Lessons Learned: Tips for Starting Library School

As I’m in the midst of job searching, I’ve been thinking hard about my (almost) two years in library school, including what has gone well and what could have gone better. Here are some lessons I’ve learned.

Get job experience.

I have one unpaid internship in the field of librarianship in which I one day want to work and one paying job at the reference desk. Paid jobs are ideal. It feels great to get money and experience at the same time, and I draw on my work at the reference desk a lot in my cover letters. That said, because my internship is exactly aligned with my interests, it has been well worth it. Also, being an internship, I have had the opportunity to try a lot of different things within this division because there’s more flexibility afforded to me than there would be in a standard student worker job. If you have the opportunity, definitely get some work experience along with your classes. It’s been really rewarding applying lessons from class directly in a working environment.

Attend conferences.

I’ve presented at some conferences over the course of my time in library school and found the experience to be very beneficial. I’d recommend starting small with student conferences, especially if there are any organized at your school or other universities nearby. Also check to see if your school provides funding to attend or present at conferences–this is how I’ve managed to attend conferences, especially out-of-state ones. Conferences are a great way to meet people from other institutions and to hear emerging conversations within the field. If you can swing it in terms of funding, attending larger academic conferences can also be very valuable.

Collaborate with people who aren’t librarians.

Ultimately, while we’re going to work in a library with other librarians, what we’re actually going to be doing is working with people who come from outside the library world. This is why talking to professors who aren’t interested in information studies to learn more about their research and teaching process and collaborating with students from other disciplines who might be interested in things like digital humanities or data visualization is so important. For librarians to be relevant, we need to understand what scholars and other patrons from outside the library need. Library school is also a fantastic time to find other students and start up projects with them. Some of my classmates are heavily involved in interdisciplinary digital humanities projects, which can be really exciting and great experience for the future.

Read job applications now.

You always hear the advice that you should read job applications when you’re registering for classes, note the required skills, and plan your courses accordingly. I didn’t follow this advice very seriously, but I now I see the wisdom in it, so I’m here to tell you to do it! My pitfall was that I only looked at jobs that seemed like my “dream job.” I think a better strategy is to look at jobs that you would apply to straight out of school. And don’t just look at the low hanging fruit. Study the posts for interesting sounding jobs that require more skills. (Spoiler alert: These are probably going to be tech-related skills. Take more technology-based classes!)

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Being in school is a great time to try new things. (See above about developing new skills.) Be on the lookout for projects that sound interesting, even if they’re small-scale. I recently completed a small collection development project focused on Southeast Asian comics. I was hesitant to agree to working on this project because I knew nothing about comics, let alone comics in Southeast Asia. I did agree, though, and ended up learning a lot. The project lasted only a few weeks, so think of all the short-term learning opportunities you have if you seek them out! Even if you think you might not like something, take the opportunity to try it out–you might be surprised!


For readers also looking back on their studies, what other tips do you have to share?

For more more advice, Christina has some for first generation LIS students, Ashley has some on working with advisors, and Nicole has more general advice.


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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