, as well as help prepare for an upcoming exhibit. Through this work, I was able to build on my previous knowledge and consequently delved deeper into librarianship. Every day provided me with the insight of what a subject/area specialist does. Furthermore, I realized firsthand how multifaceted librarianship truly can be.
My previous graduate experience so far has been working primarily undergraduate students with general library instruction and research. Although I was also offering instruction, at the lab I worked with a more focused population, both in demographic and in terms of their needs. Although enjoyable in its own right, interacting with undergraduate students is a different experience from working with scholars. Scholars are more deeply invested in their research than an undergraduate student and thus are naturally more appreciative of the sources and services available to them. This makes the service interaction more meaningful and rewarding, in my experience.
I have had personal experience using WordPress, but having the chance to do so in a professional and library setting is key. I was also able to build off on my undergraduate training in history by scouting historic newspapers both on microfilm and digitized online. This research endeavor was eventually combined with my interest in design, and resulted in creating a library display. In this position, as well as other library positions, I’ve learned that being a successful librarian requires one to utilize so many various skills.
Even though I had very little background in Slavic Studies (two undergraduate history courses) and absolutely no Slavic language experience, I was able to attain this summer position months in advance. I was unsure whether I would have the right qualifications for this position, but I still reached out to inquire. My mindset in library school is to continually seek out opportunities, even if it just means building on prior experiences. Even if something may not work out the first time, I make sure to check back and try again.
Going into librarianship, you are probably aware that the job market is tough. In order to stay competitive in the job market, you must complement your library school classes with hands-on experiences. Seek out opportunities and do so early to give yourself the best chance. Think of unique ways to build upon your existing skills. Try your university or local library or museum. Get creative and reach out to theaters, historical societies, churches, educational initiatives, and various other organizations. If you are having difficulties finding available positions, reach out to organizations and see if they would be willing to work with you to arrange a way for you to get experience. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Library school is the best time to try out new experiences. With every new experience, I become deeper and deeper in awe of our field.
A lot of people have certain perceptions of what it means to be a librarian. Most people have either narrow or straightforward view of librarianship. My experiences while in library school has taught me otherwise. Ultimately, no matter which type of library setting and work you will be doing, librarianship is what you make of it.
Image Courtesy by Flickr User randychiu