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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Truth About Library School, Part 2: Survival


How to Survive Library School, Tips for library school, hack library school


In Part 1 of this series I described my library school experience and gave some tips about things to do and consider when thinking about going to library school and selecting a program. If you've decided to take the plunge, here are some tips for surviving and getting the most out of the library school experience. Standard disclaimer: this is based on my experience and perspectives; your mileage may vary.
  1. DON'T go into debt for library school. I said it before, but it's worth repeating.

  2. DO manage your expectations, especially if you've always enjoyed and thrived in academic environments and especially if you'll be in an online learning environment for the first time; library school is just different. It is better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.

  3. DO take it easy in the beginning. If it's been a while since you've been in school and/or your first time with an online program it can be a big adjustment, so you may just want to take one class the first semester. Also you won't be out as much money if you decide library school isn't for you after all, as several in my admission class did.

  4. DON'T overload yourself. Library school is a distance race, not a sprint; it's all about endurance. Be realistic about yourself and your energy level, ability to handle stress and multiple spinning plates, family obligations, etc. Everyone is different. I only took one class most semesters, and though I managed the two semesters that I took two classes, I couldn't do it every term. Many people took two classes each semester, and I knew of some that took three and did fine. But there were also others who took on too much, burned out, and had to take a semester or two off.

  5. DO get to know other students and build not only a support group, but a network of professional contacts. Yes, that is a challenge in an online environment, but it's possible, and necessary. After suffering in isolation for the first two semesters, I started occasionally messaging a few of people I had done group projects with, then found out about a support group some of the students had formed on Facebook, and it made a world of difference! Being able to discuss different classes, instructors, and assignments was incredibly helpful, and having a safe place to vent with people who understood was such a relief. I don't know if I would have made it without this wonderful group, and many people formed long-standing friendships as a result of the group.

  6. DO be vigilant about organization and time-management. Be sure to read the requirements of upcoming assignments well in advance so you can plan your time, anticipate obstacles, and ask questions in time to get answers. Work ahead when possible. Put all the deadlines on your calendar, whether it's a physical paper planner, wall calendar, online, or in your phone. Whatever works for you. Just don't get behind. Start working from the first week of class! The first half of the semester tends to be slow, so take advantage and work ahead so that you don't find yourself in such a time crunch at the end.

  7. DON'T bother trying to read all of the assigned and supplemental reading. It takes too much time, the articles are often dated and not really that helpful, and it just isn't a good investment of your time. DO learn to skim quickly and pull out a quote or two to cite in the stupid discussion posts, and only read the articles that are really worthwhile or interesting to you.

  8. DO try to get high grades in the beginning of the semester, so you can afford to relax at the end. Often I found I needed as little as 50-60% on the final assignment to get an "A" in the class. And though I still tried to do quality work, it took the pressure off and I didn't have to obsess about every little detail or instruction I wasn't sure I understood correctly. And guess what; I always got A's on them anyway. While there are some exceptions, in general I have found that instructors grade harder at the beginning, but easier over the course of the semester as they get more loaded down and have less time.

  9. DON'T waste money buying new copies of all the textbooks. Few people find them useful or worth keeping around after the class ends. Rent them or buy used whenever possible. Also, don't buy the APA manual or other writing guides unless you later find you really need them. The APA style website & blog and the Purdue OWL site are more useful and faster than using the print manual (the OWL site is good for other styles as well). I've never once opened the other writing handbook I was told to purchase. It's also not a bad idea to verify the textbooks and edition with the instructor before buying; my entire admission class got burned by being told to buy the wrong book for the Foundations class. We were not amused.

  10. DO use your assignments to add to your knowledge and skills, and to network with other librarians and libraries. If you find you struggle with reader's advisory in a certain area, then use an assignment to put together a themed bibliography. If you've never worked with a certain age group, use a programming assignment to plan a program for that age. If you have to interview a librarian, it might be easy and convenient to interview someone you work with, but you'll be better off if you interview someone from a different library, especially in another system. That way you not only make new contacts that may come in handy when job-hunting, you'll get a different perspective. If you anticipate an opening may be coming up in a nearby library, use that library for your community/library analysis or strategic plan assignment, and you'll be better prepared for an eventual interview. Write papers on topics that interest you, and that you can use in an interview. Sometimes you may be in a time crunch and have to do what's convenient and easiest, but when you can, push yourself to go outside your library and comfort zone.

  11. DO get practical experience. As I said in Part 1, it helps to actually be working in a library before you commit to library school, and it makes some of the assignments easier. But it is also very difficult to be competitive on the job market if you just have a degree, but no practical experience. Get a job, volunteer, get an internship, do a semester working in a library for credit (sometimes called a practicum, fieldwork, co-op, or internship). Even if you already work in a library, I would highly recommend getting some practical experience in a different library, preferable doing something different than your regular job. Not only does this broaden your knowledge and skills, it also exposes you to different management styles, philosophies, and types of libraries. And again, it helps you make those valuable contacts. I was not able to do this for various reasons, and it's one thing I really regret. It would've been FAR more useful that the boring, waste of time public libraries class I took.

  12. DON'T feel like you have to lock yourself into a specific track. Take what interests you, fits in with your career goals, and complements the knowledge and skills you already have. For example, though I know I want to be a children's librarian, I did not follow the youth services track exactly because I felt one of the required classes would not be very useful to me, and since most librarians need to wear many hats, I wanted to be a little more well-rounded. So while I took mostly youth services related courses, I also took an adult services course, which I found to be a great complement to the youth services programming class.

  13. DO cut yourself some slack. Sometimes you have to take the easiest path to getting the assignment done, or put forth the minimal effort that will still get an A or B. And sometimes you may have to be happy with a B. Again, it's about endurance and just making it through to get the degree and expanding your skill set and knowledge. I've been told time and time again, nobody cares what grades you got in library school, just that you have the piece of paper. 
If you have more tips for prospective MLS students, add them in the comments!

Up next in my third and final article in this series, "The Truth About Library School, Part 3: What Needs to Change".

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