It’s now the middle of August, an inauspicious month that marks the final full month of summer before its unofficial end at the Labor Day holiday in New Jersey. Most library science graduate programs around the country are preparing for another year of instruction for a mix of returning students and new blood. For the fresh faces, I thought I’d offer some advice for their tenure in their graduate programs. While I am a relatively new person on the library scene (having graduated in 2006), I’d like to share some of things I’ve observed in my time and travels.
I encourage other librarians to add their advice to my own (either here or in your own blog) and thank you in advance for taking the time to do so. Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2013:
If there is one thing that every graduate should leave their program with, it’s a a list of names and contact information. Who are the people on this list? Classmates. Faculty who taught them. People in state or national associations or who work for library vendors. Librarians who tweet, blog, write articles, speak, and present in your field of interest or focus. They need not be good friends, you need not have meet them face to face, but they know who you are.
To say that librarianship is a people business is not simply about the communities that are served, but that vast network of professionals who are brought together by a common cause. Compared to other occupations, librarians are overall a friendly helpful bunch who answer a call for help or advice or otherwise debate. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised when I’ve reached out to people I’ve never met and asked them for advice, commented on something they said or wrote, or otherwise made contact. More often than not, you’ll find that these people are open to conversations, talking about topics of interest, and giving you some additional advice. Yes, some are aloof or time limited or just plain arrogant, but it is a worthwhile chance to take.
Take this one word advice to all its meanings. Ask out of curiosity for those things you want to know more about. Ask out of investigation and information vetting to determine authority or merit. Ask out of rebellion in challenging both old and new ways.
Ask, ask, ask. Sharpen your inquiry skills since asking the right question saves you (and in some cases your patron) time and energy tracking down the correct answer. It’s never too early to work on your interview skills, even if you never intend on gracing the reference desk. The right questions lead to the right answers.
There are libraries that will hire people in progress for their MLS/MLIS. You don’t need to wait to have the degree in hand to start job hunting and considering the job market you should apply early and often. If you can’t find a job, find an internship. Some are paid, some are unpaid, but each offers valuable experience. If you can’t find an internship, volunteer. It may not be what you ultimately want to do but it does get your foot in the door.
And if you can’t volunteer, then build your own personal learning network. Find people in the field you are interested in and follow them on Twitter, read their blogs, friend them on Facebook, circle them on Google Plus, and subscribe to the listservs. Get involved in the larger conversations even if you are just a listener. (You should probably build your own personal learning network anyway.)
Find your passion.
That pretty much sums it up. What library or librarian aspect ignites that fire within? Digital divide? Book challenges? Open access? School media? Reader’s advisory? Find it and begin the journey to mastering it. Become the expert, the advocate, the one who stands up before their peers and says, “This is important”. Join forces with others who feel the same way. If you see no one else tackling the issue, than it is up to you to do it.
(That’s up to you to figure out.)
In the end, there’s a lot of noise about the vigor of MLS/MLIS programs, the state of the job market, the value or professional organization, and the future of the profession and libraries. It’s a constantly moving circus sideshow, a necessary but distracting conversation compared to what is going on in the three rings underneath the big tent. It about meeting the expectations of the main event, to provide all the sights and sounds and wonders that people come to the library for, and to ensure the continuation of the show down the road.
You may accept or reject all or none of this advice, but please accept this final one:
Another tip: read this blog. This is great advice Andy! As a current MLS student, about to start my final year, I have to agree with everything you said. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of a profession full of people who are so friendly and willing to help each other out.
Thanks Annie! I appreciate the compliment! And yes we are fortunate!
Also: if you haven’t already done the following, do so ASAP:
Read listings for the sorts of jobs you might want to have when you graduate.
Make a list of the skills they tend to call for.
Divide the list into three parts: stuff you already demonstrably have; stuff you have (but don’t have good evidence for) or can acquire on your own; stuff you need outside resources to acquire.
Make sure stuff in the first category is documented on your resume (and web site, where applicable; and of course you have a web site; see point one about networking). Find ways to generate externally verifiable evidence of stuff in the second category. Plan the rest of your class and internship and volunteering schedule around stuff in the third.
And then tell people…but Andy already said “network”, didn’t he :).
I’ve never thought of networking in terms of curating a list of contacts for future reference, but I think this is one good way of looking at it. To make it easier to keep up with the people on your list, I would add this piece of advice: join LinkedIn, and add everyone you’ve had any serious contact with. It can be sort of like a 21st century Rolodex.
I’ve heard mixed results from LinkedIn so it didn’t pop to mind. Of course, I don’t really go on it much so that might be the problem. But, yes, LinkedIn is another good one.
As someone who is far along in a non-librarian career, I can attest to the positive outcomes that can come from LinkedIn. I’ve been professionally employed since 1986 and I have > 300 LinkedIn contacts. Many of these are people with whom I worked, attended school, know through some other professional venue … and many of them sought me out. It is very easy to lose touch with people with whom you’ve worked, etc., and sites like LinkedIn (and Facebook, if you use it this way) can help you build your own list while controlling who out there claims a relationship with you.
I check in there every few weeks to check for new classmates and former colleagues who have joined LinkedIn. I don’t participate in the discussion groups there (only time to do so much) but many do and that could also be a way to develop contacts.
My advice: Get out.
No, not in the sense of “get out now this place is gonna blow” but get out of the traditional librarian track. Look for jobs in the corporate and private sector. These jobs aren’t listed as “librarians” but information specialists, archivists (and that term is used VERY loosely in job postings), information resources manager, researchers, and the like.
I have a few friends who work as “librarians” for advertising companies here in L.A. They get all the perks of working in a trendy, entertainment field (company gym, pool, indoor park, health benefits, salad bar… the works) including [slightly] higher pay and they still get do the essential work of librarianship: organize, interpret, and locate information for individuals with specific information needs.
Say what you will about the future of traditional libraries, but when it comes to the future of library work, I’ll put my money on the corporate world.
Great advice Andy! I’m going into my second year of the MLS, and I have been pleasantly surprised by librarians’ encouragement, helpfulness, and eagerness to answer my questions and share about their experience in the profession. It makes me feel even better about choosing this path.
I also want to chime in and agree that LinkedIn is a great networking tool. Not only is it a “digital Rolodex” but you can also display your resume and career interests, and join discussion groups.
I think the biggest piece of advice is that it’s not enough to just be a librarian or to network. In this economy, you curate your career (http://wp.me/p1eYam-1k).
The short version is get out there, and show what you know. Brand yourself because chances are, aside from some few months of experience, you are all you have. Show employers what they’re getting for their money.
Hi. I have been reading Agnostic, Maybe since my first MLS prof highly suggested we subscribe 2 years ago. I am in the 2013 MLS graduation class at Clarion University. This is my first post. I faithfully read this blog, and pass many onto my sister who is CEO of an e-book publishing company. She and I discuss many of the blogs. This one, though, is so incredibly helpful and I felt the need to write and thank (may I call you Andy, too?). SO, thank you, Andy for taking the time to write this blog and for all the helpful, thought-provoking information. PS….I would not have guessed you had only been doing LS since 2006!!!!! Again, truly, thank you!
As I enter my second year of my MLIS program, I could agree more with the need for networking. You’d be surprised how others can help you (and vice versa). Also, thanks for saying that volunteering is also important and useful. Since I work full time and am a full time student, taking an internship is pretty much impossible (ah, have to love paying the bills!) for me, but I plan on volunteering to get my name out there even more. Also- attending local groups/meetings/conferences can be quite helpful.
VOLUNTEER. If you can’t get a part-time job at a library in this economy, volunteering will still give you real-world experience in a library setting and help to increase your network of librarians.
Yes! Good point about how the networking and volunteering dovetail together! Thanks for the comment!
I completely agree with Andy. In addition I concur with other commenter and basically urge people to be creative, use google reader to look for jobs, and venture outside the traditional library track. I finished my MOST in may and last month started a job as a content manager. It isn’t the traditional thing, but I get to be innovative and strongly urge people to look everywhere, and not discriminate against any particular field or work place.
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Catching this post late. Networking is important, especially with current librarians. I have met several MLS students who have been incredibly rude to me at conferences and as I went back to library school to audit classes. Not a good idea!