Today we welcome a guest post by Symphony Bruce. Symphony Bruce is a recent graduate of the iSchool of the University of Missouri and completed her MLIS in December of 2017. She is in her sixth year as a high school English Language Arts teacher in St. Louis. Simultaneously, she works as a Research Services Librarian at Webster University part-time. Symphony loves to facilitate research and information literacy in her classroom and in her interactions with students of all ages. Her research interests include critical pedagogy, critical librarianship, and diversity within academic libraries. Check out her blog, Curls in the Library, where she explores topics in research and information instruction at symphonybruce.com. Tweet with her @curlsinthelib.
When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education I had two plans:
Plan A: Find a teaching job for the following school year.
Plan B: Continue to serve lattes and apply for library school.
As chance would have it, I was offered a teaching position one month after walking across the stage. The first year of teaching is the hardest. Any current or past teacher knows what I’m talking about: learning how to manage a class, satisfy parents, meet the expectations of the teacher evaluation instrument, while working 60 hours a week to plan and grade. After starting in the classroom, I had no time to think about library school. Plan B became a distant thought.
About two years later, I did apply for library school and spent the next three years as a full time high school English language arts teacher and part time graduate student. It. Was. Hard. How many weekends did I cram as much reading and writing as I could into 48 hours? How many weeknights did I stay up an extra hour to finish online discussion posts? I look back and can’t even remember how I did it. But I want you to know you can do it too. You can be a professional and an academic at the same time. You might eat a few more frozen pizzas than you would be proud to admit. You might choose to stay home on a Friday night because you have homework. You might plan marginally simpler lessons for your own students to help you balance the workload. But I want you to know it will be worth it.
Why? Because library school will make you a better teacher and being a teacher will make you a better librarian.
Library School Makes You a Better Teacher
First and foremost, being a student again will help you understand your students at a human level. Being a teacher distances you from the mindset of a student. Instead of doing assignments, you are creating them and assigning them. Teachers consider the state standards and translate those standards into learning objectives. This leads to intense lesson planning in an effort to engage students in the high-level thinking needed to meet those objectives. When in this mindset, it is incredibly difficult to think about things from the perspective of a student. I was reminded of the pressures and difficulty of being a student while in library school. In what other situation are people expected to learn new information on a daily basis and prove mastery in those skills by the end of an evaluation period? This is a quality of life is lived almost exclusively by students. As a graduate student in library school, I was often reminded of the frustration of learning new things (like cataloging?!? Basically a new language, am I right?). Because of this perspective, I could put myself into their shoes. My students and I could connect about our work loads and weekends of homework.
The skills one learns in library school are directly transferable to classroom, too. The understanding of how information is organized is something I can explain better to my students now than I could before. They receive better instruction, especially in research skills and digital literacy, because of my experience within this degree. While the teaching and reading of literature is without a doubt so important for students, the practical lessons of navigating digital information is paramount in today’s information society.
Being a Teacher Will Make You a Better Librarian
In library school, I took one course on information literacy instruction and I don’t think many others were offered. And even if other courses were available, would they provide the authentic, immersive type of experience one gets while working in the classroom? Absolutely not. As teachers, we know how hard it is to teach and to do a good job every day. As first career teachers, we are lucky to go into the library setting with instructional experience because so many parts of librarianship mirror that of teaching. As I got closer to graduation, I was afraid I didn’t have enough library experience to convince any academic library to take me in for practicum and I was afraid I would have a terribly hard time finding library work. This could not be further from the truth.
Libraries benefit from having librarians with teaching experience. We better understand how to plan and create engaging lessons, use time effectively, and assess student learning in short periods of time. Consider all of the things a teacher can do with an hour and 30 students. The teacher-turned-librarian won’t be overwhelmed by that one-shot instruction session or that one-hour workshop at the public library.
If you’re a teacher considering librarianship or working through library school, own your experience! You are a professional in a highly demanding career field with experience that is directly transferable to the library setting – no matter if you choose school libraries, public libraries, academic libraries, or archives.
Featured image “Old Classroom” by Miki Yoshihito is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)