How to navigate bureaucracy at your school

While I hope this doesn’t happen, at some point during your time at school you might find yourself forced to navigate department or university bureaucracy in order to get something done. For example, maybe you want to place out of class because of prior work experience. Dealing with situations like these, where you have to advocate for yourself, can be very stressful if you’ve never done it before, which is why I’m here to give you a few pointers.

First of all, you’re probably going to need to spend a little time learning how your university’s administration is structured. Depending on what you need done, you may just need to know how your department works, or you may need to know more about the university at large. Ask yourself what it is you need to get done and then set out to find which person in the administration is in charge of that thing.

In order to do this, you will likely have to enlist the help of others. A great place to start is your friends in your program. Ask around to see if someone has dealt with something similar. Maybe look to seniors in your program who can offer you advice. This is the safest starting point as you aren’t making any waves: you’re just asking for some suggestions and commiseration from your fellow students.

If you think it’s necessary, you can also turn to a faculty or staff member for guidance. They have been around longer than you and will know much more than you about school policies and administrative structure. They will also have seen more students with unique situations and will be able to give you some advice about what to do next, even if they haven’t seen your exact situation before.

You might feel more comfortable talking to someone from a different department, which can also be helpful. While they will likely not know much about the inner workings of your department, they can still give you general advice about navigating university bureaucracy. If you have other mentors, even ones who are not part of your university at all, they might also be able to give this sort of advice.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need outside help, look to see what student groups your university or department has. Often, there will be a student association (or more than one!) that works to facilitate communication between students and their department. This could be a good place to turn. Also remember organizations like your student ALA chapter. While they might not be able to advocate directly for you, they will be able to put you in contact with other groups that can help you.

Ultimately, remember that, no matter your situation, you should speak up and ask for help. Maybe that means going directly to the administration for help, maybe that means asking someone for advice, or maybe that means asking someone to advocate for you. Be persistent and keep looking for people who understand your situation and can offer you advice about the best way to move forward. You’ve got this!


For more on unique and possibly tricky library school situations, see Ayoola’s post on what to do when one of your classes feels like a waste of time and Paul’s post on creating an independent study class.


Zoë McLaughlin is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or at her personal blog.

Featured image from Death to Stock.

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