I was browsing through the blog recently as I was trying to decide what to write about this month, and noticed a common theme in Mary, Sarah, and Nick’s posts: flexibility and adapting to an ever-changing situation. Adaptability and flexibility are important skills to practice not only on the job, but also in this very unique learning situation in which many of us find ourselves. However, it is equally as important to practice these things when you are planning your degree program. You may be like myself, Mary, or Nick, and have one plan going into your MLIS and need to adapt that plan to changing interests and situations. Or, you may be like Sarah, and have “no idea what to do with [your] MLIS.”
While I will definitely be echoing a lot of what my fellow contributors have added to the blog in the past few weeks, I think it is worth repeating. As we enter a new academic year and welcome a brand new class of MLIS students, I want to assure all of those starting their MLIS journey that feeling like you have no idea what you want to do with your degree is perfectly normal. You may have a plan and every inclination to follow it to a tee. That’s great, too.
But, what I want to express to all new MLIS students is that I want to encourage you to be flexible and stay flexible. If you want to take coursework for a concentration, go for it. But, you may also want to take a page out of Nick’s book and “focus on your skills and knowledge,” instead of strictly adhering to concentration requirements. As Mary said, “take classes that sound fun and interesting” and “stop worrying about what will happen after you graduate.”
I completely agree with all of these things, and want to add my own experiences to the ones that my fellow contributors have expressed. A little background: I worked professionally in theater before making a career switch and going back to school for my MLIS. I chose the University of Maryland because they have multiple subject libraries, including a performing arts library. At the beginning of my program, I was convinced that I was going to work in archives or academic libraries with a performing arts focus. I wanted to get my MLIS and get a job as a performing arts subject librarian right after I graduated. Fast forward one year and my interests have changed completely amidst our constantly evolving pandemic world: I’m now planning on pursuing a PhD after my MLIS with a research focus on health literacy instruction.
While I once again recognize that I am not saying anything that the other contributors I mentioned earlier haven’t already said, I really want incoming MLIS students to understand that it’s okay to not know what you want to do at the beginning of your program. It is okay to have a course plan and see it through. It is okay to have a course plan and then change it completely as your interests change. You can make your MLIS what you want it to be and adapt it to your academic and career interests.
That type of flexibility and adaptability is important now more than ever. As those of us in the U.S., especially, continue through this pandemic with no end in sight, flexibility will likely be necessary to succeed in our programs. That is, we may need to be willing to take more online courses than we originally anticipated (but don’t forget to distinguish your online courses from those adapting to emergency remote instruction). We may want to take courses on subjects that will help to prepare us for a pandemic job market, instead of those we may have wanted to take in a non-pandemic situation. We may completely adjust our post-grad plans in accordance.
All of these situations are ones that we may have to face over the next couple of years and we, unfortunately, may need to adapt to all of these situations. However, flexibility is also an opportunity to learn something new or explore a new job opportunity. While many of us may continue to be stuck in a less than ideal situation, we can try to learn from it, adapt to it, and come out on the other side with some new skills, demonstrated determination, and the ability to roll with the punches.
Jane Behre is a second-year MLIS student at the University of Maryland. At UMD, she is the coordinator for the First Year Book Program and a Research & Teaching Fellow. Her academic and professional interests include information literacy instruction and health literacy.