Farewell Post: Answering My Own Grad School Questions

When I first started preparing to enter my Master’s program, there were two questions I regularly asked professional librarians:

  1. What tricks did you develop that helped you to be successful and effective?
  2. Which classes have been most useful for you? What should I take?

Now that I’m nearing the end of my program and wrapping up my time with Hack Library School, I wanted to reflect on how I would answer these questions.

My Top Tips and Tricks

YouTube is your friend: As an online student, I didn’t always have easy access to the professor when I needed a concept clarified. Maybe I needed to understand a different concept before I could hold onto this one, or I needed it explained from a different perspective; or the problem felt too small (or too big) to reach out and ask for help. I learned early on that for most subjects, there was an educational video on YouTube that could help me out. If you slog through an article or a lecture and you’re still confused, try doing a quick search. (This is probably a good time to give a huge shout out to Jeffrey Pomerantz and his Metadata MOOC.)

Summarize articles after reading: I can’t tell you how many times I’d be writing a discussion post and want to consult or cite an idea from a reading I had done earlier in the week, only to discover that I had no idea where it came from. I’d spend ages pouring through the pages, trying to find that one snippet of information. After a few quarters, I learned that I could avoid this—to an extent—by writing my own summary and key takeaways in the margins of an article or in a Post-It in a book. It saved me so much time in addition to being a great way to refocus and reflect on what I had just read.

Get moving: After a long day of work, it’s not uncommon to find my mind drifting away from the words on the page I should be reading. I found that getting up and walking slowly while reading actually helped me to focus. Sometimes that was in small circles in my apartment, sometimes I found a treadmill, but keeping speeds low and a highlighter in hand led to more energy and greater retention.

Useful Classes

First of all, as Mary Elizabeth wrote in “An Argument Against Having a Plan,” take what makes sense for and sounds interesting to you! These non-required courses are what spoke to me based on my background, interests, and current job.

Design Thinking: Design thinking is currently in its heyday. This process is used to think through complex problems with an emphasis on understanding the user. It leads to creative solutions through iterative empathy, brainstorming, prototyping, and testing sessions. In a field with so many problems to solve and such a community focus, design thinking is a natural fit. I have used it in my position as a staff trainer on multiple occasions already: developing a learning management system, creating new courses, and revisiting processes for the COVID-19 world.

Cataloging: Not all librarians are catalogers. I’m not sure I want to be one, either. That said, taking cataloging has led to a richer understanding of how information retrieval actually works. It has also lent some insights into the directions that IR could go in the future, making discussions about linked data, BIBFRAME, and digital libraries make a lot more sense.

Web Design: In my web design course, we learned HTML and CSS and used them to build our own websites from scratch, among other skills. When I signed up for it, I had no idea how much I’d need to utilize these skills in my daily life. Now I’m much more comfortable with using content management systems, troubleshooting website issues, and imagining what can be done in an online environment. They’re also the building blocks to a host of other skills that are necessary for many types of librarian positions.

As I ran out of space for electives, I also made sure to scan the free educational environment. I can take free classes on Information Visualization later, but this was my chance to take more advanced archiving courses. Gauge what you need now, and remember that your learning doesn’t end here.

I hope you find some use in what I’ve written here and in previous posts! Thank you for sticking with my ramblings for this long. I have truly enjoyed writing for Hack Library School, and I look forward to continuing to follow the adventures of our other contributing writers. If you’d like to stay in touch, please reach out to me on Twitter @klmillik. I’d love to hear from you!


Kerri is a MSI LIS candidate at Drexel University and a staff learning and development consultant for a library district in Central Pennsylvania. She is grateful to Hack Library School for forcing her to write and share her content with the world on a regular basis. Keep up with her future adventures by following her on Twitter @klmillik.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

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