“Tips for library school.” “What to expect in your first semester of grad school.” “What is library school like?”
Do any of those search phrases sound familiar? If so, you are just like I was about six months ago; frantically researching as much as you could as you prepared to begin the first semester of your MLIS degree.
With my first semester of my MLIS under my belt, I still have plenty to learn. However, there are some tidbits of knowledge I have acquired about library school specifically, and grad school in general, that I think might be useful for incoming students (or anyone simply returning for the spring semester).
(Disclaimer: I am a full-time, in-person student, I work part-time as a graduate assistant on campus and I don’t have a spouse or children; so I can only speak for myself and my situation. Not everything I discuss may be relevant to your situation, but I hope that some of the information I provide will be useful, and at the very least shed some light on what skills or strategies might be helpful in your first semester.)
Time management, time management, time management.
Time management was the key to my success during my first semester. My favorite time management tools are Google Calendar (tried and true) and Plan, a free browser and mobile app that you can sync with your calendar. Plan allows you to combine to-do lists with your calendar so you can schedule time to work on each task. From the beginning, I was very diligent about keeping track of my assignments, due dates, and schedules. Life can get very busy very quickly, and I found it helpful to take time at the beginning of my week to look ahead at my calendar, figure out what I had coming up, and schedule time to work on assignments. This way, if I had a big project due, I was able to spread it out over a long period of time, instead of freaking out and cramming a whole bunch of work into a few days.
It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: taking time for self-care is so, so important. Grad school can be stressful and taking time to take care of yourself is necessary. A few methods of self-care that have worked for me are meal prepping, regular exercise, a consistent sleep schedule, and, thanks to time management, taking one “me-day” per week, where I could take a day off from homework. However, self-care is personal, and only you will be able to figure out what works best for you.
Find your people.
On that first day of classes, I was sitting in a room with total strangers. It can take a lot of effort and energy to put yourself out there and meet new people. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), library school is chock full of group projects, so you will begin to get to know some of your classmates simply by working together. As we all know, not all groups are going to get along well all of the time, but you will at least be meeting new people and getting more comfortable with your new classmates. Eventually, you may be able to find a few kindred spirits (as I was fortunate enough to). When you do, take the time to maintain those relationships. Those people will turn into your sounding board, commiserators (on bad days), pre-essay submission “can you please read through this and make sure I haven’t made any egregious typos because I’ve read it too many times and it’s all blending together”-ers, and, just maybe, your friends, too.
Do you know exactly what you want to do after you graduate? For many folks beginning their first semester of an MLIS program, the answer to that is no. When I began I was interested in archives, so I decided to take an introductory course to learn more about it. I’m glad that I did because I was able to learn that going into archives might not be for me. Is there an area you are considering but you just aren’t sure about it? If you have room in your schedule, take the class anyway! Best-case scenario, you find something new you are interested in. Worst-case, you’ve tried something new, learned it’s not for you, but you still have the knowledge from the class to take with you throughout your degree and career. It’s just as important to learn what you don’t want as it is to learn what you do want, so you can be sure to spend your time and energy wisely going forward.
Embrace what you don’t know.
I started library school with only a couple of years of scattered library volunteering under my belt. (I made a career switch to pursue librarianship.) I had to learn to embrace the fact that I knew very little about the field, and that it was okay. Even if you have been working in libraries for years, you will probably still learn something new during your MLIS, whether it’s from a class, a professor, or your fellow students. Stay open to learning new things, challenging thoughts, and the potential of being wrong. There is still so much to learn.
Jane Behre is an MLIS student at the University of Maryland. At UMD, she is the coordinator for the First Year Book Program and a member of the Research & Teaching Fellowship’s 2021 cohort. She holds a B.A. in Theatre from Barnard College, Columbia University, and worked professionally backstage for two years before deciding to make the switch to library science. Within the field, her interests include academic librarianship (with a focus on the performing arts), research & instruction, and information literacy. In her free time, she enjoys cooking for her friends and family, listening to podcasts, and, of course, going to the theater.