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.