MLISing in the Real World – Striking the Balance

Cover Photo by Aubrey Young

If there is one thing that the average Master in Information and Library Science candidate is familiar with, it is the constant need for balance: school, work, internships, volunteering; which is just a baseline that does not take into account added complications, such as marriage or kids.

I have just finished up my second semester at San Jose State University’s School of Information, and unlike what one might think, completing my school projects resulted in more problems than solutions. Way back in September of 2018, I went into the program thinking I would get in, get out, and be well on my way long before the seven-year limit SJSU places on staying in the program arrived. However, as every MLIS candidate should know, one’s time at school is a vital opportunity not for the classes themselves, but the willingness of organizations to trade experience for university credits or even the odd paycheck. The aftermath of this last semester made me realize the danger inherent in the complacency of my last two semesters, wherein I took library science classes, worked outside of the field, and sent in a single application for an internship that I did not end up getting. My solution to this at this point is to slow down on the classes and put myself out there for volunteering at the two library systems in my area which, between the two of them, offer around fifteen separate library locations. It further complicates my plate of commitments and will take some time to figure out the best combination of hours when it comes to handing out portions to work, volunteering, and, of course, school. However, the worst thing I could do is wait around until I have my degree in hand to go fishing as the market is a fickle thing when it comes to librarianship; and I still encounter kids at my current job that do not see the point in libraries continuing to exist.

Now, this is likely a lesson that many an MLIS candidate has learned. Indeed, I definitely do not have as many commitments as some of my fellow students, as I am the only mouth I need to feed and my current line of work is transitory enough to be flexible; if annoyingly so under certain circumstances. However, I wanted to offer this portrait of a work in progress for those who are undergoing similar negotiations themselves with their friends, family, employers, and, probably most importantly, themselves. This is not the story of how I comfortably set myself up with a library position long before graduating or even how I aced the interview to get into my first library internship that naturally led to a progression of short-term work to long-term work and, ultimately, a permanent position. One thing to remember about hacking library school, or indeed any sort of hacking, is that everyone comes in at different levels of readiness. While one would ideally linearly ‘level up’ with the progression of time in a clearly laid out path, often it is not only until one has gained experience of the less than lustrous sort that one acknowledges the need for a change of tactics. When that happens, it is easy to not take the learning for what it is, but to instead panic, or have a breakdown in self-confidence, or even fall into despair with the choices one has made so far in entering an MLIS program to begin with. Tempting as all those reactions may be, they are all not only harmful, but risk undermining the value of the time and energy one has already put into a path of what is, for all intents and purposes, a path of self-improvement. Does that sound like a good thing?

So, wherever you are at in your MLIS experience, never forget to stop and take the time to simply breathe and remember that human beings have not stuck around as long as they have due to the sheer perfection of their choices. What counts, from the level of group to the individual, is the will to adapt to past experiences, present opportunities, and future goals, for to be perfect is also to invite disaster, for who has the audacity to believe one will never have to deal with failure and, more importantly, self-reflection in the wake of said failure? As such, what have you had to deal with, recently or otherwise, that forced you to confront what you had been doing so far and evaluate whether it needed to change? What decisions did you need to make and how did you work to balance the changes? Also, never forget that suffering a disappointment sometimes means going out of town and hanging out with friends or family until one is ready to come back and face the music. They know that you would do the same for them.

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