Reflections on a New Normal [Farewell]

After three years, I’ll be graduating from my MLIS program this June. This is also my last post for Hack Library School. These three years were a whirlwind and ranged from bad internships and thinking of dropping out to amazing fellowships and feeling supported and inspired by my community of other students, professors, and librarians and archivists of color. However, with all this uncertainty, I’m also feeling a lot of dread about my graduation. I’ve been at the University of Washington now for seven years: four for undergrad and three for grad school, with no break in between. I think my graduation and the fact that I’ll be leaving UW in less than a month really hit me when I realized I didn’t have to register for fall classes. I’m finally leaving UW and heading into an unknown and unstable future and at one of the worst times to graduate in recent memory.

I don’t even know if I would recommend library school for people thinking about it right now. I’ll gladly talk about my experiences, but I’m not eagerly encouraging people to apply to a MLIS program. Entry level positions in the archives field weren’t numerous before COVID-19 and they’ve dried up now. There has also been a shift in the past couple of years to more precarious employment with many positions only funded for one or two years. I’ve been job hunting since December 2019, and constantly browsing Archives Gig since I started my program in 2017; and have watched as the number of available jobs decreased as hiring freezes went into effect and job postings were pulled beginning around mid-March. Now, entry level positions that are still available have more competition with more people out of work; and they’re also more likely to be limited term, grant funded positions. And, if you were to start library school in the fall, would you even be able to go to classes in-person? With campuses closed, what about part-time work? Most summer internships this year have been cancelled already. Graduate school is a chance to explore your own interests through classes, volunteer opportunities, internships, and more. But, with limited opportunities to engage in-person with others this year, how will the MLIS experience change? Or, another way to look at it, how will it evolve?

I’ve been an online student for the past three years and thought I had online learning mostly down. But, with working from home and quarantining, my ability to focus and find motivation to work has been hit hard. Advice I used to give others who were taking online classes included finding study spots outside of the house, scheduling time to work on schoolwork, and chatting with other students virtually. Now, many of us are sitting for hours at our desk at home, are easily distracted or have more family or childcare responsibilities, and are tired of Zoom. Your health or the health of others you know might also have been impacted by COVID-19. I wish that I could offer some advice, but I’m still trying to figure things out. I think back to what I’ve told prospective students or have written for HLS: what UW’s MLIS program is like, my experiences as an online student, how to balance school and work, and how to gain archival experience. While some of it may still apply, other things have changed too drastically to be true anymore, at least for the time being.

I hate to end this farewell post in such a negative tone, so I’ll say this: support one another, be easier on yourself, advocate for those disproportionately affected by this pandemic, focus on what you can control, and remember that things will eventually be okay. I say this last one because I’m not sure how I would get through each day without this reminder. Whether you’re like me and about to graduate or about to start your MLIS program, know there is a community of students, librarians, archivists, and information professionals out there for you. You might already have found your community or you’re starting to find it. Either way, finding this community will provide you with the support you’ll need for whatever comes next.

Cover Photo by Nick Bolton

Kelli Yakabu is a soon to be MLIS graduate from the University of Washington. You can follow her on Twitter @kelliyakabu.

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