What I Learned in Library School — Outside the Classroom

It’s been over a month since my graduation ceremony, and while I haven’t received my official Masters of Science diploma yet, I still feel that I’ve had enough distance from my library science education to reflect a little on its value for me as a new professional.

To give you some background, I graduated from the Library and Information Science program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign last May, and it took me two years to finish. My focus was on reference and instruction in the humanities (especially music), but I experimented quite a bit in my time as a student. In fact, many of my most valuable experiences as a library student didn’t occur in the classroom at all, which is why I thought it would be useful to share some things I learned outside of the curriculum of my classes. I realize that my experience was unique to my own choices and interests, but I hope that I have a few morsels of advice that could be useful for other recent graduates, those currently in a library science program, or those considering applying for a library science program. And comments from any others who have words of wisdom to share are very much welcome!

Get involved. This can be as simple as becoming a member of one of your school’s professional association student chapters or volunteering to help with the annual book sale. And it could be as ambitious as organizing a larger event at the school or representing your program by presenting at a conference. Being involved has so many benefits. To name a few: it helps you network and meet others with similar interests, it allows you to share your ideas and have an impact on your program, it (therefore) improves your program, it prepares you for professional work (being on committees, brainstorming programming, etc.), and it gets your name out there so that when an opportunity arises, people think of you.

Create Opportunities. Your perfect internship or practicum experience may not exist, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take the initiative to create a niche for yourself. This could involve the creation of a new internship or volunteer opportunity, or it could just mean that you start a new program or project within an opportunity with which you are already involved. I really wanted some experience teaching, but I wasn’t able to get a graduate assistantship that focused on library instruction. Instead of just giving up, I created some workshops at the library where I worked, the Music and Performing Arts Library, that allowed me to implement learning outcomes, a lesson plan, and assessment techniques. Those workshops later provided me with valuable experience to put on my resume.

Make connections. This doesn’t just mean formal networking! There are lots of connections you can make in an informal way–after all, you are surrounded by hard-working, creative library science students every time you enter your library science building. I cannot tell you how many wonderful people I met in my program–including professors and staff–that I would love to collaborate with in the future. Sometimes, those connections can pay off in a big way, such as when someone you meet at a conference contacts you about a position at her institution (true story), but even when they don’t, they provide you with a valuable sense of belonging to your field.

Have fun. Library school goes by so quickly! It’s crazy to me when I think about the fact that I have GRADUATED library school–didn’t I just get here?? So enjoy every minute, from the conversations you have with classmates in the near-by coffee shop to the end-of-the-year cookout. I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had with other library students, and, I have to admit, if you’re reading this and you’re still in your library program, I’m a little jealous. 🙂

I’m sad to be done with library school, but more and more I realize that I’m ready to face the world as a professional and make even bigger positive changes in the library field. And thanks to my positive library school experience, I have a strong foundation to build on. Bring it on, libraries of the world!


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