Embracing the Practical Project

I like writing papers about as much as anyone who holds a B.A. in English can. However, there are times that writing a paper doesn’t always cut it and there might be a better way to engage with course materials. This is something that I’ve found library school embraces. Many of my professors have assigned practical projects designed to allow my peers and I to directly apply the concepts we’re learning to our future careers. As former hacker Hanna Roseen points out, the MLIS is an academic and professional degree, and practical projects are one way the professional side of the degree is emphasized. 

In past semesters I’ve coded a website from the ground up, created a LibGuide, and engaged directly with collection development. This semester, I’m creating storytime plans, filming storytime demonstration videos, learning and telling stories, and creating a portfolio filled with critical discussions of picture books.

Writing papers is something that I’m comfortable with, but practical projects often push me outside of my comfort zone. That’s a good thing, because I know that as an early career librarian I’m going to be outside of my comfort zone a lot.

With a few practical projects under my belt, and several more on my plate right now, here are my tips for embracing the practical project.

Get started early

I’m one of those people who can type up a decent paper pretty quickly, but that isn’t the case when it comes to a project that requires learning a new technology, practicing new skills, or learning new material to share with others.

Practical projects are often more time intensive than writing a paper, and like any deadline they can sneak up on you. I like to keep an eye on when my project is due and try to knock out little chunks of it here and there. That doesn’t always work, and like just about everybody, I end up procrastinating sometimes, but it’s important to give yourself plenty of time to work on intensive projects to avoid stress and burnout at the end.

Do more than the bare minimum

With practical projects, I’ve found that often there’s a bare minimum professors want you to achieve. In my “Technology for Information Professionals” course our final assignment was to code a website, the requirements ranged from a minimum usage of HTML and CSS to a strong usage of the two and even adding a small amount of JavaScript for extra credit, something we haven’t even formally discussed in class.

Not every project can be done to the extra credit level (nor does every project offer extra credit), but when possible do more than the minimum requirements. Projects like this are meant to help you out in your future career, so putting time into them now will help you later on in the future. For example, with the storytime plans I’m working on for my course in “ Library Programming and Services for Children,” I’m trying to make my program plans as fleshed out as possible in a way that will be useful for me in the future when I have to plan and implement a program of my own for the first time. For me, this means adding asides in brackets that will help me actually use these plans in the future.

Solicit feedback

When it comes to writing a paper, most universities have a writing center where you can meet with a trained peer to work on and discuss your writing and look for ways to improve. Writing centers are useful for undergraduate and graduate students both, but when it comes to practical projects, it isn’t as easy to get constructive feedback.

Luckily, I have some friends in my program who are in the same courses as I am and we’re able to work together to review each other’s work and provide feedback before the deadline. I’m currently enrolled in a storytelling course, and every couple of weeks I have to learn a new story to tell in class. This is to help practice storytelling as it can be used as a library professional. I get together over Zoom with a friend in the class and we practice for each other before our turns to tell.

Soliciting feedback from others can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re early in your library school career and may not have close friends in your courses or program yet, or if you’re worried about asking people to give up some of their time for you. If you’re looking to get feedback on a practical project, be sure to also offer to look at and provide constructive comments on your peer’s work. Chances are they are at a similar place as you and would love an extra set of eyes on their work.

Look beyond the deadline

Once a practical project is finished, it can be tempting to just push it aside and forget that it exists. And that’s fine, for a while, while you let the stress of the project and the stress of the semester leave you. However, these projects are something that should be treated as valuable work that is useful for the future.

Did you create a professional portfolio website? Be sure to save the link, add it to your resume, and occasionally check back and update it with any changes. I’m planning on saving my storytime demonstration videos on my YouTube channel to either share on my personal blog or share in a job interview someday. Given the increase of online programming for young people due to COVID-19, showing that I know how to create online storytime content could be useful in the future.

There are myriad applications for personal projects, and you don’t have to be done with them once a deadline hits or a course is finished. Find ways to make your projects useful. In a guest post, Emily Rastovich discussed making her own website as a way to showcase digital projects that she’d done. My personal website/blog stems from a project I did for a course in undergrad. There’s a way to make sure your work isn’t wasted and that your future career benefits. You just have to find what works right for you.

Have you found the same emphasis on practical projects in library school that I have? What are some projects that you’ve completed? Drop your experiences and suggestions about completing practical projects in the comments!

Macy Davis is a second-year student at Simmons University in the MA in Children’s Literature/MS in Library and Information Sciences dual degree program. She’s currently drafting story-time plans and learning folktales. You can find her on twitter @bookishlybright or through her personal blog.

Photo from Startup Stock Photos on Pexels

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