The Question of Concentrations

THAT is the question.

Photo Credit: Ron Chapple Stock

Although I feel like I’ve just started my journey as an MLS student, by the end of this week I will officially be one-third of the way through earning my degree. When I initially applied to my program at Emporia State University, I was given the option – but not required – to select a concentration under my MLS. ESU’s School of Library Management (SLIM) offers the following options for concentrations:

  • Archives Studies
  • Health Information Professionals
  • Informatics
  • Leadership & Administration
  • Youth Services

I’ll be the first to admit that my decision to apply for grad school was extremely impulsive. My undergraduate years had been very difficult due to financial and mental health issues I was suffering from at the time. Six years out of that experience found me feeling more confident, and ultimately unhappy with the professional path I’d paved for myself by pursuing a paralegal career (which had then morphed into government administration). My unexpected layoff from that last position at the beginning of the pandemic left me at a junction of life trajectories, and grad school is the one I ultimately – though as I mentioned previously, impulsively – pursued. 

Within that mindset, my approach to the concentrations being offered was no more sophisticated:

  • Health Information (Medical… something? No thanks!)
  • Leadership & Admini– (I’m not even going to finish reading that, no way.)
  • Youth Services (Children. Uh-uh. Bye.)

…which left me dithering between informatics and archives studies. Informatics conjured images of IT and databases for me. If I wanted a STEM career, I wouldn’t be applying for a library science program, I thought. Although, I figured informatics was most likely where the money is, so to speak. But it’s supposed to be about the passion, right? The reading! The materials! The rarity! Archives it is, I decided. And thus set my sights on a future position as an archivist or curator at a special collections, archives, or museum. 

The summer semesters at ESU offer elective courses exclusively, and so my first enrollment was, of course, Introduction to Archives. (Although a small hack for any fellow ESU students: the technology courses, which are considered a core fulfillment, are also offered during the summer. So if you like, you can knock that requirement out in a 10-week semester). This fact inspired my other enrollment in Database Design. 

As is so often the case, however, my expectations were completely subverted. My archives class left me with a panicky feeling of what a future career in that setting might hold. Flashbacks of budget meetings, endless filing, and stacks of closed in moving shelves in windowless rooms from my tenure in municipal government strobed within my mind. An imagined horror movie soundtrack playing menacingly over the mental montage. Not again! Never again!

Of course, the entire experience of being a grad student, and specifically a library graduate student, is laced inherently with feelings of doubt and anxiety. But this was something different. This wasn’t just doubt about a future career in the field, this was an overwhelming sense of dread. This journey into postgraduate education was meant to serve as a transformation of sorts. My bachelor’s degree was earned begrudgingly, and by graduation, with nearly no intent of actually working in my field of specialization. I didn’t want my MLS to carry that weighty mantra of just get it over with again.

However, one thing I have learned over the years, via my own mistakes and also through years of therapy, is that decisions made from negative emotions hardly ever have the intended effect. I have found that fear, anger, and/or doubt are not the greatest life coaches most of the time.

And so I focused on the other side of my experience this summer: the absolute enjoyment I felt in my database design class. Each assignment took me hours to complete – not because I was struggling, or because it was over-the-top demanding, but because I was having so much fun I didn’t want to stop! You want two tables with a one-to-many relationship? Why stop there? I want to do five tables and figure out how to link a many-to-many relationship! How does that form work? Oh, I see, I have to set the primary key this way! 

The decision to change to an informatics concentration needed to come from that positive feeling rather than the fear spurred on by my archives class. Had I hated both courses, I don’t think changing concentrations would have necessarily assuaged my doubts. The decision had to come from a source of joy, inspiration, and perceived possibilities. 

But at the end of the day, do you really even need a concentration? It’s not a requirement at ESU, and some programs don’t even offer them. If there is an option for one in your program, though, I would encourage you to take electives across several concentration offerings simply because you might be surprised by the content you connect with. Who knows, maybe your concentration will be the perfect cherry on top of your resume when you apply for your dream job. Or maybe taking those courses will allow you to gift yourself the realization that a concentration isn’t for you, and you’re going to use those free electives for awesome classes like Intro to Conspiracies or Graphic Novels in Libraries.

Either way, your MLS should ultimately be a journey curated toward your interests, with each course taken serving as one more archive box in the [Insert Your Name Here]’s Master of Library Science Special Collections. Hey, I had to fit in one archives shout-out.

So, are you pursuing a concentration in your program? Do you think they’re ultimately unnecessary? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Delanie Rio is currently pursuing her Masters of Library Science through Emporia State University. She received her undergraduate degree in liberal arts with a minor in legal studies from Colorado State University in 2016, and has worked as a paralegal, a government administrator, and a transcriptionist in the years since. Her academic interests include older adult/nontraditional students, distance learning, information literacy, and self-led education. After completing her MLS, she hopes to pursue academic librarianship and/or archival work. She currently resides in her home state of Colorado with her dog, Luka, and bunny, Ollie, and enjoys camping, painting, and writing when she’s not curled up with a good book.

FEATURED PHOTO CREDIT: Marcello Maria Perongini

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