[Experiencing] in Library School

The residential program at the iSchool has a couple of different tracks, but most people are on a 2-year completion track. I am one of those people. This means that during the first year, I’m a beginner and during the second year, I’m an “expert.” So… here’s my [somewhat] unsolicited advice about library experience in a MLIS or MLS program.

Since school started last week, I’ve attended several events to talk to first-year students. I’ve attempted to answer their questions as clearly and honestly as possible. One question I’ve heard over and over is, “Should I work at a library while I’m in the MLIS program?” My answer is, “Do something! Work, volunteer, get involved.”

Zack, a current library science student at the University of South Carolina, (here’s his blog. Read his reflection on starting his MLIS) and I had a little conversation about getting “real” experience one evening on Twitter (by the way, his username is @wildbookchase). The conversation I had with him was just the first of several similar conversations I’ve had in the past few days. Here’s a taste:

I want to get experience working in a library, but none of the student jobs pay enough to live on.
You’re right. They don’t pay a lot, but the skills you learn and the people you work with could potentially be the ticket to finding a job after school is done. If you’re in school right now, you’re probably living primarily on loans. Take advantage of being a student and work the student jobs with the attitude that you’re going in looking for experience and being paid is a bonus.

I don’t know what I want to do, so I don’t know which jobs to apply for.
Apply for anything and everything. If you are invited to interview, you’ll learn more about the position and then you’ll get to ask questions.Β 

The places I want to work don’t have job openings.
Volunteer! If you want experience somewhere, the best way to get into it is to volunteer your time. There’s no better time to work without pay than when you’re getting money from loans as a student. (Yes. I know some people don’t take out loans. I don’t know what to tell you. Sorry.)

I think I’ll just focus on classes right now. I don’t want to get too overwhelmed.
That works well for some people. But, please remember that some of your instructors haven’t worked in libraries for many years. They are instructors first, librarians second. Some of them have not worked in libraries. They might not be able to explain “real librarianship” to you anymore… libraries are changing so quickly! If you’re working or volunteering, you will be working with librarians and staff who experience the library every day and YOU will get first-hand experience, too.

Other ways to get involved (and meet connections) include —
volunteering to work at conferences, internships, and summer fieldwork.

Get the full experience in library school. Go to class, do (some) of the readings, ask questions, work, volunteer, attend webinars and conferences (while you get a student discount!) and learn as much as you can. We are the future of the world’s libraries! That’s a lot of pressure — and a wonderful challenge!


One Response to [Experiencing] in Library School

  1. Nicole says:

    Great post Heidi! I am a HUGE believer in practical work experience throughout one's education. I did my undergrad at Northeastern where cooperative education is a complete part of the program. I thrived with it. Not only was it great for figuring out what I liked to do but it also helped me figure out what I DIDN'T like to do! My job right out of undergrad was due to this experience and that was the case for most of my friends.

    So when I got to grad school I was determined to get some real library experience since I had never worked in a library before. First I volunteered at my town library the summer before I began my program. That was an incredible experience because I was given the freedom to do just about anything as they knew I was going to the MLIS program in the Fall. And it secured my love of libraries.

    After allowing myself to get comfortable with the program last Fall, I started looking for internships/jobs in December 2009 because I knew I wanted more experience along with my classwork, and I was getting a bit antsy not working! I found an internship through my state's library commissioner's site. It was 15 hours a week in a corporate library setting which balanced my past experience with what I was learning in school.

    And 9 months later….I was offered a full-time job with the condition that I continue to go to school towards my degree. It couldn't have worked out any better!

    I think that internships/volunteering/jobs etc can really be looked at as not only some hands-on experience that balances what you are learning in the program but also can be seen as a long job interview!

    Hope this is helpful!


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