While this wasn’t necessarily my original intention, I’ve been giving out a lot of advice to library school students on this blog. I’ve been in my program since January 2009, so I feel somewhat qualified to make suggestions about things I have learned throughout the journey. Please note: some of these things have been learned the hard way, so I am not the end-all be-all role model for library students. It is simply my hope that you will be the best library school student/future librarian you can be!
Do not assume that simply having an MLIS will get you a librarian job. There are *so* many people with library degrees out there, and so few library jobs. You need to build both library experience and a library network while you are in school.
If this is the profession you really, truly want to be in — and I mean, you can’t see yourself doing anything else — you have to become active. You cannot be that student who slips into class, stays silent, and goes home after, never to be seen until your next class. First of all, your professors will never know you, and therefore will not be the best to turn to for recommendations. Second of all, your fellow students will never know you, and won’t be around to help you out when you need advice. I highly recommend joining Student ALA or Student SLA (or another student group or committee), your state library association, or a national library association, and actively work on a project or committee. I’m not saying you have to join and be active in them all — grad school is very time consuming in and of itself! But the time and effort you spend getting involved will pay off with new librarian contacts, possible references, and service experience. Ask people at your library school what your options are — student groups and committees vary by school.
Don’t ignore opportunities for assistantships, internships, directed research, and service learning/volunteer projects, and don’t ignore their potential, even if you don’t like what you’re doing.
Library school is great for learning the context of the profession, but if you don’t have any library experience, this is your chance to gain some! If you have a graduate assistantship in a library, make the most of it. Create something tangible that showcases new skills or expertise — a presentation, a LibGuide, a finding aid, etc. If a practicum or internship is not required in your program, do one anyway. Learn your way around the institution–observe the work culture, the tasks accomplished, the important goals of the library. If you can get a student job in a library — even one that doesn’t pay very well — take it, and learn everything you can from it. I have held several student jobs, and have learned lots of new skills from each of them. If you don’t find your job very challenging, or don’t like what you’re doing, ask if you can help out on other projects. Take on more responsibilities. Multitasking and learning new skills is very important in this field!
Don’t rush through library school unless you absolutely have to.
While completing library school in a year may have been beneficial in a better economic climate, the fact remains that as of right now, staying in school as long as you can has its advantages. I highly recommend the article “Slow Down: Making the Most out of Library School” by Patricia Katopol. I agree with almost every single point in the article, and have experienced positive results by (inadvertently) utilizing those tips. You can find more suggestions for opportunities to take advantage of in my guest post.
Do not wait to seek out — or ask for — mentors or references until you apply for your first job.
First of all, one of the most important tips I can impart to you is to find a mentor — several of them, if possible. They can be your professors, your student job or internship supervisors, or another librarian who is familiar with your work. Foster and cherish these relationships — mentors can be a huge help to getting your foot in the door of a job one day. Thus, build your mentor relationships throughout library school; then, a couple of months before you start applying for jobs, you can ask for someone to be a reference, or to write you a letter of reference. There will be exceptions for opportunities that appear out of thin air, obviously, but be considerate of your mentor/reference’s time constraints.
This is kind of a big one, and one that I’ve definitely been guilty of in the past: don’t take library school for granted.
There are some people out there who believe library school is a breeze compared to XYZ degree they’ve already gotten, so they put 50% effort into each assignment and believe that they’ve learned nothing from it. We’ve all experienced the “busywork” assignment; however, dealing with it is all about attitude. I’ve noticed that putting thought and care into a “busywork” assignment often yields ideas I never would’ve conceived otherwise, and I really gained a lot from an assignment that at first seemed pointless. Your professors aren’t dumb — they know what they’re doing when they create these assignments, and they know when you’re giving them a bullcrap answer. Go beyond the minimum requirements for your work, and your professor will notice — and likely remember your effort when it comes to recommendations and other opportunities (I speak from experience here!).
Those are some of the big things I’ve learned so far about library school. As fond as I am of continuing posts, I wouldn’t rule out a Part 2 post in the future. Fellow or former library school students, please share your advice in the comments – we all benefit from hearing about other people’s experiences!