Courses, Paraprofessionals, and Information Organizations, Oh My: When an MLIS Starts Coming Together

During the second to last semester of my MLIS program, I can say with some amount of certainty that, however many courses one takes, there is no guarantee that any one of them will make one believe that what it teaches will actually be useful when the degree is obtained and the job market is looming ahead.

Some courses may seem more applicable to what one has experienced as a patron or observer out on an assignment. Others may fall in line with internalized ideals that one has accumulated from ALA Code of Ethics’ documents and starry-eyed stories of librarian triumph. Still others are deemed the most practical if one wishes to rapidly acquire a living in these fraught times when every fairy tale story involving an information professional seems to revolve around coding rather than librarianship. I myself have taken courses based on my aspired to career tracks of public and/or academic librarianship, prioritizing any course that was deemed useful for both. Doing so meant forgoing many of those more ‘practical’ courses, and at this stage in my program, there is not much I could do if I wanted to start emphasizing those now.

In the midst of putting together the final e-Portfolio for my program, I can see which competencies I have more than familiarized myself with and which ones that, if it were not for one of the four required starting courses, I would not have covered at all. However, while I have not formally ramped up my business skills or my ability to construct database systems, I have applied my coursework in both public and academic librarianship in real world engagements: a children’s services internship at a large branch last semester, and a library assistant position at a small private college this one. My current work has been an unexpected linchpin in connecting past courses and work experiences to current ones. Whether it is putting together information literacy materials for patrons and student workers (I can thank SJSU’s Professor Becker and his INFO 254 class for that) or creating professional flyers for upcoming research colloquiums (that one goes to my internship supervisor, Chelsey Roos, at Castro Valley Library), I now have tangible evidence of course assignments, internship or otherwise, carrying me forward. I was also to supplement last week’s e-Portfolio work, focusing as it did on the ability to compare and contrast different types of information organizations, which my own personal experiences in public and academic. A less positive connecting of the dots occurred when I realized that I was one of those dreaded paraprofessionals that I had silently railed against when reading about how they displaced fully credentialed librarians from library work. Considering, however, how paradoxical the experience to get library work to get experience chain already is, I simply accepted the label and moved on.

So, do I have a job lined up for after graduation? No, and considering how I am currently working two jobs while going to school full time, that particular hunt can wait till after this semester. Am I going to buy some self-help books about MARC, AACR2, RDA, and other vaguely familiar acronyms? Not until I have some concrete motivation in front of me and more free time on my hands.  Will I regret not going to more than a single conference (it was in the area, and I left early because of work) and not publishing a single paper in my program’s research journal? Maybe, but those are part of the reason why I will be aiming more towards public librarianship than academic after graduation. Just as one probably cannot take every single course offered by an information and library science program, the ability to get through said courses while accruing experience, avoiding loans, networking, publishing, conferencing, and doing everything else that supposedly wards off job market malaise seems more and more to me a matter of one’s zip code than one’s character. I certainly did not pull it all off, and while my current non-regretful state may change post-graduation, I will at least be diving into the dreaded application process with a tidy list of librarian-related references and a few application experiences, both successful and otherwise, under my belt.

Is anyone in a similar position? What are you specializing in (a great way of phrasing a lack of familiarity with certain information science sectors), and is any of your coursework serving you well on the job?

2 replies

  1. Hello Fellow Spartan 🐾

    I would have to say my job search is slightly different as other hindrances have applied, i.e. disability and inability to drive. This is something that is not really covered in library school. Nearly all public librarians and even in many cases librarian assistants, must be able to drive for outreach purposes. In academic settings it is a toss of the dice as to whether driving is necessary as most outreach may be done onsite, unless there is more than one campus.

    This actually led me to focus on disabilities in library settings. I even taylored coding assignments to create websites and social media platforms to be inclusive for those with visual and sensory disabilities. Unfortunately I have found that the majority of libraries are not exactly looking for someone who wants to take accessibility beyond ADA requirements.

    I have been using resources such as Lynda.com to supplement much that library school doesn’t cover directly such as the need to be “expert level” with Excel, Access, etc. I have experience with these and various similar programs as most were required for courses at SJSU. However I have found that almost certification for these are often listed as requirements for librarian positions (at least in my area).

    I have considered going for cataloging certification at SJSU as an add on to my MLIS as this would be beneficial to online positions. Then again most still require an x number of years experience for entry level positions in this area as well.

    I have also found that even with several years of experience in library is, this is discounted unless one can perform well. Again something either not known about in library school, no matter the type of library an applicant will be required to put together a children’s program, an information literacy instructional program, or some other presentation for the interview. Those of us who are already experience higher than normal levels of anxiety may actually be very good with these, but perform poorly at the interview. Thus I have started working on trying to harness my social anxiety just so I can interview well and perform.

    I am not sure this helps you, but you are not alone. If I had a do over with hindsight, I would bring these up in courses so that others with disabilities would know. Libraries are great with trying to be accessable for patrons but not necessarily so much for staff. That said I have no regrets for earning my MLIS.

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    • I did take a course at SJSU on using social media to promote myself with Scott Brown. He has been a n excellent resource/mentor in my job search. I also follow people such as Kim Dority who has written books on using an MLIS for career paths outside of traditional libraries.

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