My Complicated Feelings About Being an “Unconventional” Library School Student

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on August 28, 2017.

I’ve been writing for Hack Library School for about 6 months now, and in some ways, I’ve felt like a fraud the entire time. You see, I’m only taking one class per semester. Three measly credit hours. Sharing this with the world, for some reason feels like a confession, when in actuality, I am representative of many MLIS candidates who are taking a nontraditional route to get their degrees. Why, then, do I feel like such an imposter? Let’s take a tour of my brain.

Library school is not a full-time gig for me.

I know that there a quite a few of us who didn’t know right away that we wanted to pursue librarianship as a career. I graduated college with a Bachelor of Arts in English, and always thought that I wanted to be a teacher. I was enrolled in a Master of Education program. I attended classes full-time, I lived close to campus, I completed field experience at Chicago Public Schools, and volunteered anywhere and everywhere I could—I basically immersed myself in the program completely. It wasn’t until I was getting ready to student teach that I had the realization that this path just wasn’t for me. (That is maybe a conversation for another day.) All that to say, I invested a great deal of time and even more money into my first graduate school experience, and my journey to library school has been utterly different.

Although it was devastating to make such a life-altering decision about my career and education, and to leave a field that had essentially been a huge part of my identity for so long—I don’t believe that my time was wasted. I still work with kids, maybe a slightly different age group now, but I carry the same core values about working with children with me no matter where I am. Even so, part of me still wishes that I could be fully immersed in my MLIS studies in a similar way. I long for those late nights in the library or at a local coffee shop working on dreaded group projects or researching paper topics with classmates. I miss lectures and face-to-face discussions, and making those real-life connections with the same people at the same time every week.

On the other hand, I’m also very fortunate because I’m essentially living and breathing library work every single day, just without the title “librarian” for now. I worked in a library before I ever thought to apply to library school, and there was a confidence in my decision that makes my discomfort about any sort of “unconventionality” worth it, because I know that this is what I really want. I currently work two part-time jobs—I work reference desk shifts, I manage collections, I plan and present programs—I’m basically living my dream. I’m surrounded by the best team anyone could ever ask for, and they are always there to counsel me whenever I have even the smallest question or concern. I’ve never felt more supported or appreciated in a workplace.

Even so, there are some days when it still feels like this in-between space is some sort of libraryland purgatory.

Distance education can be isolating, especially when moving at a slow pace like I am.

I’m enrolled in Wayne State University’s distance program, and a lot of us are already working part-time or full-time in libraries. Since there are a lot of nontraditional students enrolled in the program, we don’t have a set cohort for each incoming class. I have encountered many students like myself in my first few classes who have decided to take one class at a time, and since we’re all on a different timeline and have different specializations and focus areas, I often feel very disconnected from my classmates. I knew that I would be moving and traveling this summer, so I decided to take the summer off of school, which has even further disconnected me from classmates that I was once aligned with.

On the bright side, being involved with HLS has been an invaluable experience for me, as it has allowed me to make connections with the larger library school community in a way that I had been lacking previously.

I don’t have a lot of time or money.

Classes are expensive (even when taking just one), and I’m reluctant to take out any more loans, since this is my second time in graduate school. Working at a faster pace also requires more financial freedom, which I currently don’t have (and won’t have) anytime soon.

It was also important for me to ask myself “how much work can I realistically handle mentally, emotionally, and physically?” in any given semester. One class, along with working two jobs, volunteering for two organizations, holding a leadership position with HLS, and helping to care for my home, is more than enough to keep me busy all the time.


Sometimes I get jealous when I think about the fact that some of our writers will be graduating next year, but then I remind myself that I’m moving at my own pace, and doing what’s best for my current situation. I also spend a lot of time thinking about how great life will be when I’m a “real” librarian (whatever that means)—but if you take anything away from all of my rambling, please know that no matter what position you hold, how many hours you work or how many classes you’re taking at a time, or whether or not you’re enrolled in a distance program—your experience is valid and you’re doing the best you can. I’ve come to accept the idea that there may be no such thing as a conventional library school experience, because we all bring something so unique to the table.

I see you, fellow “unconventional” library school student. You’ve got this.


Featured image “Imposter” by Bobby McKay is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Stefanie Molinaro is entering the second year of her MLIS studies through Wayne State University’s distance program, with a focus on library services to children. She currently works at two public libraries in the suburbs of Chicago, in the children’s department of both. Stefanie is interested in the intersections between librarianship and social justice work, and some of her career goals include creating consciousness-raising programming for children and teens, and providing library services to incarcerated youth. When Stefanie is not working or studying, she enjoys volunteering at Liberation Library and hanging out with her cat, Lily.

6 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences! They really resonated with me. I left a PhD program in English at the dissertation level to pursue my MSLS after realizing I didn’t want to teach. I was working full time (not in a library) and could take only one or two classes per semester, most of which were online. I felt isolated from most of my classmates and professors, even though I worked on the same campus as the MSLS program I was in. I would recommend trying to get involved with (or starting) a student ALA chapter at your school. That helped me feel more connected. Now that I finished my MSLS, but haven’t yet gotten a library job, though, I’m struggling to find ways to stay integrated into the library world.
    Hang in there and keep focusing on what you enjoy about the work and the field! It sounds like you’re getting excellent library experience, and that should serve you well in your job search.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am right there with you! Except add on that I am significantly older than almost all my classmates. Otherwise, very similar stories except I was biology plus teacher certification. After I did my student teaching, I knew I did not want to teach, at least not like that. So I went on and got a MS in Microbiology and worked in research for 5 years. Loved studying it and learned new techniques, but found research to be very unfulfilling due to the extremely high failure rate, plus it seemed to attract very toxic people into supervisory & managerial positions. Started a family and was a SAHM for several years.

      Then I started working part-time in a library as a children’s page, and loved it. After getting a promotion and finding an affordable program, started on my MLIS a year ago, and like you, am just taking one class at a time due to financial and time constrainsts, as well as problems with eye strain and migraines from all the computer time. I feel very disconnected from my classmates most of the time, and left behind as I see people who started when I did or just before finishing. Especially frustrating because there were FOUR children’s librarian positions open in my system, which is unheard of, and of course I couldn’t apply because I don’t have the degree year. I feel like I’m in limbo, or maybe purgatory. I just want to be done!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You do have this!! Your story and my own are very similar. I too was an English major in the midst of a teacher education program who discovered that she didn’t want to teach and found libraries as the light at the end of my tunnel. I also went through an online program, with plans to go through one more in the future for a Masters, which I will try to figure out who to balance with my full-time library job that I love. So yes remember you are not alone! You can do this.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for sharing your story! I have been a slow-paced MLIS student since 2014. And I have struggled very much with feeling isolated and out of place. I am also older–finally harnessing a career after working part-time, raising a family. I work in a law library–a true “accidental law librarian” assistant! I am very fortunate that my university funds my classes. Still, with a full time job, older kids going from high school to college and etc… I decided that I could either go crazy with the pressure or take it slow. The good news is that I’m set to graduate in the spring–so be encouraged and stay the course!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Stefanie, don’t feel like an imposter! You have every right to be in library school, and many students there – perhaps more than in any other field I’ve seen – are “nontraditional.” So was I, to some extent. Like Andy, I left a PhD program in English after realizing I didn’t want to teach, or at least not in a traditional sense. I liked library instruction, but didn’t like marking papers, and I far preferred teaching one-off classes over teaching the same group of students all term. I was 28 when I went to library school, and had worked in libraries off and on since I was 16, but had never thought of being a librarian (okay, I was a little slow on the uptake). But I am now a library director, and have been for a long time. Every single one of the very best librarians with whom I have worked suffered from “imposter syndrome.” I’ve also worked with some great library school students who have gone the non-traditional route; at present, I work in a Midwestern state that has no library schools at all, and 1 of my staff is about 1 year from graduating from the online SJSU MLIS program, while another is just applying to another online program, with my strong encouragement. Believe me, you’re in terrific company. And yes, you belong.

    Liked by 2 people

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