The Murky Middle

Much digital ink has been spilled, both on this site and others, about the process of selecting a graduate program in library & information science and starting such a graduate program. Similarly, there has been much written about reflections on library school from those about to graduate and related articles about the trials and tribulations of the post-graduation job search. While those are all well and good, much rarer, though, are insights from those equal distance from the start and the finish, those who find themselves halfway through their programs. Those who are in what I would call “the murky middle”.

Currently, this is where I find myself. I am just a smidge more than halfway through my MLS program and I have had lots of great experiences, both in and outside of the classroom, thus far. But, from time to time, I do catch myself getting caught in a malaise that produces procrastination. As I am about to embark upon my last calendar year in library school, there are three big ideas that I want to share (and remind myself of!):

When it comes to class assignments, push yourself – both for depth and width

By this point in your program, you should have a decent idea of the concepts in library & information science that most interest you. Maybe you’ve even taken an elective (more on those below!) that sparked an unexpected fire in you. Now is the time to explore those interests even further in-depth. This can even be done in required courses you still need to take for your degree. Maybe your interest is medical librarianship and you explore that in a research class by conducting a literature review. Or perhaps your interest is young adult literature – so, maybe, in a collections development class you research how the policy for diverse YA literature is created and maintained at different institutions. Taking active control of your assignments and applying pre-existing interests to them is one major way to make the “murky middle” a little less murky.

However, this academic period is good not for just exploring the depths of your interests, but also broadening your interests. As a personal example, I find myself very interested in readers’ advisory and medical librarianship, but, in the next few semesters, I am planning to look deeper at youth services, particularly as they relate to the youngest of library patrons. In doing so, I am helping round out my education in information science and ensuring that I graduate with lots of pieces of the information puzzle in hand. 

Be deliberative about elective choices

Building on broadening into new interest areas and digging into established ones is deciding how to best use the elective space your program allots you. Some programs may give you a large degree of flexibility, while others are highly prescriptive and limit the amount of electives in their programs. Regardless, electives are an amazing opportunity to branch out and really determine what kind of information scientist you want to be. Take that introduction to archiving class, even if you think you want to be a children’s librarian. Take more classes with a professor you really enjoyed from your required classes. Don’t be afraid to take something that looks challenging. Don’t take something that appears to be an easy A. Instead, have a conversation with your advisor and/or a trusted faculty member about what you want to get out of your degree. You are investing time (and very possibly money) into this graduate venture. Getting the most out of it includes determining which way your academic ship will go. Taking responsibility and feeling accountable for your schedule can certainly give you the boost you need to make it to the finish line (i.e. graduation!).

Consider internship and practicum opportunities

Librarianship is a people-focused field and what good is the knowledge we are gaining if we don’t find some way to express it?! Internships and practicums are the ideal way to do this! While we might feel like we’ve been beat over the head with the idea of internships since our undergraduate days, there is real value in taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Just as with electives, this is another area that your advisor and/or a trusted faculty member can really assist you. Not only do practicums and internships allow you the ability to practice what you’ve learned in the classroom, they also give you a chance to shake up your schedule and your normal routine. And, who knows, you might even score a valuable reference for the job hunting trail!

For those of us in the murky middle, sometimes just getting by and remembering to turn in assignments on time is a struggle enough. However, we need to remember that this is an incredible time in our academic experience. We have enough knowledge and experience at this point that incredible opportunities, like practicums and research assistance, are opening up to us. Leadership positions in our programs might also start becoming an option. By keeping the three items above in mind, and by staying mentally open to opportunities that might present themselves, we can be sure to emerge from the murky middle successfully and become the next generation of information science leaders!


Photo by Samuel Austin on Unsplash.


Nick Dean is a second-year master’s student in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University. Nick currently works as an academic advisor at a medical school in Kansas City.

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