My MLIS program at Wayne State University requires that one of the first classes a student takes in the program is Introduction to the Information Professions. Part of the course involves defining the profession, exploring its culture, and learning about the ways to make the most the degree program and a career after graduation. One of the issues that I have been reading and thinking a lot about recently is how the nature of the information profession makes self-advocacy an important skill for us, as students, to learn.
But What Does an Information Professional Do, Anyways?
The information professions are difficult to define, and people outside of the field don’t always understand what it is that a librarian or information professional actually does. They may fall back upon outdated stereotypes of strict librarians or dusty archives, and they may not understand the value that you can bring to an organization. So, it falls on you to tell them, a task that is especially important if you are thinking about exploring career options outside of the traditional library.
Ulla De Stricker sums this up nicely in her book Information professionals’ career confidential : Straight talk and savvy tips. She writes:
We are, in fact, members of the “creative class” because we contribute to the development in society and to economic growth – but the onus of explaining that contribution falls on us because we are without a pre-existing reputation framework in society (except, as noted, for an outdated one).
Know Your Worth and Self-Advocate
An important tool in learning to advocate for yourself is to focus on the competencies you are developing as a student. Many MLIS programs, mine included, have a list of competencies that students develop over the course of their program. Professional associations such as ALA and SLA also publish lists of competencies. I advise you not to think of these as only important for an e-portfolio or graduation requirement. They are extremely valuable when it comes to advocating for yourself, because they give you a clear vocabulary to talk about your skills and your value.
In the scramble to keep up, employers, educators, professional associations such as SLA, and especially information professionals themselves need effective ways of articulating the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are professionally relevant. A shared language of competencies is a critical component in addressing this need.
She advocates for continuously reflecting on your competencies, as well as collecting evidence of them as you go so that you have them to hand when they are needed. This is something that we can begin doing as students, and it will be valuable to have both the language to describe our skills and the evidence to prove our claims.
On a Personal Note: My Internship Experience
Recently, I experienced the need for this type of self-advocacy personally. Like many students, I want to participate in internship experiences. However, having had some virtual internship experiences this semester, I was hoping to find something at least partially in person for next semester. Obviously, that meant that my search was significantly more geographically limited. While looking at online postings for local internships, one caught my eye. In the job description, it said that it was required to be pursuing a degree in Business Administration or in Communications. However, it was clear that the actual job duties were related to the organization’s records management activities and well suited for someone studying information science. I applied, and included this line in my cover letter:
Although I am not pursuing a degree in either Business Administration or Communications, which I know you were specifically interested in, I strongly believe that my course of study in information science uniquely qualifies me for this role.
In the rest of my letter, I supported this position. When I interviewed, they told me they appreciated my cover letter and my perspective, and I was offered the internship, which I am very excited to start next semester.
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.