Hope Is Not a Four Letter Word*

*Okay, it is. But you know what I mean.

Three years and five months have passed since I graduated with my undergraduate degrees, but it seems like longer than that since I was last a student. Leading up to the start of this semester, the idea of classes, assignments, and grades seemed oddly foreign to me. I realized that I would have to readjust my life to be that of a student in a way I did not have to do when I graduated from high school into college.

Despite my inevitable nerves, the summer leading up to my return to school was largely one of excitement. Yes, I’m taking on an online degree program after never having taken an online class in college; and yes, I’m balancing work, school, and internships in a way I hadn’t before. But even so, I knew that I love being a student, and I was confident in the direction I had chosen for my graduate studies: Library and Information Science.

And then, I saw all of the tweets about how it is a terrible idea to get an MLIS right now, and how it is irresponsible for schools or coworkers to encourage someone to enter library school in 2020.

I get it. I do. Now more than ever, graduate school is an expensive endeavor with an uncertain return on investment. In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the already-tough library job market has gotten even tougher. Thousands of library workers have been impacted by layoffs and furloughs, and the fiscal aftershocks of the pandemic could negatively influence future library budgets.

It’s reasonable to question the wisdom of starting graduate school right now. Stacy Hartman, director of PublicsLab at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, has even urged colleges to stop admitting doctoral students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences for the next two years, citing a need to focus on a “collective commitment to our current students.

Quade French, Adjunct Assistant Professor at USC Rossier’s School of Education offers a different perspective. Instead of focusing on the precarious job market, he realizes that one’s time in graduate school can be used to “cultivate self,” especially for those students who are sure in their purpose for pursuing another degree.

For me, the question of whether or not I would pursue graduate school had already been answered. In the time since I graduated with my undergraduate degrees, I’d spent a lot of time worrying about what to do next. I felt paralyzed with the fear of choosing a the wrong path, for what would be in my case the second time. During this time, I was given some pretty good advice:

“Find the intersection of what you like and what you’re good at.”

Reflecting on this advice and thinking deeply and critically about what I wanted from a career is what led me to decided to finally apply to MLIS programs, an idea that I had toyed with for years; and once I decided, it felt right. I didn’t want to let the pandemic derail me.

Maybe It’s Not All Bad News

“For some, graduate school is a path forward.” 

Quade French

Back in August, I attended an online Dream Jobs panel sponsored by the Special Libraries Association, of which I am a student member. The panel offered a number of valuable insights, but there was one point that addressed my anxiety head on. 

One of the panel members was JonLuc Christensen, Records Management Specialist/FOIA Liaison at NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In response to the question “Do you have any career or professional advice for students or new professionals?,” he spoke about how the information professions are even more important than they were pre-pandemic.

“I know people are a little nervous, a little uncertain, about what the profession is going to look like in the future. I would say the profession is going to be here, and it is going to be strong.”

JonLuc Christensen

Christensen asserted that information professionals are more needed than ever before, and with that reality comes a recognition of their value. He told attendees, “Even in my own institution, within the last couple of months, it’s being recognized more and more, the value that we bring as experts in digitization and technology and other fields like that.”

Hearing this perspective during a panel for students and new professionals was an important moment. It simultaneously acknowledged the massive changes the profession(s) have undergone in recent months and offered reassurance that aspiring information professionals need not give up.

This is not the first time those in the LIS fields have had to weather abrupt, unprecedented changes. I think we should remember that in times of workplace disruption such as these, the skills that librarians and information professionals had developed are paramount. Recently, the importance of these skill sets has been further emphasized by a survey by McKinsey & Company, wherein over 800 executives were asked about the future of the post-pandemic workforce. Although librarians and information scientists are not mentioned specifically, some of the most important skills identified include digitization, automation, AI, and digital learning; all of which can be relevant skills for MLIS students.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Am I saying that we don’t need to be worried about entering a post-pandemic job market? No. I think that it will be difficult. However, I do not think we need to despair. Instead, we should focus on developing demonstrable skills that will prove invaluable in an increasingly digital age, we should consider flexibility in terms of the types of positions we seek, and we should, as students, build portfolios of work that will show the value we can add to an organization; and most of all, we should remember we are allowed to hope.

Caroline Hron Weigle is a first-year student in Wayne State University’s online MLIS program. You can find her on twitter at @hronweigle. Connect with her on Linkedin here or check out her personal library school blog.

Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash

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