Thoughts After Completing My Summer Directed Fieldwork

The home stretch towards my MLIS degree is in sight as I wrap up my final few days of my summer directed fieldwork (DFW) and look forward to my third and final year of grad school. It feels so close yet so far away! At the UW’s Information School, we have the opportunity to complete a DFW for credit as part of our degree after you have a certain number of credits (30) and meet certain requirements (specific courses completed and some background knowledge that pertains to the DFW work). A DFW position is an opportunity to apply practical knowledge in a library or information setting that gives you experience working in the field. This was important for me to do because I have no library working experience and needed to test my abilities working in an area that was completely different from my current job. This summer I spent eight weeks (and approximately 150 hours) in addition to my full-time job working for the Microsoft Library and Archives. It has been a great deal of work and made for a particularly stressful summer, but my experience was nonetheless rewarding, and I came away with some level of confidence that I can work in the special library field after graduation.

Brief background on my DFW

The mission and vision of the Microsoft Library is to foster a learning culture that enables employees to build capabilities that will empower them to fuel innovation and growth. The library aims to do this by democratizing access to content, enhancing time for learning, and creating spaces for learning. I joined the small but mighty team at the Microsoft Library and Archives (which is made up of six full-time employees) and participated in their team meetings and strategy sessions and contributed to several projects. These included a UX study and analysis of the library online portal, a digital archives project, a curated reading list, and an Expert Insights Playbook which will be used later this year to host events with third-party market research firms that will bring inside knowledge for library customers in the areas of cloud gaming and software development in China.

My takeaways

My biggest takeaway from this experience is that despite my doubts and feelings of imposter syndrome, I came away with believing that after graduation I just may be able to find a job in the MLIS field and be able to succeed and contribute in a meaningful way. Also, soft skills in a job setting are crucial to success. You have to be able to communicate clearly by being concise and direct with your supervisor and team and learn to speak up in meetings, ask questions without fear, and adjust to awkward online meetings, which are all part of the learning process. Self-awareness, diligence, thoughtfulness are also skills I honed during my DFW and were appreciated by my supervisor (according to his final evaluation of my work). These skills take practice and cannot necessarily be learned in an online or residential classroom. For me, building on the skills I already had from many years of previous work experience and finding a way to use this knowledge along with what I’ve learned through my MLIS program was very rewarding and fun.

Tips for a successful DFW

Finally, my advice for a successful DFW should you choose to complete one as part of your MLIS. I highly recommend you do as receiving credit for doing real work that may help you find a job down the road is definitely worth it!

  1. It is okay to ask for clarification. Don’t suffer in silence. If a project does not make sense to you ask your supervisor for clarification until it does make sense and remember that you are adding value to their team, company, project, etc. and deserve to have the information you need to be successful.
  2. Take things OFF your plate. This seems to be a theme for my HLS posts. I am finding to be successful lately I need to reduce my load in other areas. DFW’s can be hard and a lot of work, especially if you are learning new procedures, systems, and learning to navigate personalities and working styles of a new team. In many ways, the three credits I earned this summer were a lot more work than an academic three-credit course.
  3. Resist perfectionism. It is okay to stumble a bit along the way. Learning from mistakes, thinking about how to approach an assignment or problem from a new angle, and work experience in the MLIS field are more important than completing a project, paper, or assignment that is flawless.
  4. Keep a weekly blog and detailed notes. I kept a daily OneNote journal of every meeting and conversation I had with my DFW team. I kept track of documents they sent me, links to files, websites, etc. so I could reference them easily. You will forget what you have worked on so write it down! You will want to be able to look back on your notes for your final reflection.

If you are interested in seeing my work from the summer, check out my Sway page!

Anyone have a great or not-so-great DFW experience to share or any other advice for current students?

By Erika Whinihan, rising third year online MLIS student, Information School, University of Washington (

2 replies

  1. Erika, thanks for the great writeup – and I’m glad you had such a good experience! Weirdly, I’m seeing your column a day before heading to Redmond, to help my son move in – he’s a brand-new Microsoft software engineer. I will share your column with him to make sure he knows about that library!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh that is great! Sorry I saw your comment so late. Yes, please do let him know about the library, it is an under-utilized resource at the company for sure! Hope your son has had a great experience so far in his new role.

    Liked by 1 person

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