How I learned to keep worrying and love library school
06/09/2011 § 28 Comments
Alyssa Vincent is entering her second (and final) year with Emporia State University’s School of Library and Infromation Management Program in Portland, Oregon. She is a library assistant at the University of Oregon-Portland Library and Learning Commons and a Data Management Intern at One Economy. She also volunteers in Bitch Magazine’s Library. You can read her blog here: ex libris, et cetera, and be sure to follow her on twitter: @vin_alyssa.
So, you’ve subscribed to your library blogs, bought your textbooks, stocked up on highlighters, and are ready for your new life as a library school student/future superstar librarian. Every child will love reading because of you! Students will have unprecedented information literacy skills thanks to your trailblazing instruction!
Yeah, but first you have to get over all of this self-doubting, second-guessing, and generalized loathing of library school and librarianship.
There is no rule saying that every library student has to fundamentally doubt themselves. But nearly every student—even the one who can’t stop foaming at the mouth over becoming a member of the American Library Association and speaks in acronyms—will at some point question their commitment to school and the profession. The good news? You’re human. The bad news? Seriously doubting something that you’re paying/loaning thousands of dollars for and devoting tons of time to sucks.
I self-identify as a chronic doubter. I assume that the best decision to make is the one I didn’t make, and the decision to go to library school wasn’t exempt from that. I had two choices: go to Parson’s New School for Design and get my MA in Fashion Studies or enroll in Emporia State University and obtain my MLS. From the moment I chose the life of the librarian, I have had more doubts than I can count. But none stronger than the doubts I felt during the second half of my first year at school.
During my first semester, I had nagging moments of self-doubt, but pure adrenaline guided me through. Along with starting school, I had just moved across the county and in with my boyfriend, begun a new job, and volunteered at a couple of different organizations. But as the year went on and I inevitably settled into my new home and new roles, I started feeling…weird. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but all of the sudden I was steering clear of all things libr*. I hated theory, research, and the Library of Congress (even though they’ve never personally wronged me). By the second month of these feelings, I felt like a shell of myself as I went through the motions of doing my homework and participating in online/class discussions. At that point, I seriously considered dropping out of my school. I felt alone, scared, and stupid for spending so much money on a program and a life that wasn’t making me happy.
What we have here is a textbook case of “library schoolpacalypse.” Thankfully, there are a couple of survival techniques that you can employ to wade your way through this mental war zone.
Don’t be afraid to voice your insecurities.
If you find yourself spiraling downward into a never-ending state of doubt, by all means, say something. Maybe don’t call your cataloging professor at midnight to express your deepest, darkest fears, but talk to a classmate. Don’t like your classmates? Talk to the Internet! Case in point: I enjoy my classmates, but wasn’t feeling comfortable divulging the true extent of my insecurities to people with familiar faces, so I originally blogged about my insecurities on my personal Tumblr. As a result, random library folk responded with honest and encouraging words. Those classmates I was afraid to talk to expressed sentiments akin to “I’m so glad you wrote that! I was feeling like that for (insert number of days/weeks/months) and I thought I was totally alone.” Guess what? You’re not alone in what you’re feeling, and that’s one of the most comforting things to remember when you’re navigating your way through school (and life, really).
Validate your feelings, and take time to decipher them.
Only you can know whether or not this doubt is stemming from a real dissatisfaction with your program and the idea of being an information professional or if it’s something that ebbs and flows. A lot of times though, it’s hard to distinguish feelings of true discontent from periods of insecurity and doubt. It’s important to mentally sit down with yourself as many times as you need to and decipher what you’re feeling.
- Is it stress over a major assignment you’re not confident about completing?
- Is it a class that you hate that you had thought you would love?
- Does your stomach turn when you think about dealing with people and information every day?
I experience all of these feelings and more. But the feeling that never sticks around for long is the last one. Sure, I have bad days where I don’t feel like dealing with people at all–much less people with complex information needs–but those pass. Pardon my simplicity, but sometimes school is not fun. You can get a bad professor, an assignment that seems pointless, or peers that annoy you to no end. If you’re lucky, all three will happen at once! But you’re not there forever, and someday, you’ll be helping people connect to information that might improve their lives…and sometimes worrying about your ability to succeed at that.
Let’s fast forward to present time. I’m back on Team LIS thanks to thoughtful discussions with peers, an attitude check, and a new-found community. My attitude check was one of the most helpful adjustments that I could have made. Sure, doubts are natural, but throwing a 24/7 pity party isn’t. I forced myself to look at the positives of my program and found plenty that I had been formerly ignoring. Also, I challenged myself to actively look outside my program for professional fulfillment. My new-found community was found thanks to a desperate Google search of “fashion librarianship.” It turns out that there’s a thriving community of fashion/costume librarians, a career that only a few months ago I had been afraid to want because it might be impractical. Now, I religiously follow the ARLIS/NA Fashion, Textile, and Costume Librarians blog and have a new reason to move towards a career that unites my interests of organization, access, digitization of physical objects, and fashion.
Putting a halt to the doubting cycle takes work. And here’s the kicker: doubting is an inescapable part of life, so it’s best to get used to the work now. The best and most meaningful decisions we make have the most emotional baggage attached to them. Does that mean it’s the wrong decision? Nope. I’m writing this post while I’m feeling particularly confident about school, but I know that doubts will come again. And I’ll do my best not to fear them, because they can serve as a way to mentally check in with myself and make sure that I’m getting the most out of this experience that I can. I hope you’ll be able to view your doubts in a similar light.