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.
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!