How I learned to keep worrying and love library school

06/09/2011 § 30 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.

Photo credit: Mri Z via the Commons

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.

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§ 30 Responses to How I learned to keep worrying and love library school

  • Rebecca Halpern says:

    Bravo! Thank you so much for writing eloquently about a feeling we all experience. The worst is when I know that I *do* want to be a librarian but am still not sure it will make me happy.

    Keep fightin’ the good fight, y’all!

  • sab says:

    Thanks much for this post. I think a lot of people in graduate school in general face this, and library school is obviously no exception! I went through a lot of library school-related anxiety during my 2nd semester, and it built up to a point where I knew I couldn’t deal with it alone anymore. As a commuter student, I felt like I hadn’t built up that support group of friends in my program yet, so what I ended up doing was using the counseling services that the university offered as a part of our student health fee. For me, having an objective 3rd party to my worries was really helpful. My counselor was awesome and helped me identify where the self-doubt and anxiety were coming from, which really helped me get back on track and motivated to finish my program and face job hunting without melting into a pile of anxious goo. :)

  • Alyssa says:

    Thrilled you didn’t melt into a pile of anxious goo! I often wondered if the isolation and confusion I felt at times stemmed from the fact that I wasn’t seeing my peers every day. Having that objective 3rd party is another excellent solution to these feelings of doubt and isolation!

  • I just read a post about this on the zen habits blog: http://zenhabits.net/miss/

    You can’t worry about missed opportunities or all the other things you could be doing. You can always change your mind, but follow where your choices lead you. Second guessing is often nonconstructive and distracts you from doing your best. In this case becoming a “superstar librarian,” as you so enthusiastically put it.

  • Nicole Fonsh says:

    Thanks so much for such an honest and well-written post Alyssa. I was on the verge of dropping out after my first year and it was definitely due to my classmates and virtual classmates that I stuck with it. I also credit a lot of my enthusiasm in my last year to this blog and the great friendships I have made through it. Definitely helped to make me realize I wasn’t alone and that my doubts were just that, doubts. And that, as you said, you gotta move on from the pity parties and figure out how to make things work. I’m still struggling with that, even as I’m out of the program, but I know that I’m on the right path.

    Thank you again!!

    • I am with Nicole. Thanks to attending a few local conferences and getting involved with student leadership at my school, I’ve meant more people and been able to find a few kindred (librar* AND archives) spirits to keep me company when the going gets rough. It’s nice to have non grad student support, too, to remind me that life is more than books and papers.

      Fight the good fight, information professionals! Thanks for starting this conversation, Alyssa!

  • Brianna says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for this!! I’ve just started my first semester a few weeks ago and the feeling I can most akin it to is drowning. I keep repeating Dori from “Finding Nemo,” “just keep swimming, just keep swimming..” It’s very brave to put yourself out there and say, “hey, this is hard and I’m struggling a little.” I appreciate your post for that. I keep telling myself that it’s two years out of my life and nobody can take my degree away from me. I haven’t yet struggled with the decesion to obtain my MLS, I have, however struggled with insecurities of “I’m not smart enough,” and “everyone is a way more critical thinker than me.” I’m coming to the realization that those feelings are okay, as long as they don’t consume me. Thank you for making me (and I’m sure others) feel like we are not alone. I have to go do homework now :-) Thanks, Alyssa!

  • Alyssa says:

    @Andy–that’s a great blog post, and I plan on keeping that in mind as I move along in school (and life, basically). Thank you!

    I think there is definitely something to be said for the diversity of insecurities that we all feel whether we’re in school or out. This post could have been approximately 3,000 words and I still would not have covered everything that I’ve felt less than 100% confident about. But I’m glad to hear others chime in and acknowledge that 100% confident isn’t always what we need in order to operate. Sometimes we just need to take Dori’s advice via Brianna!

  • John Jackson says:

    Alyssa, what a lovely post! I think it’s good for graduate students of any subject to understand that uncertainty and doubt is part of the learning process (Kuhlthau anyone?). I doubt myself every single day, but then I remember what [crazy] Bob Parson says: They can’t eat you. And I feel better =)

  • Thanks for this post Alyssa. I have definitely had similar feelings from time to time during my first year of study. It’s great that you brought this issue to light.

  • brian says:

    Alyssa, you touch on something – i believe – that all library school folks (and those that have graduated) come in contact with. I had my doubts, particularly when running into a bad class/instructor in of all things – into to reference. It is one of my favorite subjects, but just having that bad experience almost put me completely out of my program. Fortunately, my program was completely synchronous, so I had access to others who gave me encouragement. I still get the downers, and doubts about the profession, but I know that I made the best choice to become a librarian – the best profession in the world – and it is even a second career for me!

    • Renee says:

      @brian…You too?! I had a horrible experience with an instructor in an intro reference class! I cried through the entire semester. I had been looking forward to taking that class for so long too.

  • Katie says:

    Finally! It’s nice to read this. I almost quit so many times my first semester and the second semester wasn’t much better. It’s a relief to just admit that, for the most part, I hate library school. At this point, I’m just glad to see a light at the end of the tunnel and I do feel good about choosing this profession, despite my experience at school.

  • Kristen says:

    Alyssa,
    Thank you so much for this! I just started my program, and am feeling way over my head! I know that once I adjust to the sheer amount of reading, everything else will fall into place. Brianna, I too, love Dory, and maybe we all need to “just keep swimming”, or, in our case, “just keep reading”!
    I know I will have doubts about many things in life, but thinking that this is a waste of my time and money isn’t one of them. I will have low points, but I know I’ll have high points as well.
    Keep the faith!

  • miss says:

    This is one of the truest things I have read about in a long time. I’m starting my second year now, and finally am excited about all things library related once again. It’s tough to go through that “sophomore slump” your second semester into it.

  • Thanks for your post! I felt similarly in my second semester, though it was more of the “i’m never gonna find a job in this economic nightmare” pocalypse coupled with the perils of distance learning. I absolutely agree that active leadership within one’s program and LIS community can help create positive outcomes. At the very least, a feeling of solidarity with peers goes a long way.

  • [...] through.  They went to library school, they had to search for a job, they had to navigate the uncertainties we all feel as graduate students.  Most importantly, they came out on the other side–they have some good [...]

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  • [...] you haven’t read it, I highly recommend Alyssa Vincent’s How I learned to keep worrying and love library school at Hack Library School. I hated theory, research, and the Library of Congress (even though [...]

  • Michelle Brasseur says:

    It’s good to read about the fears and insecurities of so many other LIS students. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed for awhile now as I work full-time and take a couple of classes each semester. It feels as if it’s going to take forever doing it this way. I do have moments of wondering what the heck I’m doing. No one “gets it” – why I want to be a librarian or why libraries are important or how they are changing, and sometimes I worry that they are right. Maybe I am fighting my way into a dying profession. But, that just doesn’t feel true when I talk to other students and library professionals. It sometimes feels like we really can save the world.
    Even still, the job seeking process has been getting me down lately. I’m working for a small Savings and Loan (yes, they still exist) as an Administrative Assistant, which allows me to wear a lot of hats – marketing, organization, communications, even nonprofit development work (don’t ask, it’s complicated). It’s rewarding and keeps me busy and I’m always learning new things. The only problem is that it’s not in a library, doesn’t allow me to work with people “more like me”, and doesn’t contribute to the greater good in the way that I’m looking for. So, I’ve had my eye out for Library Assistant positions or something similar, but it’s impossible to find anything full-time here in central Ohio, and I am unfortunately spoiled by having luxuries like health insurance. Having so much trouble now makes me afraid that things are only going to be harder when I’m looking for my “big girl” job, once I have my MLIS. I know that’s just how things are for everyone right now. I guess I’m just worrying again…But it does feel good to get it out to people who “get it”…Thanks everyone!

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  • Dana says:

    Reblogged this on Archive 34 and commented:
    I am a chronic doubter. This post won’t fix everything, but it does calm me to know that especially the weight of the 2nd-year doubting exists for others. Life as someone with a MLIS is so close, and I have no idea how much it will change. I just hope I don’t still end up stuck in 483948320 jobs and commitments while barely making enough to live on. My mind is going to snap if I keep doing this.

  • ewa says:

    Happy to read this post! I am in my first term of library school with two more terms to go. I’ve entered graduate school after working for corporate America for the last 11 years. I have been most surprised by the highs and lows I feel with graduate school. One minute, I’m a bloody rockstar, a minute later I feel like I am the dumbest person in the program. It’s been quite a ride, just these last 8 weeks, but I keep reminding myself of the bigger picture – I want to be a librarian! I hope someday I’ll feel confident in DDC, and won’t mix up LCC and LCSH and the list goes on …
    At some point all this new information is going to sink in. It has to if I want to be the kicka** librarian I want to be!

  • […] about quite a few of my favorite moments; losing track of inspiration is quite easy amidst the anxiety and self-doubt that can strike throughout the busyness and unknowns of graduate school.  In the face of these […]

  • Reblogged this on thetwentiesacademic and commented:
    I recently discovered this post, and its one of those articles that reminds you why even when its hard or you feel that you are going into a ‘bad’ industry, it’s important to acknowledge your frustrations. You’ll never get to move on and make the most of your degree if you fail to confront the reservations you have surrounding it.

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