my job hunt: library school prep [pt. 1]

libraryworker
print from UW’s silver buckle press

January 2015 marked one year since I interviewed for my  job at UW. I realize now that I really haven’t ever talked about my job hunt experience beyond what I wrote on Hack Library School (general overview about process + phone interview tips).

When I was a library student I read a post by Robin Camille about her job hunt. I still remember how amazingly helpful I found that post! Pretty sure I just pored over it. She talked about the things I eagerly asked my job hunting friends about, hungry for the tiniest of details. This week I thought I’d take inspiration from the type of details she chose to share.

Clearly, the information I share is not meant to be indicative of how anyone else’s job hunt should or will go – my hope is simply that it will provide a point of reference for your own adventures in job hunting. And because I have so much to say, I thought I’d make it into a series. Today I’ll cover my preparations as a library school student, both with classes and jobs; soon you can expect posts covering a detailed timeline of my job hunt, my application materials, interview experience, and final takeaways.

classes

I received my MLS and MIS from Indiana University last year. The things you think are ironclad memories fade fast, people – I needed to peek back at my transcript to remember what classes I took.

Laced through basically everything I’ve ever written about library school is the sentiment that classes don’t matter, just jobs and practical experience (ex. 1  +  ex. 2). For me, that still rings pretty darn true. I understand the dissenters; after all, I had some great classes too. But my classes didn’t get me my job (dual degrees certainly helped, but not the individual classes).

information science –> database design, advanced XML, systems analysis & design, information architecture, information architecture for the web, human-computer interaction, organizational informatics

library science –> 401, reference, collection development, public library management, metadata, digital humanities, digital librarianship, seminar in science librarianship, public library management, internship (digital collections), independent study (data curation), EAD & MODS, drupal, discovery systems

Here’s a secret. Or maybe not a secret so much as a realization I had after I emerged from library school.

Even if my classes were good I don’t know how much it would have mattered. I was giving everything to my jobs. My time, my eagerness, my best ideas. We all only have so much emotional bandwidth – part of managing your life is recognizing the bounds of your own energy and stretching that creatively. You choose something to prioritize which in turn erodes your ability to give to something else. Maybe I’m incentive-driven to a fault but when I didn’t see practical takeaways or CV boosters I checked out. I coasted. That’s how I made it through with the course load, jobs (at times up to 40 hrs per week), volunteering, and extra projects/presentations. Early on, I knew that classes were not my priority. They just couldn’t be if I wanted to get ahead.

Again, this isn’t to say that my classes were valueless. Many introduced me to new ideas and resources that expanded my idea of the professional landscape. Some I actively enjoyed: classes that really intrigued me (info architecture, IA for the web), classes that made me recognize my interest in leadership and systems thinking (systems analysis & design, organizational dynamics), super practical workshops (EAD and MODS),  my internship and independent study because they were focused and tailored to my exact interests. And then there was the seminar in science librarianship, which was probably the best class experience I’ve ever had – there were six of us, the prof was a practicing academic librarian who talked about the practicalities of his job, we had a special focus on data management, and the majority of the class was spent researching and writing a case study that was later published in Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship.

Honestly, now that I’m out of school it’s easier to appreciate many of my classes. I think another big barrier was that I was just annoyed at how much money they cost. Yes, I signed up for that – I knew I was going to be charged over 1k per credit because I was an out of state student, and yes, I was one of the lucky ones because I received some funding (which ended up covering half of my overall tuition). But ohmygoodness is it disheartening to sit in a classroom and go over material that you swiftly realize you could understand by reading a few journal articles in an afternoon and know you are going into three thousand dollars worth of debt, plus interest. Ouch. (Current students I know ya feel me.)

 jobs

My jobs! They were everything to me, hard-fought relics of strategy and grit. Does that sound like a crazy person thing to say? Well, that’s how I feel about them. It takes perseverance to seek opportunities and build experience and then put in the work, minute by minute on the clock. You can check out the jobs I held as a student  on my most recent CV or LinkedIn.  I won’t give a play by play today. Instead, consider this post of tips on lib school jobs as the foundation for my next few thoughts. Here’s what I have to add now (two and a half years later, whoa).

I was tired and it was worth it. I actually remember this moment where I ran into my mentor and I don’t even think I could string together 5 words that made sense. Frazzled, devoid of personality, blah – that was me some days. Life is not like the movie where you are a high-powered, high-performing glamazon getting things done. Instead you’re tired and headachey and grumpy and while you don’t want to be a constant zombie, a few soulless days are par for the course.

I got rejected and the world didn’t stop. Just like big rejections, the little rejections were frequent. Embrace the rejection early on in library school… and then during your job hunt too. (I find that spontaneous solo dance parties help.)

Just because it doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it can’t. If you want an experience badly enough you can get it. Talk to people. Some might be willing to open up doors for you that you never imagined. AKA that one time my favorite librarian in the world said to me one day in an elevator, “You should really meet Stacy. That data stuff is going to be important for you to know about.” She made the introduction, Stacy created a job for me, and that job for sure got me the job I have today. Now that I’m in a professional role, when I saw that the RDS practicum student was awesome I created a job for him as well.

You need more experience than you think you do. So I often feel like I’m the bearer of overly intense, overly analytic, doom and gloom sorts of advice. I’m sorry if you’re cringing as you read this but it’s how I feel. Very simply, the more you work – and the smarter you work – the more options you will have when you’re on the job hunt. In my opinion there isn’t a magical stopping point of “oh okay this is good, this is enough to get X job.” Sure, you can approximate, you can guesstimate, you can trust your gut. If you’re worrying, that’s a good thing, just keep your concern rooted in reality and tied to the things you can control. Then get back to work.

takeaways

I had three years in grad school. The most impactful part of my job hunt was all the stuff I did before the pressure of applications and interviews. Don’t drive yourself crazy, but do everything you can prior to the madness barreling your way.

5 comments

  1. I have to say that this the most honest post about library school that I’ve read in awhile. Completely agree with you about the realities of classes.
    The problem I run into is that these courses lay out great visions in the general catalog or syllabus but once you get into the nitty gritty of the work, it falls flat. There are so many projects that I’ve worked on where I had to make it about a hobby or job related just to get myself to complete it. For example, I absolutely hated Drupal but I picking a running website to redesign motivated me enough to put up with Drupal’s shortcomings in order to produce a high-quality deliverable.
    Like yourself, I am working full-time while in school. Aside from your awesome advice about fleshing out job experience, the best advice I can give for students in similar situations is to scan through the theory but look for the practical applications that you can use right away. Even if you have to make them fit.
    Thanks for the awesome post!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Marlon! I completely agree with you about finding ways to personalize projects that can otherwise be very… uninspiring :) Also love your tip to seek out practical applications of the theory that you learn!

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