Writing and Library School: Why Do It?

My undergraduate degrees are in History and Political Science. I’ve written countless amounts of midterm and final papers (plus a thesis that hit triple-digit page length) and considered myself a fairly proficient writer when I started my MLIS. During my first semester, I completed a few traditional term papers and discussion boards for classes; but otherwise, I felt like I was doing significantly less writing in my graduate program than I did in my undergraduate program.

Now that I’m in my final semester of school, I’m relieved to say that this was not the case. Instead of writing a thesis or multiple term papers, I found myself completing assignments with entirely new writing styles. While some pieces are a bit specific to my career interests and classes, I feel that now is a great time to reflect on the types of writing folks could take on in library school:

Memos

This is the more-specific writing style geared towards my professional interests, but I believe that just about any library specialty can benefit from memo writing. Most of my memo-writing experiences took place in law-based classes which had me writing short, concise memos on a specific legal topic. So far, I’ve drafted memos on the need for accessible websites to a supervisor at a public library, summarizing a court case on censorship in a school library, and emerging trends in law librarianship. Although each of these memos has an underlying theme of legal information in some capacity, I thought that applying this type of writing to public and school libraries was a great way to show how other LIS professions can use memo writing. 

Proposals

In my experiences, “proposal” is a catch-all term. Over the last year and a half, I’ve drafted a grant proposal, a public policy proposal, and several project proposals for my own class projects. Each of these proposals were very different in terms of objectives and writing styles, but the overall goal was to persuade an individual or group to agree to an idea for project. I bring up proposals because I had limited experience with this writing style before starting my MLIS, yet I feel that it’s an important skill for library school students to develop. Like the memos, even though some of these proposals – mainly the grant proposal and public policy proposal – were simply for a class exercise and had very little chance of actually being proposed to solve a problem, at the very least, I can say I have experience researching for and writing such documents. Kait’s 2019 article describes her research experiences in her MLIS, including some great suggestions about writing a research proposal.

Data Reports

This writing style was brand new to me when I began my MLIS. During undergrad, I was used to writing with qualitative data. But while taking some of the more MLIS technical courses this past year, I learned how to interpret more quantitative data and how to describe it in a way for others to understand. Although learning programming languages and re-learning basic statistics for the first time since high school was daunting, I appreciated the practice of explaining charts and data in writing format.

Social Media Content

Let’s face it: I spent a fair amount of over the last decade positing content on social media; I was fairly sure I knew how to create great posts with engaging captions. But once I began working on social media for the Historic Maryland Newspaper Project, I found myself growing in social media research and learning to write captions that draw followers in. To tie back to data reports, I recently started conducting some data analytics on the HMNP’s social media engagement, which goes to show that students can apply their coursework to their professional experiences.

Blog posts

If you’ve read any of my HLS posts over the last year, then you know I write blog posts! A year ago, I had very little experience with writing concise articles to drive a point home; after all, I have a History degree and was used to writing long, detailed papers with dozens of citations to argue my point. With blog posts, I’ve learned to narrow down topics in a way that others can read, learn, engage, and enjoy.

So, why do I reflect on writing styles learned in an MLIS program in this month’s article? Like Alyssa, I’ll be graduating with my degree this spring and I’m full-fledged into job hunting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many LIS positions I’ve seen, and applied to, ask for some type of writing experience as a required skill. So far, I’ve seen job postings that ask for experience in writing emails, press releases, social media, meeting agendas, memos, reports, presentations, and grant proposals. With so many writing styles out there, I feel that it’s important for library school students to remember that writing is an always-developing skill. More so, if most writing took place in classes, reflecting on your writing experiences in a job application can serve as another way to leverage your coursework. Similar to Mary’s suggestion last month, you don’t necessarily need to experience every writing style before applying to a job (I certainly have not!), but if you’re interested in learning to write or simply want to write more, seek out those experiences that can guide you towards your goals.

So tell me: what types of writing have you completed during your MLIS?

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

Sarah is in her final semester of her MLIS at the University of Maryland. In her free time, you can find her binge reading books, job hunting, and devouring coffee.

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