LIfe in SLIS and Bloomington

I can’t think of an easy way to pick up blogging again after a summer off, but here we go–I’ll just jump right in! I am now in Bloomington, IN, just beginning the third week of my graduate program at the Indiana University School of Library and Information Science. The fact that I am an actual graduate student still seems bizarre… I am entitled to print 2,500 pages over the course of the semester, obtain my very own graduate carrel, and CHECK OUT BOOKS FOR AN ENTIRE SEMESTER. When I realized I would get the complete works of Edna St. Vincent Millay until the end of December I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped. 

This semester I am taking three classes: Reference, Computer-Based Tools, and Representation and Organization of Information. These classes meet only once a week and seem very doable so far. I am mostly concentrating on finding jobs and diversifying my work experience. The coursework, while important, is more like an afterthought. I asked a student involved in the Society of American Archivists student chapter if she had any advice for me as a first-year student. Her response? “Don’t worry about doing your readings. Just get involved.” Happily, I can both do my readings AND get involved. Her comment has been mirrored many times by other students and even faculty. I think it helps that I came to library school with the knowledge that future employers weren’t generally going to care whether I had taken one elective over another. While the MLS is the backbone of my career preparation, it needs a lot of support from actual hands-on experience.

Three weeks in, I feel relatively settled in Bloomington. It is a nice place to be a graduate student because there are so many other grad students from out-of-state who feel the same pain I do: I am talking, of course, about the invisible loan money just flying out of their metaphorical pockets. Despite the scary loans and skyrocketing cost of higher education, I still feel that IU was the right choice for me. While I am proud to have been accepted to the highly selective UW-Madison SLIS, I am glad that I have been granted the opportunity to carve out a fresh new start for myself. The rolling hills and climate are reminiscent of Wisconsin, though the Southern accents serve to remind me that I am now indeed much nearer to the South than I have ever been! 

I have managed to snag three jobs here at IU. After some initial scheduling chaos, my classes and jobs now peacefully coexist. The first job I got is as a Receptionist/Reference Attendant at the Lilly Library. It is a basic public services position within the rare books library that entails answering the Lilly phone, overseeing the exhibition gallery, helping direct staff communications, and overseeing patrons’ usage of Lilly materials.  The Lilly is filled with the mysterious ephemera and miscellany of centuries ago, and this is intoxicating for me, as I know it is for plenty of other starry-eyed SLIS students. I often wonder if the librarians who work there ever lost their sense of amazement about their surroundings… I know they must have begun their careers filled with wonderment. When I first pored over the SLIS specializations, I did consider the Rare Books and Manuscripts specialization, but I’ve since diverged from that path. Instead, I hope to pursue the Archives and Records Management specialization, which overlaps in some areas. 

My second job is working in the Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center (located within SLIS). I started working in an administrative capacity last week: printing on the giant plotters, scanning articles, etc. Much of the work is related to the Places & Spaces: Mapping Science ongoing exhibit by SLIS professor Dr. Katy Borner. So far I’ve found that working at the CNS keeps me on my toes–I’m required to utilize a lot of the bare-bones techy skills that I’ve practically forgotten, such as the minutiae of using Excel.  I’ve also begun using the CNS wiki and Launchpad, a Content Management Software that I watched a presentation on at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference this past spring. When I was hired I was also told that while CNS currently needs a student worker to assist with basic office tasks, as I became more knowledgeable about the Center I will likely be able to work on specialized projects (!).

And last but certainly not least, I will be working as an Instruction Assistant in the Wells Library Information Commons. While I was at UW-La Crosse, I saw my superb librarian mentor Rachel‘s face light up every time she talked about her tenure as Grad Assistant for the same program. She often expressed her hope that I would be able to meet and even work with her mentor, Carrie. To my delight, now that I am officially a SLIS student, I’ve been accepted into the fold of IAs! For some reason I thought that being an IA involved team-teaching with other students or perhaps assisting a “real” librarian with a class–boy, was I ever wrong. IA’s sign up to teach courses on an online portal, contact the professor and get information on what they’d like covered during the class, craft a lesson plan, and teach. AKA: just me, alone, solo, independent. I am filled with a terrific level of excitement!

Nervous too, obviously. Nervousness is okay, normal, and shows that you care about what you are doing. As long as you don’t let it stop you from acting (or postpone your actions indefinitely!), I think it’s a valuable tool to corral your energy. Also, simply from inhabiting this body and carting this mind around for 21 years, I know that the only reason I feel nervous is because I do not feel prepared. Once I feel prepared–by trying my hand at creating lesson plans, by doing my own research on databases, by exploring IUCat and other resources on my own–I will feel more comfortable and less nervous. Then once I start actually teaching, I imagine that just about all the nervousness will vanish. The only nervousness stems from the anticipation, the unknown. As Carrie said during training, “There is always a reason not to teach, so just jump right in.” Wise words from a wise woman. 

I understand that the IAs are doing the IU Teaching and Learning department a great service because it costs significantly less to pay us to teach classes than it would a whole fleet of professional librarians, but  at the same time it was apparent from the get-go that all the supervising Teaching and Learning librarians are focused on ensuring that their IAs feel comfortable, confident, and experience lots of self-growth. We were told to use the classrooms as our laboratories to try out teaching styles and techniques that intrigued us. We were given free reign to utilize instructional technologies in any capacity. Simply put, we were entrusted with courses under the implicit assumption that we would use our best judgment. (And no, this was not a begrudging entrustment–this was an enthusiastic welcome that made me feel as though, yes, I can teach!)

So, all in all, I thoroughly enjoy Bloomington, IU, and SLIS. I wasn’t sure of what to expect from library school, but now that I’ve been immersed in library-land for a few weeks… I like it immensely! My stack of librarianship-related books is piled dangerously tall, my babbling about library stuff is at an all-time high due to new SLIS friends, and I am building my resume with library-related activities.

I don’t have any complaints. 

4 comments

  1. Great to hear that you’re enjoying the library school experience so far! You will clearly be an awesome librarian. I’ve also just taken on a third library job, and while three jobs may sound like a lot, you’re so right about work and volunteer experience being more important than schoolwork. Though there have been a few courses (like Intro to Reference) that have proven to be hugely useful on the job!

    Enjoy the jobs and courses and general immersion in library-land!

  2. Wow, three jobs and three classes? How do you manage to keep up with all of that?

    I applied for the same program but for fall of 2012. I’m glad to hear you are enjoying your experience so far.

  3. Evelyn – Sometimes it can be hectic, but the intro SLIS classes aren’t very tough so I’ve found it to be manageable.

    I’m so excited that you’ve applied to SLIS! Bloomington is a really fun city and the program is great. Where are you from? If you’d like to come visit sometime I’d be happy to give you a place to stay to explore further :) Not kidding at all. I hope you’ll take me up on it.

    I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about SLIS, so feel free to email me at bhmarsha@indiana.edu. Deciding where to go to grad school is a big decision (particularly if you’re out of state). I was lucky to have a mentor who went to SLIS and she explained a LOT about library school that I had no idea about.

    Thanks for reading!

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