[Guest Post] What I Learned in Library School: Changing my viewpoint and outlook

This edition of the “What I Learned…” series is the final post of the lot. I have really enjoyed featuring my fellow Lib.School students and hearing their thoughts and experiences, and I hope you have too. I am starting to look toward the end of my tenure as a student (May 2011!) and to that end I am planning to begin writing about and interacting with content from the perspective of a professional. That said, I am delighted to feature a fellow blogger who is making a similar transition; Julia Skinner is an MLIS student at the University of Iowa and is currently applying to PhD programs in the same field. She blogs here and can be found tweeting here.


When I was a kid, I loved the school library, but Library and Information Science (LIS) as a profession was never even on my radar. I had talked myself into believing that my college degree should be practical (followed by my acquisition of the most impractical degree ever: a B.A. in Psychology). It wasn’t until a friend told me about someone he knew in the University of Iowa’s program that I ever considered this path. Once I decided to go, I had a lot of my assumptions challenged and ended up with a completely different set of interests and a completely different outlook than I had even a year ago. Now, I am absolutely in love with my career, my future prospects, my colleagues, and my research! I have found that doing library history research and open access publishing (along with a hodgepodge of other things) is really my niche, and I love that I can be in a field where my ‘niche’ consists of 5-10 disparate interests!
When I entered LIS school, I was not an early adopter by any sense of the word, and I saw LIS as a way to move past the dead-end service jobs I was so tired of. You can understand my sense of bitterness, then, when I learned that librarians are constantly adapting to new technologies in order to better serve their patrons! For some reason, this translated to me as 1. that I needed to become expert in a variety of digital technologies I had never used and 2. that I would be stuck in customer service the rest of my life. I got over both of these rather quickly, especially after I got farther into my coursework and got to interact with ‘real librarians.’ Even though neither of the statements above are entirely untrue, the problem that I had was that my approach was from a place of someone who felt negative toward change and scared that branching out so far away from anything I had done would inevitably equal failure.

Of course that isn’t true! Even if I’m not technologically proficient in a lot of areas (I can’t, for example, write Javascript to save my life, although I’d be willing to learn), my new outlook is one where I am comfortable taking what I would have before considered ‘risks’ with technology: I am willing to try something new or to take a stab at learning a program I don’t know, and if I don’t like it there’s no law saying I have to use it! The great thing about a lot of the stuff that’s being talked about by my LIS friends right now is that it’s very accessible: for example, Prezi is an awesome presentation-creating platform, but it only took me about 5 minutes to learn!

I also have to laugh at myself when I had envisioned librarianship as an extension of the mundane service industry jobs I had held for years. Of course in some sense it is, because you will always have people asking questions that you just want to roll your eyes at, or you’ll have a patron that will make you mad, or whatever.

The big difference between what we do and what I did in a cafeteria (or coffeehouse, or call center, or my current job as a bus driver) is that librarianship is a field where you are providing something that (at least to me) is much more fundamental and exciting than fish that’s been scraped off a steam table tray. We are giving people information, and that means that we are empowering people to educate themselves and to figure out steps for directions they want to take. We are also giving people information for leisure (romance novels!) and for sharing with others (kids’ books!) Because we are entrusted with the task of sharing information, it becomes a process of sharing ourselves and our libraries too, and we want to give our patrons/students/story time kids/whoever a great experience and deliver what they’re looking for in a way that responds to their needs.
One professor from my first semester, Padmini Srinivasan, used the best phrase I’ve heard for describing our role when she talked about librarians as “information brokers.” As more time goes on, we are moving farther away from being confined to a desk and a finite catalog of holdings within a physical space, but we will always serve as the liaison between the patron and a vast body of knowledge.

Thanks to very patient faculty and supportive fellow students, I was able to work through places I got ‘stuck,’ especially in the first semester “Foundations” courses when everything that was being thrown our way was new and potentially mind-boggling. After a while though, I found my niche (and I think almost everyone does), which happens to be in academic research rather than in librarianship, per se. What’s so funny to me about this is that, again, I didn’t realize how broad and amazing our field is in regards to research too! The great thing is that, whether you’re studying library history, censorship, social media, programming, pedagogy, use studies, or anything else, you can find a group of researchers who are working along the same lines and with whom you can connect. Just as in librarianship itself, library & information science researchers are more welcoming and supportive than most other fields. I’ve worked with some wonderful people in an array of fields and had some great professors rooting for me over the years, but I feel like in LIS you find researchers who are more passionate and connected; they are not only interested in talking about what they do (often with hand gestures! I’m partial to sparkle hands/fingers myself), but also in listening to what YOU are doing!

LIS is a great place for lifelong learning and connecting with others, and it has really changed my outlook in a lot of ways. One of the first things that strikes you when you enter this field is how passionate and engaged everyone is! I’ve met very few folks in LIS who just got the degree to get a job to pay the bills. Every field has people that are just there because they weren’t sure what else they wanted to do, but that’s pretty rare here. People in LIS love people, and they love sharing what they know. I loved sharing knowledge before coming here, but I wasn’t sure exactly how I would approach that in my professional life. When I started school I first connected with my colleagues’ passion for materials (especially in the rare books and manuscripts world), but now I connect with the passion for helping patrons that is such an important part of our work.

I also love that LIS is kind of a ‘cross over’ field. You get a practical Master’s degree that will get you a job, but while you’re learning about that field you are inevitably crossing over into the realm of an ‘academic’ degree. By virtue of dealing with information, you enter into scholarly, theoretical discussions and have to encounter and try to work through sticky gray areas every time you deal with book challenges, materials selection, or even something like inviting an author to speak. Even though I am taking the research route, this means that I can still interact with people who are on the front lines in the libraries without feeling like we’re out of touch. Best of all, it keeps us researchers honest, because our findings have to relate to what librarians are doing (or in my case, what they did in the past), and we can’t become so far removed from the field that we become irrelevant.

For students who are just starting out, if you are like me you are probably confused and unsure of yourself, but stick with it! This is the most rewarding profession I can imagine, and people are connected in person and online to such an extent that you can always find other LIS folk (students or professionals) who you can turn to. I love that librarians are passionate and always at the forefront of new trends, innovating and adapting very rapidly. In all the different paths I’ve taken, I have always wanted to be someone who embraced change in such a way, but never felt like I was inspired to really do that until I got settled into LIS. It’s a wild ride, but it’s well worth it, and even on the hard days you will love the work you do and the people you meet along the way!


[Guest Post] “What I Learned in Library School” or Tricks of the Trade: Insights of a Career Resource Librarian

As I am slowly getting adjusted to my brand new life in NYC, I figured this would be a great time to hear from another library schooler about their experience in the MLS. This post is particularly pertinent to me right now since I am working as a Web Applications Intern at the Brooklyn Public Library, and making a drastic shift to prepare myself for a future in the information professions. For those on the edge of graduation, or like myself, in the midst of a job search, this post is for you.

Meet Cheryl Kohen. Cheryl became Career Resource Librarian at Simmons College in December, 2007. Prior to joining the Simmons Library staff, she graduated from both the Simmons College undergraduate program as a double major in English and Philosophy, as well as receiving her Master’s degree from the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science.  Aside from her duties in the CRL, as a course instructor through the GSLIS Continuing Education Office, Cheryl also teaches a month long online course entitled, “The Career-Savvy Information Professional,”  and reviews career resources for the publication “Choice Review.”  Lastly, since 2008, Cheryl runs a “Career Center” at the Massachusetts Library Association Annual Conference in May, where she helps current librarians search for job and professional development opportunities. Cheryl’s contact info is at the bottom of the post.


As the Career Resource Librarian at Simmons College, where I received my MS in Library and Information Science, and now teach career workshops to future recipients of this degree, I’ve learned many savvy career tips when job seeking and navigating the LIS websites.  Allow me to share.

Getting Out There

Though this statistic tends to change, about 70% of new jobs come from effective networking.  Even while you are still in library school and especially for those who have graduated and are actively job hunting, use your networks!  Does your alma mater have an online alumni directory that is accessible for you to search?  Friends and family who work for the organization?  What about community members?  Have you joined online groups like LinkedIn or ALAConnect? Are you a member of professional organizations?  Do you attend meetings, conferences?  Do you know where to look when locating upcoming events (browse Marian Dworaczek webpage of Library Related Conferences?  Do you volunteer?

Once you’ve started to build your network, keep in touch.  Remember, networking should be a reciprocal relationship.  You don’t want to always approach people in your network by asking them for something: a recommendation, a job, a reference.  Instead, contact someone in your network by sending them an article that you’ve found particularly relevant to the work they do.  Another innovative way to get someone’s attention is to gift them an iTunes song.  For public librarians, I recommend Lunch Money’s “I Love My Library.”

How Many Different Ways Can We Say ‘Information Professional?’

Using a library job aggregator site like Libgig.com in tandem with the social networking site LinkedIn is a great way to explore unique job titles and learn more about various library positions.  As you scroll through the many jobs on Libgig, there are many traditional job titles such as Librarian, Reference, Director, etc.  However, begin to look through some of the alternative titles that interest you, Programmer, Taxonomist, Knowledge Manager, or Information Architect.  Look at the live listings that describe the job functions and requirements for these positions.  What are employers asking for?  What do they require?  What do they prefer?  To learn even more about, say, becoming a Knowledge Manager, use your network of professionals.  Do your professors know professionals with this job title?  If yes, can they introduce you?  Do Knowledge Managers have their own professional association, or a branch/chapter from another association?  Do they meet in your area?

Also, a new feature that Libgig introduced on their 2.0 site is connecting these job listings (company name and contact name) with your LinkedIn network.  As you read through the full job listing, notice the little blue “in” square next to the name of the organization up top.  By clicking on this icon, the user can seamlessly see if the contact person for a job listing is connected to any of their LinkedIn connections.

You Put ‘What’ On Your Resume?

Updating a resume (or crafting a new resume) is always a daunting task.  I describe resume writing as the worst poem you’ll ever draft.  Stylized language is difficult, especially in the information industry where employers are looking for specific keywords and library lingo as proof of credibility.  The question becomes, how do I best convey my experiences and expertise, and what do other librarians put on their resume to do the same?  A trick I discovered when clicking through LISjobs.com is that job seekers can not only post their own resume to this highly useful site, but they may also view other resumes posted.  I’m not advocating these as perfect examples, but viewing other resumes might give you good ideas of what you want to do (or not do!) for your own.

To Quote Mary Jane from Spiderman, “Go Get ‘Em, Tiger!”

Staying behind the computer screen is a start, but go out and meet new professionals!  As information professionals, we’re surrounded by people who love to provide information, and by working in a service-based profession, usually people are happy to help.  So again, use the people around you and reach out to new professionals.  Let people know you are job hunting.  Ask questions.  Be a life-long learner, a good listener, and self-starter.  Blog, tweet, text, post, and then walk away from your seat and go out into the world.  You never know who you might meet next.

Still at your desk?  Feel free to browse through the Simmons College Library Career Guides. Get click-happy through our LIS Career Guide and find more job sites geared toward professionals just like you.

Cheryl Kohen | Career Resource Librarian, Simmons College
Email: cheryl.kohen@simmons.edu
Twitter: @cherylkohen

[Guest Post] – What I’ve Learned in Library School So Far: Me, You, and All Of Us.

And now for another episode of the “What I learned in Library School” series! I am growing ever more fond of this series as it goes on, and reading the variety of perspectives that have been offered has given me another really cool idea that I will be revealing in the coming weeks. Library school students, take note!

Without further ado, welcome Britt Foster to The Infornado. Ms. Foster graduated from San Francisco State University as an English Literature and Creative Writing major, and after an epiphany while sitting on the floor of the children’s section of the main San Francisco Public Library, decided to pursue a Master’s in a field with an equally impressive career outlook– public librarianship.  Britt is currently beginning her second year at UCLA, and would like to visit every LAPL library before graduation.  She hopes to work as a children’s/youth librarian, and includes a comprehensive knowledge of E.L. Konigsburg and mad glitter skills on her resume.  Britt also enjoys writing, knitting, salvaging furniture off the street, and road tripping, making Google maps of yarn stores and libraries before all journeys.

Britt writes about her own experiences in the MLIS at Library Moth, and tweets about all kinds of things here.

Britt Foster



At my internship the other day, a librarian mentioned to me that she couldn’t believe she didn’t figure out she wanted to be a librarian sooner, but thank goodness she did.  I think a lot of librarians come to the idea of being a librarian with this same feeling– it’s the X on the treasure map after a long journey along a dotted and meandering line.  There’s something about librarianship that brings together so many disparate elements in a meaningful way that can effect real change in the way a person views their abilities.  In library school, I have found validation and a place for my passions and concerns, from the banal (glue sticks, glitter, and the subtle way shelves of books change a space) to the lofty (community advocacy, continuing education, and non-corporate services).  I had such high expectations for becoming a librarian that I was afraid when I started my MLIS there was no way the reality could live up to my hopes.  Not only way I wrong, I underestimated the experience entirely.  Things have only gotten better, more right, a better fit.  The more I learn about librarianship and the development of my career, the more I view it as continuing phases of awesomeness, from my master’s and being a new librarian, to being an experienced librarian, developing professionally and personally all the way.  Librarianship for life.


Library school has also taught me librarianship is not for egotists– the profession is service-oriented and external.  In a guest lecture for one of my courses, a special librarian described her career as being a meta-profession.  Everyday she compiles bibliographies, searches databases, and delivers content towards the professional goals and betterment of others.  I think this is universal to librarianship, and libraries; there are few institutions that benefit so directly from continually promoting and advocating for the welfare of other institutions and individuals.
UCLA requires a course on ethics and diversity for graduation, and in this course our professor often asked us about the role activism plays in the information professions.  It took me awhile to understand the divide between activism as I have viewed it prior to library school, and what activism means in the library and for information professionals.  I have pretty strong personal and political convictions, but in the library most of these have to be checked at the door.

As a librarian, I won’t be campaigning for myself or my beliefs, but for your beliefs, your politics, your lifestyle, your right to read The Anarchist’s Cookbook or Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets.  To be trusted with that responsibility is an amazing thing.

All of Us:

Prior to library school, I never really thought about information as information.  I remember learning about Sunshine laws and thinking, “That’s an idea worth advocating for,” but I never actually named the concept behind it as access to information.  Librarians, of course, are all about naming things, and while I’m still not sold on the idea of a label for everything, I am for information and ways to get to it.  The library (amongst other information institutions) is this way.  What is the value to society in a place where we can go to find just what we’re looking for?  Or when we don’t know what we’re looking for?  Or if we’re not looking for anything at all other than a place to just be?
The first required course in my program is “Information and Society,” and when we were introduced to the public library as the third place the rightness in this idea made my heart race.  Society needs more spaces where status does not affect access.  No money, no job, can’t read, don’t speak English– all barriers to access in other institutions that won’t be found in the library.  We can enter the library and leave changed– or not.  The way we use it is completely up to us, unfettered by any expectations or conditions other than our own.
Los Angeles Public Library’s recent struggles to remain open and provide services have come to concretize all of these elements to me as a resident of California.  I attended a protest earlier this week to mark the first non-holiday Monday the LAPL has been closed to the public.  Protestors were provided with sheets of chants, one of which read, “What do we want? Libraries open six days a week! When do we want it? Now!” The librarian standing next to me pointed out that we don’t want libraries open six days a week– we want them open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  This commitment to access points to one word, that in my library school experience, has taught me should describe the library, both literally and symbolically — open.  For me, for you, for all of us.

{Guest Post} A Bespectacled Look at the MLIS.

Continuing my “What I Learned in Library School (so far)” series (previous posts from myself and Natalie Binder), I asked another fellow FSU MLIS student for her perspective on the degree. Lauren Gibaldi and I met when we started the program last fall and discovered that her boyfriend (blog here) was a good friend of mine from undergrad! Lauren’s perspective on library school is more ‘traditionally’ librarian-ish, if there is such a thing, meaning she actually reads books, (whereas I fool around on the internet!) Hope you enjoy a different point of view!

Connect with her on her website, blog, or Twitter.

My addiction to books has pretty much guided my life’s decisions. If you were to venn diagram my existence, “reading” would be in the center. I got my BA in Literature at FSU because I wanted to read. While in school, I worked at Waldenbooks because I wanted to sell and talk about books. I started teaching high school because I wanted to teach books. I realized teaching wasn’t for me (the students were much taller and angrier than I), so I went into writing, because I wanted to write a book. Now, a few years later, I realized that all of my trials actually set me up for what I REALLY want to do: work in a library (where I can, essentially, talk about, read, teach, and “sell” books). My path has set me up for being a youth librarian – one who can discuss the intricacies of Harry Potter, and offer book clubs, writing seminars and really good recommendations.

So, essentially, discovering the MLIS program led me to figure out what I really want to do. But what has the program taught me so far?

There’s a lot more to librarians than just books

A lot of friends questioned why I was getting the degree at first. Not to say it isn’t perfect for me, they just didn’t realize you needed a master’s degree to “hand out books.” It’s a lot more complicated. If you start the degree thinking your main job will simply be referring books to patrons, you’re in for a surprise. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot of classes to master. And although a bit intimidating at first, each one offered a new perspective, and a new respect, for librarians.

It’s possible to get good grades
During my undergraduate years, I was a decent student; I held onto a solid “B” in most classes. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn – I did, however I was in the “make the most of your time here” mindset. I knew that, years later, I wouldn’t remember the time I spent studying in my room, but the time I spent not studying, doing something exciting. So, I got some out of undergrad, but not a lot.
Now, I’m determined to prove myself. I want to show that I’m a good student – no, a great student. I do all of my homework. I read all of the assignments. I spent hours debating the usage of words in my essays. And because of that, I’ve held onto a solid 4.0 GPA so far. It’s hard, yes, but I’m putting that much into it. Mostly, because I want to get so much more out of it.

It’s not easy
Many people go into their master’s degree because they’re afraid of stepping foot into the real world. Well, I’ve been there, and, yes, it’s not that fun. But I didn’t fall back on a master’s degree. I still work full-time, while balancing school. The classes are far from easy, and the assignments are time consuming. If I wasn’t so dedicated to my future profession, I might quit. But the profession excites me; it calls to me.

I was never a big participant in class. I’m shy; I don’t raise my hand often. Yet, since I’m pursuing my degree online, no one can see my face redden if I’m wrong; no one can hear my high-pitched voice. I can make mistakes, and no one knows it’s ME making them. So, I’ve started participating and, you know what? It works. Teachers remember my name; I get higher participation grades. Plus, I get more out of the class. And that’s always good, right?

Pay attention
This is something I’ve learned, but really don’t abide by. Since the class is online, I have a strong tendency to a) check my e-mail b) updated Twitter c) browse Facebook d) go through my Google Reader. I’m multi-tasking – yet missing a lot in class. My advice here would be to avoid opening other Internet windows. Clearly, I should start taking my own advice.

Some classes may surprise you
My second semester in, I took the core Information Organization class. Having done some meta-code before within websites, I thought I’d be slightly familiar with what I would learn. Turns out, my basic understanding did help…within the first week. After, I found learning about metadata a chore; it was learning a new language, a new way to write and read. I’m not a computer programmer, I have absolutely no clue how to do most of those things and yet…I found the class incredibly interesting. After getting over the initial hump, the class became a game – a challenge. Sure, I didn’t understand, but couldn’t I try? I won’t find myself going into that field after grad school, but I DO find myself checking meta-tags and MARC records every now and then.

Take a little bit of everything
I’m fully committed to becoming a youth services librarian, however after finishing my specialization, I’m looking forward to taking classes in other areas. Museum studies? Sure! More metadata? Maybe! I think it’ll give me a fuller understanding about everything that goes on inside a library.  Plus, it’ll really bolster my resume.

But most importantly, take what YOU think will be fun

Okay, maybe another class on management MAY look terrific on a resume, but do I want to take it? Probably not – especially considering I didn’t find the first one to be interesting. The more you enjoy the class, the more you’ll get out of it. I’ve taken classes where I memorized essays due to their sheer genius, and others where I forgot what I read five minutes later. I got into the former classes, and was excited for class. Meanwhile, the latter ones were boring, so I paid less attention. Why do something if, in the end, it was as if I didn’t?

From what I’ve learned, if you don’t have experience working in a library upon graduating, it’s hard to find a job. Since I don’t (and don’t have time for an internship due to my job), I’ve been volunteering monthly at my local library. It helps my resume, and gives me an idea of what to expect upon getting an actual library job.

All, in all, I’ll say keep your head up and keep going. It may seem daunting at times, but it’s worth it. Earlier this year, one of my old students e-mailed me simply asking for book recommendations. I gave her a list, organized by genre, and since then she’s been updating me on her reading progress. I’ve been in the profession all along – it just took some time, classes, and a lot of tuition money, to fully realize it. Although the end of my degree is in sight, I know for a fact my career is just getting started.

* By Lauren Gibaldi


[Guest post] School in the Digital Doldrums – What I’ve Learned in Library School, Part 1

Following up on my previous post, I decided to open up the theme “What I learned in Library School” to some of my peers for some guest posts. Natalie Binder, a colleague and fellow student here at Florida State, offered this post on her experience with Digital Learning. Natalie will be following up on this topic on her own blog, and you can catch her on Twitter or Tumblr.  Enjoy!

The communications revolution promises to transform education as thoroughly as it’s transformed newspapers and magazines.  In some universities, it already has. At Florida State University’s nationally ranked College of Communication and Information (CCI), ninety percent of the courses are online-only.  And these are not your mother’s correspondence courses.  CCI students attend courses through a web-based software platform called Elluminate.  Lectures are conducted through live chat, students collaborate on blogs and wikis, and whole libraries—including professional reference services—are available on our smartphones.

Digital learning benefits the university in many ways.  Any graduate of FSU’s communication, information technology and library science programs knows online instruction from the inside out, a huge benefit to potential employers.  It allows working and non-traditional students to pursue degrees on a flexible schedule.  Furthermore, it allows a cash-strapped university to provide classes at a fraction of the cost (if not a fraction of the tuition) of traditional education.

However, a chat room is not a classroom, any more than a picture of a pipe is a pipe.  Speaking as a distance student, a nontraditional student, a teacher and  a technophile, there is a profound loss when classes are moved into the cloud.  The social, professional, cultural and intellectual relationships that develop in a real classroom cannot be duplicated through distance education.

The digital classroom abandons different types of learners.  The primary sensory input for a digital lecture is sound.  The visual aspect is usually very weak—a chat box or a PowerPoint.  The kinesthetic (hands-on) aspect is nonexistent.  For students that learn best by listening, this environment may prove rewarding.  But for the great number of us who need to see and interact with our teachers and classmates, it’s an unqualified disaster.   The situation is even grimmer for students who have auditory or cognitive disabilities.  As schools move to audio-only, these students are locked out and—it sometimes seems—forgotten.  This in a world where a whole generation of “mainstreamed” students with autism, attention deficits and hearing disorders are coming of age.

The real classroom is full immersion reality:  there are things to see, hear and feel.  You catch a professor’s quiet scoff when he doubts your conclusion.  You see the class perk up and take an interest on a certain subject—maybe you should delve deeper.  You recognize the blank look on a student’s face when he misses the point, the light dawn when he finally understands.  Teachers, individual students, classmates and the class as a whole all benefit from these subtle social processes.  The architectural and social structure of a classroom is made to enhance these rich and valuable experiences.

The information revolution is about the expansion of options.  The goal of the educational Web was never to leave students blind and disconnected, with no real alternatives to a chat room.  When universities use technology as a way to enhance the real classroom—and offer cost-effective options to those who can’t make it—then they are using educational technology to its full potential.  Until then, the move from real learning to digital learning is, sadly, a step down.