Helpful Hacks from the Halfway Mark

“Once you’re halfway home, you know that you can probably get the rest of the way there.” – Janis Ian

Last August, I quit my full-time nonprofit tech job and made a mid-career pivot back to the library world, and in particular, library school. It was exciting, empowering, and well, terrifying. Writing research papers again years after my undergraduate experience (ahem) was definitely an adjustment. I remember last year at this time looking forward to when things were no longer so new and daunting and time-consuming.

Now that I’m halfway through to my MLIS, I’ve found myself reflecting on how much things have changed (and yes, grad school life did get easier). Over the past year, I developed a number of study tips and tricks using a combination of electronic and old-fashioned (read: paper) approaches to make my library school life more organized, efficient, and effective. As the fall semester approaches, I want to share a few of my favorite hacks in the hopes that they can also help you at whatever point you happen to be in your library school experience.

Make yourself an APA-formatted template. On my laptop desktop is a link to a Word document template I created that uses the correct APA style. The format includes the correct margins, font, spacing, title page, headers, bibliographic format, etc. Whenever I have a new paper to start, I simply click “Save as”, and use that as the basis for the new paper. No need to reconfigure margins or header specifications every time. (Note: This could work just as well for other courses of study that use alternative citation methods; just plug in the correct citation format for whatever style you are using).

Create a due date calendar. At the start of each semester, I print out the syllabus and/or assignment listing for each class. For me, it is helpful to have things laid out on a paper calendar as well as an electronic calendar. I use Google Calendar to create a separate due date calendar, where I add due dates for each class. I use a separate event color for each class. Similarly, I add my due dates to my paper calendar using a different color ink for each class.

google calendar

My due date calendar. As you can tell, a lot of assignments were due on Sunday nights!

If you want to attempt to keep yourself ahead of things, you can even make each due date a week earlier. Alas, this last part was a strategy that never quite worked for me, but I find it very useful to see months and weeks of the semester laid out for me visually. By making it a separate calendar, I can view it separately or alongside my personal calendar. This helps me to be aware of any work or social commitments that might coincide with due dates so I can plan accordingly.

Keep it handy. Particularly with an online library school program, I find it necessary to make course materials as easily accessible and organized as possible. I keep a folder for each course on my desktop. Using a symbol such as “#” or “!” will bump these to the top of your files.


course file naming

Within each class folder, I add each course module or unit as a folder that includes the full-text .pdf files for any reading assignments. When it comes time for that module, you can easily print out the necessary reading. If you prefer reading on a phone or tablet, adding each class folder to a file-sharing service like Dropbox will allow you to access reading assignments on your commute or elsewhere on the go.



assignments and reading material

In addition, I keep an “Assignments” folder within each class folder. This is helpful for quickly referencing a past assignment and for keeping documentation of your work for your eportfolio.

Personalize your Google Scholar. No doubt at some point in your library school experience you will need to use Google Scholar in your research. Save yourself lots of time by taking a few minutes to personalize your Google Scholar. Add your school’s library to your Google Scholar settings (you will need to authenticate using your campus library login and password). Once you do so, Google Scholar will save your credentials and the full-text will appear in search results for any material you have full-text access to via your institution.

Dig into diigo. diigo is a social bookmarking tool that I have used for many years as an easy way of keeping track of web resources by using tags to sort items by topic. I found it is also very handy for library school. For example, for my collection development course, I saved commonly used sites for researching demographics. When I needed to use them, I simply pulled up the tag and got the entire list.


diigo tags

This last semester, I experimented with diigo’s new outliner feature to keep track of references and I am a fan! Often times when I am researching articles, I want an easy way to save references along with relevant personal notes or annotations. With a quick keyboard shortcut, I can easily open up the diigo outliner sidebar and drag and drop the relevant citation, quote, or other relevant information.

diigo outliner tool in action

When it came time to write the paper, I simply pulled up my outliner list and could easily re-arrange and edit my sources. From there, it was merely a matter of copying and pasting my outliner into my Word document, giving me the easy makings of a bibliography and outline already in place to guide me in writing. I definitely plan on using this tool for future papers.


Got any study hacks or tools you’d recommend? Share them in the comments.

Image Credit: Zooky World

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