Lessons Learned Halfway Through Library School
18/01/2013 § 10 Comments
As of right now, I am officially halfway finished with my Master of Library Science and Master of Information Science. I am finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Professional librarianship! Benefits! A means to pay back my student loans! It is gratifying to recognize that the work I have been putting in for the past year and a half is building to something. Today I wanted to share some tips with you in the hopes that they will help guide you through your own library school experience.
Know the imperatives
I believe that gaining work experience, as much as you are capable of, is the single most important aspect of library school. I believe that controlling and managing your online presence is a necessity; this includes having a LinkedIn account and a website/eportfolio at the very least. I believe that attending and presenting at conference(s) while in library school is non-negotiable.
I consider these three aspects to be the foundational experiences that every library school student should undertake, but this isn’t necessarily the rhetoric I hear from LIS programs. If anything, it’s a muffled, halfhearted message like: “Try to work while you are in library school.” (Barring extenuating circumstances, there is no try. There is only work.) Or: “It would look really good on your resume if you present at a conference.” Etc. Don’t let this fool you. These experiences are vital.
You’ll note that I didn’t mention coursework. I consider this a supplement to your work, a place to learn and grow but certainly not something worth fixating on to the detriment of building your resume.
Seek out the extras
Library school, like life, is made up of all sorts of little choices. Will you stay late or go home early? Will you do the minimum or seek out extras? Let’s be real–extras are everything. They are the deciding factor that moves you beyond your peers and gets you the job. So find a passion project; jump on opportunities like volunteering, online groups, or involvement in professional organizations. You will be amazed at what happens when you start to dip your toes in, and you’ll probably end up feeling more connected to the profession through these extras than you did before.
I realized when I came to library school and my life began filling up–with meetings, jobs, classes, and deadlines galore–that I needed to find a system to deal with a hectic and ever-changing schedule. I feel like I’ve finally perfected a system that works for me. I have three systems that work in tandem to support each other: email, my Google calendar, and Wunderlist.
It seems crazy to me that at one point not so long ago I lived with a messy inbox filled with dozens of drafts and random emails. I can’t even imagine this now! Now, I do my best to respond promptly and archive things that have no use in my inbox. I put actionable tasks into Wunderlist rather than using my inbox for this purpose. Anything that has a date associated with it goes on my Google calendar as well as Wunderlist. I am constantly adding to, subtracting from, and referencing these systems.
Whatever you do, find a system that works for you. You don’t want to be known as that person who never responds to emails or the one who forget meetings. You don’t want to be the person that people like but don’t want to work with because they consider you flaky. Be reliable and dependable so that when mistakes and scheduling mishaps inevitably occur, it doesn’t define you in the eyes of others.
These days, many of my daily communications occur via email with people I have never met. While most are fine and many are delightful, there’s always that occasional weird, careless message that I receive. Maybe the message is brusque, or condescending, or, more likely, just lacking in any warmth. Maybe it’s so garbled and misspelled that it’s hard to understand (oh, the perils of emailing from smartphones!). Maybe there are no thank yous, no pleasantries. All of this has an impact.
Whether a message is enthusiastic and gracious or awkward and rushed, it will affect the impression the recipient has of you. I know this seems basic, but sometimes I wonder if people think about the impression they are making before they hit the send button. The tone of emails you send will be different depending on who they’re going to and your relationship with that person, but in my opinion, if you err on the side of pleasantness and clarity you won’t go wrong.
Hone your self-discipline
Since I arrived at library school, the attitude that has driven me is the thought that I am my only competition. I love this idea and I encourage you to adopt it. When you eliminate the energy you waste worrying or comparing yourself to a peer that seems better in some way, you suddenly find yourself in a space where it is just you working steadily toward your goals. Anxieties are no longer in control; instead, it’s your own self-discipline that makes or breaks you. It’s freeing. Settling on this mindset made me infinitely more productive.
If I had lost myself to comparisons when I came to library school I would never have grown as a professional. Others had lots that I didn’t: library experience, plenty of years on me (I was younger than probably everyone, newly 21 when I started), other Master’s degrees and PhDs, tech skills I couldn’t have touched with a ten foot pole. And yet, I have built a set of experiences that I am proud of. I firmly believe that no matter your background/worries/fears, you can craft a library school experience that takes you to exactly where you want to be.
What lessons have you learned during library school?