A Meandering Post About Starting My 2nd Masters

Haven’t posted in awhile…time, time, time…you’ll see why below…

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When I started my first academic librarian job in 2003, it was stressed upon me that I needed a 2nd master’s degree. Then that requirement was mysteriously dropped at my workplace. I happily slummed it for the next decade-plus with “just” my MLS (my high school-educated parents were damn proud of that master’s degree…even more so than me).

Unlike some people with a detailed career plan, I’ve meandered from here to there–mostly focused on the position and location.

I’ve never worked at a research institution, nor have I been an in-depth subject expert. My bachelor’s degree is in history, but that was an afterthought and I don’t feel any strong connection to it. So for my interests (YMMV!), the 2nd master’s didn’t matter as much. Never had any academic librarians question it career-wise, but I’m sure I avoided any institutions where a 2nd master’s was required.

However, in the back of my mind, I thought: If the right opportunity would present itself, I would go back and earn that 2nd master’s. But I had a couple of big stipulations:

  1. The degree needed to be in a field that interested me.
  2. I wasn’t willing to pay tuition or take out loans.

For the people who say “you can’t put a price on educationUmm, yes, you can. It’s called your tuition bill. Despite working in higher ed, I had never worked at an institution that offered tuition remission to employees for grad programs.

Now at my current workplace, I have that opportunity and I’m taking advantage of it. I’ve started a master of education in adult and continuing education.

Since becoming a librarian, my specialty has been in information literacy: How do students seek and evaluate information? How do students learn? What barriers prevent them from learning? I also watch students make that transition from high school to college (and become adults in the process)–not to mention non-traditional students with their diverse needs. All of this is a good match for adult and continuing education.

So I’m back in class…formally. First time since 2002 when there was no Facebook, YouTube, or smartphones. I will admit to being intimidated. Do students still take notes on paper? Do I bring my iPad? The answer is yes to both questions.

This semester, I’m taking 2 classes: “Foundations of Adult Education” and “Teaching and Learning Across the Lifespan.” Because this is an education program, the focus has been PEOPLE, PEOPLE, PEOPLE, whereas I felt my MLS focused on CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT. In my mind, librarianship should ultimately be the merger of the two.

Thinking back, as someone who has always been a public-facing librarian, I wish I had had more content on educational theory, instructional techniques, group dynamics, and organizational leadership–something that went beyond the two basic classes I took in library school: “Education of Information Users” and “Management and Administration of Libraries.” Although I’ve always kept up professional development-wise: reading articles, attending & presenting at conferences, participating in webinars – I feel like my M.Ed. program¬†is helping to fill in some holes I had. And the course materials? I knew it was good stuff when I saw “information literacy” being bandied about early on in one of my textbooks. Music to my ears!

So I’m going to see if they can teach an old dog new tricks (research says yes, by the way ūüôā ). As a result, I may not be posting here as regularly as I had in the past. Time to hit the books!

How Ranking Library Schools is Like Ranking the Socks in Your Drawer

U.S. News & World Report just released new rankings of graduate schools in library science. Isn’t ranking library schools sort of like ranking the socks in your drawer? It does not matter.

I hope that prospective MLS students don’t read the rankings and think, “Gee, I need to go to THAT library school!”

These rankings have repeatedly been called into question. The prime reason is the methodology:

The rankings are based solely on the results of a fall 2012 survey sent to the dean of each program, the program director, and a senior faculty member in each program.

And this:

The library and information studies specialty ratings are based solely on the nominations of program deans, program directors, and a senior faculty member at each program. They were asked to choose up to 10 programs noted for excellence in each specialty area. Those with the most votes are listed.

Not a good research methodology, is it?–something that I suspect any MLS student could tell you. The issue of college rankings (both undergraduate and graduate programs) and the data that is gathered has been scrutinized by higher ed periodicals and websites. Just take a look at:

So what should a prospective MLS student do?¬†I’ve written about this before, but when it comes to library school, just pick the cheapest (in state vs. out of state) or most convenient (online vs. on-campus) option that’s available to you. The coursework provides the base and the theory, but it’s experience that will get you a job. If you’re just taking the classes, you’re doing it wrong.

I remember students in my program complaining that the MLS coursework wasn’t “academic” enough, but I think it’s important to remember that you are in a¬†professional¬†program. You are training for a career, not writing a dissertation. It’s up to you to turn the coursework into something worthwhile. Work as a paraprofessional or library assistant during library school. Do an internship, practicum, or volunteer. These experiences will help you land a job better than any course you take.

I’ve never looked at anyone’s r√©sum√© and thought, “Wow, they graduated from a top ranked library school! Let’s hire him/her.” So ignore the rankings. Focus on gaining some relevant experience instead.

“I graduated from a top library school.” Yeah, so what?

Interesting discussion on the COLLIB-L discussion list. A librarian posted a link to a survey about: “What makes a professional librarian? Discussion on the list then evolved into the state of the library job market. Several people mentioned that they graduated from highly-ranked library schools and had trouble finding employment. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, nor am I denigrating anyone’s education, but it really does not matter which library school you attend.

I’ve never looked at anyone’s resume/cover letter and thought: “Wow, she graduated from X library school!” Library school is what you make of it. The MLS is just the basic requirement for the job. If all you do is take the required courses, but get no work experience, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

The following is some rather BLUNT advice for those in library school, or thinking of attending:

  1. Library school: if you have the time/money to find a school that “fits” you, then by all means. However, it’s completely OK to just pick the in-state/cheapest option. A library school is a library school is a library school.
  2. If you have not worked in a library before attending¬† library school, why are you making such as a large financial commitment for a career that you have no experience in? A “love” of books and “I like to read” won’t cut it.
  3. Oh, I keep mentioning experience. Yes, it’s that IMPORTANT! Before you graduate with your MLS, get some experience as a student worker, a grad assistant, paraprofessional, internship, practicum, or volunteer work. Get as much experience as you can.
  4. If you are unable to do the above, you are really limiting your options. You will need to decide whether this is even a viable career for you.
  5. I don’t really care what library school course grades/GPA you have. Just get your degree and focus on getting some experience.
  6. Get a mentor! Someone who is a working librarian. Not a library school professor who hasn’t worked in libraries for 20 years.
  7. Geographic flexibility: I understand that not everyone can (or wants) to move across country for a job. Just be aware that you may be severely limiting your options. Again, you need to decide if the expense of library school is worth it, if you are not geographically mobile.
  8. You need to market yourself. Librarians/librarians-to-be need to stop thinking of marketing as an “icky” term. You need a web presence (website, e-portfolio, Twitter account etc.) to promote your abilities.
  9. Do not wait until graduation to start applying for jobs! Start a few months in advance. Many libraries (especially academic libraries) have a long hiring process. I have worked in libraries where we have hired people in their last month, and even last semester, of library school for professional librarian positions.
  10. Don’t blame library school if you cannot find a professional job. You are an information professional. Did you not research the state of the job market?

Off my soapbox!

Becoming a Librarian: My Journey

Well somehow the calendar has sneaked up on me and it’s now March. I just realized that February 2011 marked my eighth year of employment as a librarian. My how time flies. Recently I moved into a new place and was unpacking. In one of the boxes I found my application letter to library school, from Spring 2001.

I remember working really hard on that letter. At the time, I labored under the impression that getting into library school was difficult. I admit, I was afraid to re-read the letter, but I did. More on that later…

While I’ve always loved libraries–one of my earliest memories is attending a “Tuesday Toddlers” program at the local public library–I didn’t see it as a calling. Like most college students, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do: television journalism. I started taking mass communication classes and soon realized that television news was rather “fake” and low-paying (yes, less than a librarian!), not to mention cut-throat.

I switched my major to secondary education/social studies: “I’ll be a high school teacher.” When it came time to start volunteering at a local school, I thought: wow, I “hate” high school students! Time for another change in major: I ended up with a degree in history. Despite the changes in major, I still see lots of similarities with what I do: journalists provide information, while librarians provide access to information. And although I didn’t want to be “stuck” with a classroom of students all day long, I still enjoyed helping them in those one-on-one moments, which mirrors what I do as an instruction and reference librarian.

While in college, I needed to earn some extra cash. On a whim, I went down to the campus jobs office. They set me up with an appointment at the library. At the end of my freshman year, I had a student assistant job in the collection development office of the university library. Without it, I can surely say I would never have become a librarian. I did typical student worker tasks: I inputted book orders, checked book prices, pulled books to be weeded, compiled donor lists. I observed the librarians. They liked what they did. I came from a blue-collar family. This was the first time I think I actually got to see people enjoy what they do: it wasn’t just a job, but a career.

Being away from home, the librarians (Carol, Stan, Ming-ming, Hilde) treated me more like a family. I appreciated that. Whether they realized it or not, they became my mentors. Side note: C&RL News has an article on student mentoring from its Feb. 2011 issue. One day, one of the librarians asked me if I thought about attending library school. My response, “No way!” I wasn’t ready to succumb just yet. However, the more I worked, the more it made sense. After returning from a semester abroad–and ready to get back to my “home” in the library–my mind was made up. Library School, here I come!

I didn’t fuss around when choosing a library school. A MLS is a MLS. I stayed in my home state and went to Indiana University. My librarian mentors gave me lots of good advice: the classes are boring, lots of busywork, concentrate on employment. I was surprised on my first day of classes to learn that there were students who had never worked in a library. Asked by the professor as to why we were here, one student said, “I like to read.” My response: “I like to eat, but you don’t see me in culinary school!” We’re librarians. We all like to read.

Some students complained that the work wasn’t challenging enough. It is what you make of it. I’ve always thought of the MLS as a professional degree, as opposed to an academic degree. Frankly, I was working 39 hours per week as a student library assistant at various jobs–and taking a full load of classes–I was ok with it not being “challenging.” The classes gave me a good foundation and provided me with the theoretical background I needed.

The highlight was the various work experiences: I worked as a reference assistant at the IU undergraduate library and the school of education library. I also spent a year as a technical services/archives assistant at the Kinsey Institute. This is where I gained the skills that led to employment–not the classes. The MLS is just the base requirement for employment as a professional librarian. You need to show more than just that.

I ended up being able to finish a semester early, with a December graduation date. One year post-9/11, the job market was still in a slump. However, I was geographically mobile and somehow managed to land three job interviews in my last few weeks of classes (graduating in December, I started sending out resumes in October). I had my first professional librarian job lined up by the week I graduated. I started the job the following February.

There’s no secret to this: it’s demonstrating relevant work experience, projects, internships, etc., a well written cover letter and resume, exemplary communication skills, sense of adventure, and a sense of humor. And yes, a bit of luck or faith (depending on your preference–or maybe both?).

So back to that library school application letter. Why did I want to become a librarian? I was expecting to read it and see myself as a tad too optimistic (Not that I’m jaded now. I just like to say I’m a realistic optimist!). There were some hackneyed phrases about wanting to “be a broker in the information age,” but the gist of it holds true for me: I enjoy connecting people with information. Information is the key to life-long learning. Libraries are about open access to all. I mentioned that I “could not imagine doing anything else.” It still holds true for me today. I like what I do and I haven’t looked back. Each day is something new and I enjoy that.

Does it matter where you get your MLS?

Interesting question posted to the NEWLIB-L discussion group: Does it matter where you get your master’s degree in library science? Short answer: nope! The¬†questioner wanted to know if transferring to a more prestigious library school would make a difference when it came to job hunting. Unless you’re focusing¬†in a narrow aspect of library or information science (preservation, archives,¬†etc…), it probably doesn’t make a darn difference.

I’ll go a step further: if you’re thinking about library school, research¬†the schools you are interested in and go to the one that costs the least amount of money, or the one that gives¬†you the most financial aid assistance or scholarships. If you live in a state that does not have an ALA-accredited program, look at some of the out-of-state schools that offer in-state tuition to those residents. If taking classes in the online environment works for you, research the schools that offer online-only MLS degress.

Never once on a job interview has anyone commented on¬†the library school I attended (at least¬†prestige-wise). I don’t even recall¬†being asked about my grades. Some were interested in the courses I took, but that’s about it. The search committees I’ve¬†served¬†on (my experience is in academic¬†libraries)¬†have never given much thought to the pestige of the library school–primarily because I would regard the¬†MLS as a¬†professional, as opposed to “academic” degree.

My advice: don’t worry about the “prestige” issue. What’s more important is experience. If¬†you have¬†not worked in a library before, get some experience in¬†library school, if at all possible. Get a job as a library assistant¬†at the academic library, or your local public library.¬†Do an internship or a¬†practicum. Do a class project where you can partner with a library (collection study, public library programming, library web site design, etc…). These are the keys that will help you get a job.¬†Just taking the coursework is not enough. For me, it was the library work I did–not the coursework itself, that helped land me that first job.

Nailing the Library Interview

In keeping with the spirit of moving into this WordPress thing, I’ve folded the Nailing the Library Interview site into my WordPress blog. Originally, it was on PBWorks, but this will allow me to more easily update it. Also, it allows for easier feedback from readers.

Nailing the Library Interview is divided into four sections:

I’m always looking for suggestions of questions to add, etc.. so feel free to comment!