I’m attending grad school in mid-life, and it bears a stronger resemblance to being an undergrad at eighteen than I had expected: I’m learning a lot, quickly, and mostly about myself. This is disorienting, but I’m happy to report it’s much easier to handle at 42. (Everything’s easier to handle at 42, those people who tell you that your teens/twenties are the best years of your life are lying to you.) Since I have the wisdom of both age and two semesters of 500-level courses, I feel fully qualified to give you the following advice for successfully navigating library school.
Learn some computer skills. Any computer skills. I advise this a lot, but you’ll really need it. A good grasp of Excel will change your life. A little Command Line and HTML will go a long way. If you’re feeling saucy, learn SQL or Python. Check for updates and back up your data at least once a week. Try turning it off and back on again before you panic.
Be focused in your activities. Pick two (and only two) clubs, groups, or volunteer gigs at the start of your first semester and stick with them until you graduate. Make sure one of the activities is from outside of your library school circle: join a band, play chess in the park, take up intramural shuffleboard. All library all the time is fun, but it’s healthier to occasionally talk to people who don’t care about Melvil Dewey and his many crimes. It’ll be hard to stick with just two activities—there are so many fun and worthy things to do!—but your stress levels will thank you.
Only take fun classes. You heard it here first—practical classes are out for Fall 2020. Fun classes are in! Okay, okay, you do have to take a couple practical classes, depending on your specialty, or maybe you have the misfortune of attending a school with a lot of required courses. But if you’re debating between the safe-but-boring class and the impractical-but-interesting class, take the interesting class. Employers don’t care and practical librarianship has to be learned on the job anyhow. And remember, if you really need to know something, there’s probably a webinar about it.
Make a schedule and stick to it. Easier said than done, especially in the last weeks of a semester, but schedule out your time and be realistic about it. Block out twice as much time for homework as you think you’ll need. Include downtime—there’s no shame in spending your Saturdays watching Netflix if that’s what you like to do, but write it into the schedule. Try to notice your energy levels and when you’re most productive. Block out your week, every week. Make a list of what needs to get done, decide when you’re going to do each task, and then stick with the schedule. It sounds simple but it will reduce your cognitive load, freeing up brain power for more important thoughts.
Have a plan and change it often. In contrast to the schedule, which is used for short-term minor goals, the plan is over-arching. You may have heard of having a five-year plan—that’s the kind of scale I’m talking about. I recommend having one. Just sit down and decide what you’d like your life to look at in five years, and be as far-fetched and ridiculous as you’d like. (My favorite memoir is Someday My Prince Will Come, by Jerramy Fine, who decided that she wanted to become a princess. She isn’t a princess yet, but she’s done well for herself in pursuit of her dream.) Once you have a goal in mind, figure out how to get yourself there, but be prepared to change your mind. Revisit your plan frequently and do an internal check to see if you’d like to set a different goal. For example, I started out wanting to become a reference librarian but realized that I don’t really want to set myself up for thirty years of direct contact with the public—I would like a nice office instead.
The takeaway is that you should be focused, yet flexible. Disciplined, yet unpredictable. Doing both everything and nothing. Then you will be happy and successful like me!
Emily has just finished her first year of library school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She enjoys the isolation of quarantine a little too much and is not looking forward to having to wear pants again.