On Entering Library School with No Experience

05/11/2013 § 5 Comments

Congratulations!  You’ve made it to library school.  Hopefully you are getting accustomed to the expectations and challenges of your program.  If you have registered for spring classes, you are likely busy planning out the rest of your requirements and looking towards getting that ever-valuable practical experience.

Entering a new program is often a mix of preparation, nerves, and adjustment.  Much of this adjustment can be based on how our peers are treating their education, and our reactions to the misperceptions of one another’s backgrounds.  One troubling thing for me during my first year was how I was constantly encountering the notion that students fit mainly into two categories:

1. Those who have entered school straight from their undergrad program

2. Older students already in the profession who are looking to strengthen their marketability.

This assumption is embedded in the culture of grad school: from the school’s marketing, to the classroom discussions, to how we view the objectives of our degree.  The frequency with which this young-old dichotomy shows up even in discussions here on HLS attests to how commonly the ‘experience’ perception can be misguided.  As a 30-something grad student, I have had many conversations where people assumed that I was experienced or established in the field.  If you count yourself as a younger student, for whom the newness of learning with students of ‘advanced age’ can be intimidating, I have a confession.  I entered library school 11 years after finishing my undergrad and with ZERO library experience.

Library school is a bridge to a career change for me and a fresh start as a committed student.  As an undergrad, I was severely lacking in any type of academic direction and my grades suffered as a result.  As a student, I was unfocused and met the minimum level of effort in many ways.  That’s not to say that I didn’t get something out of the experience.  No, it wasn’t the partying that kept me from earning the marks; it was my extra-curricular involvement.  I served on the student Judicial Board for three years, was a Resident Assistant for two years, studied abroad, and performed regularly on campus and the surrounding area.  Those four years were an invaluable growing opportunity, which netted me some solid life-skills.  However, I graduated with a GPA that excluded me from being a suitable candidate for graduate school.  Honestly, when I graduated with my B.A., I was just happy to be done, and gave no consideration to the undue stress and financial hardship of two more years of school.  It was more of an attitude like “I’m done!  Peace out!”  What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was about to discover a passion for lifelong learning.

Fast-forward through 10 years of a music career.  My decision to apply to library school was preceded by a desire to simply return to higher education learning.  Honestly, I had no concept of what library science was three years ago.  All I knew was that I wanted to challenge myself with something that interested me, and I was prepared for that something to be foreign to me and outside of my comfort zone.  My attraction to the Archives, Records and Information Management focus at Maryland came after realizing that a passion for the field had grown out of my artistic career.  Years of performing, producing, curating, and teaching had melded into a new singular vision.

While I entered school with no traditional library experience, my commitment to success was no less than my peers’.  As I embarked on this career evolution, I knew that my discipline, creativity, self-reliance, and confidence would support my efforts in the university setting.  The main thing was that I was curious and eager to challenge myself.

For those of you who find yourselves in the same boat as me, there is a big difference between how much experience you begin library school with, and how much you finish with.  Much has been written here on HLS about how crucial work experience is, especially as a complement to your degree.  Laura Sanders’ post “On Being an Older Library School Student“, does an especially good job at relating to those who have no experience in the field, and how other life-skills can be assets.  I encourage you to use these assets to help you seek out internships and field studies.  There will be plenty of time during school to get some of that desirable practical experience.  Don’t let the notion that you are behind from the onset be an obstacle to your personal development.

I strongly believe that those of us coming to library school with little to no prior experience have the most to gain.  We have not chosen library school on a whim or hunch, but in fact have put up the most collateral.  We have set aside other pursuits and opportunities to explore new ones; to expose ourselves to new concepts and material; to learn honestly and make the most of our time here.  If you have come to your program with nothing more than a desire to learn, I’d say you are in exactly the right place.  Having a genuine thirst to explore everything this field has to offer is a tremendous asset.

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§ 5 Responses to On Entering Library School with No Experience

  • “Don’t let the notion that you are behind from the onset be an obstacle to your personal development.” YES. I see this happen to a lot of people and it makes me sad. They get really intimidated and discouraged and let their fear stall them from taking action.

    My experience is both similar to and different from your experience, Alan. I came to library school with only an unpaid internship under my belt. I was also quite young. I’ve found that with strategy and hard work I’ve been able to get a considerable amount of experience in the field.

    Thanks for sharing words of encouragement!

  • pandaduh says:

    I went straight from a BA in English to an MLIS program – without any library experience. I felt like I had signed my life away without knowing what I was getting into. But then again, I wouldn’t know what I was getting into in any other field, either.

  • Christy Davis says:

    This is a brilliant post. I entered library school after over 15 years working in the field and I greatly admired those in colleagues who “walked in cold” to the coursework and experience. It’s hard to measure commitment based on experience or lack of but you make a great argument for the advantages of being a newbie.

  • This is really very well written, and such wonderful advice. I was a career-changer as well. My curiosity has been rewarded with a career that lets me contribute in so many ways to my community. It is while you are in school that you will have the most support for gaining (diverse) work experiences. Entering school without experience doesn’t mean you have to leave that way.

  • I walked into library school with zero experience. Although, I don’t think I was too heavily affected, I do know that I felt quite naive to a lot of the topics that were discussed. Whether that was just conversations on story spin-offs or acronyms for some things people would know off the bat or used regularly. It was refreshing, but I did feel more involved by the end.

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