How do I get through library school?
November 30, 2009 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I think graduate school was a mistake. Drop out, seek new program, or persevere?

I just started a library job and grad school a few months ago. Love the library. Hate library school.

I graduated from college 10 years ago. I’m now getting my MLS. This is my first semester as a grad student. I’m taking two classes (one is online). I also work 40 hours a week. I’m also planning my wedding (which doesn’t dominate my entire but is still somewhat time-consuming).

I’ve heard that graduate school is nothing like undergrad (which I liked for the most part and where I thrived); fine. But I’ve just been feeling totally disconnected. Most of the people in my class are full-time students, and work part-time if at all. They’re able to have study groups when I’m at work (including weekends). One of my classes is okay, if not especially interesting. My other class is unbearable; the content feels boring and impossible, taught by a man who just can’t communicate the material. Our coursework is literally the size of two large phonebooks. He wrote the textbook we use so there’s no relief or enlightenment there. I have an advisor I have yet to meet. I should have been more aggressive in getting a new one who might actually answer an email with more than one sentence or return a phone call, but here I am.

So many people say library school is a hoop you have to jump through. I’ve taken out financial aid for this (including a private loan that fortunately, I haven’t had to touch yet) and am just wondering if it’s worth it. I’m generally happy but school has diminished some of pleasure I take in things. I don’t have time to cook or write. My fiancé and I have less time together. My library is always busy so there’s no down time to study.

I love books, and reading, and the sense of community that a library gives. I pursued a degree because I live in a city where an MLS can lead to well-paying jobs (I may want to leave the public library system in a few years). However, there’s a part of me that wonders if I’m wasting my time. If it’s not going to get better until a year and a half from now, I’d almost rather cut my losses and be happy now instead of looking forward to some bliss moment that may not happen.
So I guess I’m asking, how did you make it through grad school? Or did you drop out and find something even better? I’ve also thought of taking just one course at a time (maybe more in the summer), to get a little of my sanity back. After trying out a couple of different careers, I think librarianship is something may actually be able to do happily and long-term. But I’m really resenting school right now.
posted by anonymous to Education (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have much to offer, but I've yet to meet one person who ever went to graduate school who didn't want to drop out at one time or another, and was wholly serious about exploring the option to quit. This almost always occurs in the first semester. Welcome to the pain. Your initiation into the fellowship is complete.
posted by raztaj at 8:52 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am not in your field at all, but I think you should drop out and just take one class at a time while you work full-time. You might even be able to get your employer to cover the cost, at least partially.
posted by emd3737 at 9:10 AM on November 30, 2009

The first semester is always the hardest. Since you've basically already made it through that, I think leaving now isn't a good idea. It amounts to months of suffering for no payback. If you were in a PhD program that lasted 5-8 years my advice might be different, but 2 years will fly by.
posted by sickinthehead at 9:19 AM on November 30, 2009

This is the worst part of the semester, and I bet a lot of people are in similar shoes. Is there a way to accelerate your studies? I got my MLIS in a little over one year, including taking summer classes.

A lot of people in library school say that the job is the best part, and it seems like you feel that way too. Is there any way to relate your course projects to what you do on the job? When I did this, it made my assignments more rewarding.

Is the one class you strongly dislike required? Required classes are sometimes just harder to take. Try picking some electives in future semesters that fit your specific interests, if possible. The first semester was my least favorite, mostly because I didn't know what I really wanted out of it yet, and subsequent semesters were better because I was more focused.

Investigate the faculty webpages, ask around, and find at least one course taught by someone in your specific area of interest. See what professors have published or where they work (many library schools employ professionals as adjunct professors).

Grad school isn't for everyone, though. Have you felt consistently bad, or is it much worse now that it's finals time? Other people might have better recommendations about how you know when to quit; as someone who just started a PhD in this field, it won't be me.

Good luck, hang in there, and I hope next semester is better than this one!
posted by k8lin at 9:26 AM on November 30, 2009

I went through lib school (a mostly online program) and HATED it - but for me, it was supposed to me the means to an end, and not my life's work. Had I known that I'd get my MLIS at the beginning of a recession that is cutting arts and education funding right and left, I would not have done it. And had I known that librarian salaries were going to be as paltry as this recession is causing them to be, I'd DEFINITELY not have taken out loans.

That being said, by focusing on technology rather than traditional librarianship, I managed to remain somewhat interested while in school, and managed to get a job in the private sector that - imagine! - allows me both to pay back my loans and still keep a roof over my head and food in the fridge.

Loving books and reading has nothing to do with librarianship in my opinion. Librarianship is about community service, teaching, and marketing, marketing, marketing. Where I live, it's also a very backwards profession - it's still run by the old guard that is suspicious of technology and change. At every single library job interview I've gone on, I've been grilled by grey-haired librarians who gave me a hard time for choosing an online program and for learning, say, how to build a website rather than how to read to children.

If I sound bitter, perhaps it's because I am. I was one of the many who got sucked into library school by the librarian shortage myth. Yes, I believed that there were droves of aging librarians who were retiring en masse, and that the ones who remained refused to touch computers despite the fact that they actually needed to. I was wrong, at least in major West Coast cities - no idea if this is the case elsewhere.

If I was in the beginning of my program and had reservations now, in the current economy, honestly I would quit. In my city, the libraries are on a hiring freeze and those who are currently employed are on enforced furloughs.

Also - a 40 hour job plus two classes is a lot. I only made that mistake one semester - after that, I did it a class at a time.
posted by chez shoes at 9:27 AM on November 30, 2009

No advice to offer with respect to the MLIS program, but I hated every single godforsaken moment of law school (as did all of my friends, for various reasons). My GF seems to have found grad school a miserable experience. My ex hated medical school.

Hating grad school/professional school/finishing school is a pretty universal condition. Why do we suffer through it? Like the old chestnut about the man who was asked why he kept hitting himself in the groin with a hammer--"Because it feels so good when I stop."

Good luck. It's better on the other side.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:33 AM on November 30, 2009

I got my MLIS 18 months ago, had some stultifying classes with idiot professors that I loathed. One of the things that I kept reminding myself was that I just needed to pass, nobody was ever going to care about my grades. Some of my classes turned out to be a lot more interesting than I'd expected.

I got very lucky and got to work at the reference desk at the university for two semesters and I totally loved it. It took me a while to find a job, but I did and I love it. Granted, the pay is not great, but the work itself is intrinsically rewarding. I just wish I had figured out twenty years ago that I should be a librarian. Of course being a librarian then might not have interested me as much. I remember the very unhelpful librarians at the other university library, the one I haunted when I went to graduate school the first time. In spite of the mean librarians there I did find that experience of grad school very satisfying, also grueling.

My advice is to stick it out. Do your courses use Blackboard or some other course management software? In most of my online courses we used the discussion boards in Blackboard extensively and some of us got to know each other quite well in the virtual world.
posted by mareli at 10:29 AM on November 30, 2009

As a former grad student (but not in your arena), I just know that speaking for myself that like you mentioned, grad school is hard (and sucks). It's isolating and you are given copious amounts of information with a lot of detail. I think 40 hours per week working is a lot, especially since you just are trying to get the hang of things. And there's a sharp learning curve in terms of your new social settings and school work. I think it'd be nice if you could cut out the work if you can. And try to stay focused on doing well in school. It's important to build rapport with your classmates and professors that can help link you into your potential work opportunities down the road. Which is something to consider but not vital to your success. Talk to some people who have already gone through the program if you can, that helps a bunch. And see if you can find out where other people ended up with their jobs and that degree, that's also important to consider. Don't quit just yet. Hang in there. It's still a long road even with a seemingly only 1. 5 years but I know they can be tough. If it seems like you won't gain internship/work experience/knowledge to get you to where you want to be, then re-examine your options again. Having personal examples of people who have been successful in that program is really key.
posted by proficiency101 at 11:59 AM on November 30, 2009

The short answer is if you want to have a decent paying professional career in libraries, then yes, library school is a hoop that you have to jump through (although it doesn't guarantee a decent paying job upon graduation). Since you are already working in a library, you'll graduate with more experience than many of your peers, which should make it easier to find a job. Do they have anything for you where you are currently working once you graduate? Plus you already know that you are going to like the work. Even if you go part time it's what 3 years of your life? Where will you be 3 years from now if you do quit; most likely 3 years older without an MLIS. And not that you shouldn't cherish/enjoy time with your fiance now, but you're getting married. Congratulations! Hopefully all will work out for the two of you and you'll have the rest of your lives to spend more time together!

I would also add that unlike other graduate or professional degrees, you are not so locked into just working in a library. Does your school offer courses in records management for example? Not the sexiest career, but you should be able to find a job that pays well, and if you get interested in organizing information, creating workflows, and that kind of thing you could find it quite satisfying. I also know people who graduated from my program who are webmasters, another works in the Office of Academic Research, and being in DC a lot of others work for the government (NARA, CIA, FBI, Department of State, Smithsonian, etc.). We were all mostly archives track, but I'm sure that others in the various library tracks also have a wide variety of jobs/job placements.

I actually enjoyed library school more than I thought that I would (which isn't saying a whole lot; I had rather low expectations), but would agree with others that the first semester is pretty grim. I was also lucky to have gotten interesting, decent paying jobs right out of school, so that helps me feel better overall about my experience being worth it. I know that everyone is not that lucky.
posted by kaybdc at 12:19 PM on November 30, 2009

I also worked basically full time in a school full of slackers. (Ok, not really. But it sure felt that way!) The first semester was definitely the hardest to get through. After that, things became more routine. I even miss Grad school these days. It is almost certainly not too late to get a decent adviser. Talk to different professors and see if you can get one, even if just on an informal basis. Most schools also have a system where you can lodge a complaint about an adviser who is just being completely unresponsive. It's not the best route to take, but if you truly can not get another adviser, look into what other options are available to you. If your adviser has office hours, show up at least once. I know that this is much harder with work, but if it requires taking half a day of vacation, it's worth it.

Good luck and hang in there!
posted by stoneweaver at 12:31 PM on November 30, 2009

Most of the people in my class are full-time students

Really? I don't think there were more than a handful of full-time students in my MLS program. Weird.

I too went to library school while working full-time (and got married my last semester); I took two classes every semester. It is possible. It's not fun at times, but it's do-able. Granted, I did it before the economy tanked, and my employer offered at least partial tuition reimbursement, which made it hurt less - not to mention tied my continuing employment to my continuing the program. Effective!

Yes, library school is a hoop to jump through. At the time, I felt like I wasn't learning much that I didn't get on the job anyway. Now, I wish I'd paid more attention to doing in-depth research, which I still suck at. There's no way I could go into academic libraries with these skills.

As in any program (I assume), there will be a few deadly classes and awful professors. That's just temporary. Also, surely you can change advisers - I think complete non-responsiveness to emails would be a sufficient reason for any department.

If you aren't in deep debt, I would recommend trying at least one more semester, during which you try some of the more interesting looking classes (does your program have a genre fiction course? That was a nice relief from heavy reading).
posted by timepiece at 1:51 PM on November 30, 2009

Seconding what others have said that the first semester is the hardest. Hell, the first YEAR is the hardest. You are basically cast into the fire and have pretty much no idea what you're doing on a daily basis, but it DOES get easier, I promise you. However, if you really, truly, deeply feel that grad school is not right for you, then by all means, pack up shop.

I have questioned several times if grad school was the right thing to do, and have wanted to drop out more than once (several times, actually). While you and I are not even remotely in the same field, we both have to jump through the same political hoops and deal with the same bullshit. It will get better if you stick with it.

Good luck!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 2:50 PM on November 30, 2009

Library school is the worst part of librarianship, from most people's accounts. If you see yourself working in libraries in the future, it's worth sticking it out. I worked full time while doing my degree, and it was definitely the norm in my program. You need to be in it for something other than the money, for sure. To maximize your potential of landing a great job, try to get really broad experience at your current job, or take on some biggish projects with demonstrable outcomes.

I'm going to whisper this next part, don't tell anyone I told you. Your grades don't matter much, and most of your classes aren't filled with geniuses. Try to train yourself to put in more of a...minimal effort for things that aren't that relevant or interesting. I think you'll be surprised that it might not make that much difference in your grades, and it will make even less of a difference when applying for jobs, where the focus will be on your experience. Good luck to you! There are a million librarians here, you should get great advice if you keep asking questions as you go through school.
posted by donnagirl at 6:06 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

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