Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Library School: One Month In

As always there is about a month lag with these things. Basically I outline them, then get started drafting them, and then get distracted. So while I just finished this, I actually did the bulk of the writing in September.

I’ve been in library school for a month so far. Largely I’m caught up or ahead in all my classes. While I’ve learned a lot, I feel like a large portion of it is ephemeral, more theory and history than any sort of skills which will help me be a librarian. Not that I am complaining because I love thinking and talking about that stuff. What I've realized is that I pick that stuff up naturally, and what I need to focus on for my own professional development is the techne of my field of study. I though I would share some of the more practical lessons I've learned though my experiences so far. I've learned more from my extra circular activities so far than from my classes, but I chalk that up to my choice of reading materials and the fact that I extensively researched librarianship before deciding to embark on this career path.

Lesson 1: Schedule stuff
Your university will assign you an email address and route it through a vender. Most likely this will be either a Google or Outlook package. As part of this you will have the opportunity to use an integrated schedule. Use it and keep it updated, especially MS Outlook. Outlook has a meeting-scheduling tool that is wicked hot. It lets you see what other people you want to invite have available. This by in large makes the process of scheduling meetings extremely simple, and a good meeting is a simple meeting. If you have a Mac get the Mac version of office and route your account through that. There are third party options but they constitute extra steps and extra learning curves for other people, which make them by far less preferable.

Lesson 2: Nothing is political everything is political
I read this in an essay from Revolting Librarians Redux. What this means is that while nothing in the library is supposed to be political (i.e. Conservative v. Liberal) everything in the library is steeped in interpersonal politics. Most of this is standard fiefdom bullshit, but some of it is routed in the larger conflict between liberals and conservatives (in a Locke v. Burke sense).

As always, it’s good to avoid this if possible. However, it is a reality of any work place, so you should get used to the idea now. It is probably a good idea to start reading management oriented books and developing people skills if you have not started doing so already. Networking with your cohort is a great place to practice these skills. Also, remember that discretion is always the better part of valor, and the most essential part of politics.

Lesson 3: Library experience is king.
As soon as I read about this I realized how true it is. Then I got a job in a library and realized how much there is to learn that many of my classes won’t even hint at. Some of this is due prioritizing one thing over another academically and the fact that library school does not last forever. However, I do get to learn these skills on the job, which probably translates better to a resume than I read a book about cataloging.

Library experience has become even more important I started realizing how tough it is right now to get a job in a library. Many people I’ve met here have library degrees but were unable to find positions right out of library school despite having great resumes so they took lower paying, less secure, paraprofessional and staff positions instead.

You need library experience and to be a rock star in order to get a job in an academic library these days, and possibly in a public library as well. While the profession is graying, and thank god it is finally starting to lead to retirements, efficiency gains have meant that most of the times hiring is limited to filling positions as opposed to the creation of a new position. For example of how difficult getting a librarian position can be in King County, you have to all ready be in the system in order to apply for a position in the library pool. You have to enter the library at a lower position just that they will look at hiring you if there is a vacancy, there’s no guarantee that you’ll even get a full time or permanent position. That’s in the second busiest library system in the United States. So basically you need to work in a library while in library school, whether you’re able to do that or not you have to be a rock star. Here’s a great blog post that can show you how to rock out even if another job, or other situation prevents you from working in a library. Also worth checking out on this subject is this, blog post, by Heidi, a second year MLIS student at the University of Washington (I wish I was in Seattle right now), which distills many of the points for getting library experience while in school.

Lesson 4: Twitter is your friend.
I actually learned this before library school, but it’s become doubly as important since I started my MLIS program. Twitter is key for several reasons, the biggest one is networking. You get to meet a lot of cool people on twitter and even if you don’t have the opportunity to go to things like ALA twitter will help people find you. When you’re in library school, other librarians and library science students will seek you out. You’ll get great job hunting tips. Advanced postings on job openings, and when you do go to ALA you won’t have to be all awkward introducing yourself to people.