Going back to school for an MLIS as a full-time library worker

I’ll be five years into my first full-time gig in a library (technically second, if we count a promotion two years in) come August of this year; and I’ll be starting my MLIS part-time online through the University of Alberta in September. Why did I make the decision? And why now? Well, it wasn’t fast (obviously) or taken lightly…

The journey begins…

Computer keyboard with a button labelled distance learning.

Distance Learning by Marina Shemesh (https://www.flickr.com/photos/marinashemesh/8417181359)

Let me take you back a few years first before I even started at my current place of work. My library career actually began while I was earning my Bachelor’s of Education. At the same time that I was realizing I was not happy with the politics of traditional teaching and could not imagine myself as a conventional classroom teacher for 40+ years, I discovered that I felt really comfortable in the school’s libraries. I made the decision to do whatever it took to get a job in the library industry. That was in 2010. I applied and got accepted to the MLIS program at the University of Western Ontario in London, ON. I live about an hour and a half away and I was thinking that I could commute and then still live at home and work part-time. See, it’s just me and my mum (we’re a team so I couldn’t just up and leave) and we needed any income I was bringing in at home. I tried the commute once though and realized I couldn’t handle it. Then I found out about the online Library and Information Technician diploma offered at multiple schools through OntarioLearn via Mohawk College. Cheaper, no commute, and I’d still be able to get a job in the industry I wanted? I signed up through Conestoga College so I could do my exams in town and put the MLIS aside until a later date.

The MLIS plan…

As I started the Library Technician program, I developed a plan: I would work full-time in the industry for three years and then I’d apply to an online MLIS program. Why didn’t I do that before? Because when I first applied to library school, I had no idea online MLIS programs were an option. However, after working through a whole online program, I knew that style of learning worked better for me. My plan ran into a bit of a road-block, though: it took until about three-quarters of the way through the program for me to get a job in the industry; and when I finally did, I ended up with a 0.5FTE position in donor information management at one of the universities in my town. It was a good position, albeit non-traditional, but I was okay with that! I worked that job from 2012-2014 when I was laid off. Luckily, I’d finished the technician program by that time, though.

I was out of work for six months when I landed what was to me a dream job. A 10-month per year, 1.0FTE job in course reserves and user services at the library of the school where I earned my BA and BEd. After my first year there, circumstances in the department changed such that I was able to move into a 12-month per year role on the same team. My plan was back on track. 2017 marked three years of working full time, but I didn’t enact my plan that year. Why? Because that year I got promoted to the role of Copyright & Reserves Supervisor. Given my new responsibilities and the fact that our already busy team was down a person after the old supervisor retired, I decided to focus on my new role instead; knowing grad school would still be there and that, when I was ready, I’d know how to hack it to benefit myself the most.

Enacting the plan…

Then, last year, my friend and office mate decided it was time for her to finally get the BA she’d been wanting and watching her go to school lit the fire in me to start thinking about doing my MLIS again. A few months after that, my boss told me they were finally getting us a third person for our office and I decided that, between that good news and the fact that my five-year anniversary was coming up, why not look into applying? It still wasn’t an easy decision; and even now I still have a bit of anxiety about it (and will until I start my classes, I know myself). I’ve been out of school for 7 years at this point, so it’s daunting to go back. Plus, we’re still really busy, so I worry about handling a graduate-level course load (I’ll be doing two courses a semester) while working full-time; even though we have the extra help in the office. What spurred the decision for me, though, was knowing that a) getting the MLIS would be super beneficial to be in my current role (even though, as my boss pointed out when I told her about it, it’s not required for my job) and b) if, in the future, I ever want to move up in my institution, the MLIS is the next step to making that happen.

An inforgraphic about open education in Ontario.

Perspectives of Open Education in Ontario by Giulia Forsythe (https://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/34829651406)

I’m lucky that some of my closest friends are colleagues that I work with every day. They helped me make this decision and I know that they’ll keep supporting me as I work through the program. We see the value to me as a professional and we see the value to me having this degree will bring to our institution (I’m planning to focus on copyright and open education). It’s going to be a lot of juggling, but I’m ready for the adventure; even if it has taken me longer to get here than I originally planned.

In addition to being a Contributing Writer here at Hack Library School, Lauren (she/her) is currently working towards her MLIS part-time, online, through the University of Alberta, she expects to graduate in Spring 2022. She holds an honours BA in English/Religion & Culture and a BEd, both from Wilfrid Laurier University. Her interests are copyright, open education; accessibility; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS. Lauren is the Copyright and Reserves Supervisor at Wilfrid Laurier University, serving on the Library’s Accessibility Committee, and the Student Advisory Council. She also co-hosts a bi-weekly Twitter chat on library issues and trends (#lisprochat) and is a research assistant on the Opening Up Copyright project. Find her: @rendages, @lisprochat | about.me/laurenbourdages

2 replies

  1. Hi Lauren,

    I’m half way through my MLIS at the University of Alberta online… and I too work in a library setting! It’s nice to know there is more than one of us tackling this hurtle in our adulthood while working full time.
    Good luck and enjoy these moments of learning!


    • Thanks so much, Brynley. I’d love to connect and hear more about your experiences in the program! They told me the average age of my cohort is 35, with a few outliers being in their 50s.


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