Help me prepare for Library School
May 20, 2011 5:51 PM   Subscribe

What is library school like? How does it differ from a "regular" MA education? How can I prepare myself best for starting school in the fall?

I hope this isn't too vague or considered chatfilter, I'll try to be as concise as possible: I am attending library school in the fall, and although I've been doing a lot of research, joining organizations, etc., I'm not finding a lot of information on what it's actually like to be in library school. Is it similar to a non-thesis stream MA? What type of work do you do? Is it more hands-on (practical)? Is it a mixture of theory (i.e. history of libraries, philosophy, etc.) and practical (i.e. memorizing the dewey-decimal system or other classification system?). What sort of work do you do in school? I'm trying to prepare myself mentally and intellectually but I'm not really sure what specific information that I'll be studying and how. I know that I'll need to work on my public speaking skills because I get freaked out by presentations (are there many presentations in library/iSchool?). I've written out a few questions above to help make my question more focussed, but I'm basically trying to understand what library school is all about and how I can best prepare myself for it.

Please feel free to share in your answer any relevant blog posts, articles, etc. that may pertain to this question, and especially your own advice/experiences; also, any tips relevant to the question (re: preparing for school) would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
posted by 1000monkeys to Education (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It might help you to take a look at some syllabi from classes you might be taking. This will give you an idea of what kind of work you'll be doing. Llots of the old syllabi are online for various schools (for example, at UNC-SILS, syllabi can be found on course websites and for other semesters as well from their courses page).
(Full disclosure: I'm a student at UNC-SILS.)

When I was in library school for my master's, most of my classes had a lot of reading (which I would really recommend you do all of) and a combination of papers and group projects. I did few presentations for my MLIS, which I got at UIUC. A lot of my classes were actually online through their LEEP program, even though I was an on-campus student. This was because classes I wanted to take simply weren't offered face-to-face a lot of the time.

In library school, I heard the rule "3 hours out of class for every one hour spent in class" and I definitely do this for my doctoral program (at least, when I was in classes, that is what I did). I would really recommend that you do all the reading, attend as many guest lectures and events that you can, and join a student group or two (ALA, ASIST, SAA, SLA -- your school will probably have student chapters of at least a few of these, and they are definitely worth being involved in, especially because they help you get to know your fellow students).

I'd say that my master's was much more focused on practical issues than on theory. We did a lot of things that seemed to be geared towards practitioners (which makes sense) and didn't spend a lot of time on theoretical concerns. Personally, I find this a bit problematic -- I think that working professionals should be well-versed in theory, and research methods, and the like -- but all in all, I got a very good education that would have served me well had I decided to become a librarian or information professional (rather than going on for a PhD in the field).

It really depends on what school you are going to, though. Different schools are vastly different, especially since this is such a variable field. Feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk about your specific school rather than posting here.

You may also be interested in the Livejournal community LibrarySchool, which is a pretty active journal for MLIS students. You might also want to post this question there, because you might get more answers (since it is solely visited by people who are either trying to get into library school, are currently in library school, or graduated from library school).

Good luck! You'll do great. Library school is really fun, engaging, and expansive, if you take advantage of the opportunities it has to offer.
posted by k8lin at 6:06 PM on May 20, 2011

I think this will be really depend on where you go to school, but I'll try to give some general impressions. Almost every class I had involved some sort of presentation, so practice public speaking and making Powerpoint/Keynote/etc. slides. There was also a lot of group work, so it's good to know about online collaboration tools, especially google docs. My classes were a mix of theory and practical courses, but I don't think anyone's going to ask you to memorize the Dewey Decimal system. Since you will likely be doing some academic writing, get to know online article databases if you don't already -- the main library science one is Library Literature & Information Science Full Text from WilsonWeb. Obviously this is also a useful skill if you'll be doing some sort of reference work. Use something like RefWorks or Zotero to manage your citations. Join (or start!) any student groups related to the type of librarianship you're going into -- your fellow students will be the start of your professional network. Also, leverage any opportunities you come across to go to regional or national conferences pertinent to the type of library you plan to work in. There are lots of travel grants and scholarships for student attendees and your school might offer some money to present at conferences.

In the long run, though, your classes don't matter. Get as many jobs and internships as you can manage while in library school. The people I graduated with who got good jobs are the ones who had good internships that led to jobs in the same organization. That's still not a guarantee, obviously, so definitely have back up plans and be prepared to deal with the crushing emotional defeat of not finding a library job.
posted by wsquared at 7:07 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've never been to library school, but I've been thinking about it a lot. Here are some things which made me feel excited/engaged about the library school experience, and gave me ideas about how to make the best of it:

-- Librarian by Day's mad links round-up of everything library school and MLIS related is super useful, but if you try to read all of it you may not have the time to study :-)
-- the hack lib school blog. Also hack lib school google doc.
-- it might be worth checking out the Library Day in the Life project, where library workers talk about what they do all day. Some contributors are MLIS students.
-- advice to current graduate students from Inspired Library School Student.

Further second-hand advice suggests the following important things: if you don't like library school course work that doesn't mean you won't like being a librarian; the experience (paid/voluntary) you gain outside of school is as important as what you do in it.

Congrats on starting grad school, I hope you enjoy it :-)
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 3:07 AM on May 21, 2011

Networking is vital, both in class and out of it. I find that learn far more from a classroom environment than I do from distance ed classes, at least partly because I often end up grabbing a cup of tea or a beer with classmates and/or the professor afterwards and chatting about stuff. Some of my best papers have been based upon current events in library land that I learned about from reading library blogs or on twitter.
posted by peppermind at 5:37 AM on May 21, 2011

I finished Library school 2 years ago and really enjoyed it. I do think it depends on the school you attend, but here's my experience: lots of reading. More reading than I thought I could actually do, but I did my best. And definitely a presentation of some sort in most classes, so that's something to try to get used to. There was a good mixture of theory and practical---I definitely got lots of hands-on experience in the stuff I was interested in (information architecture/usability etc). I was in classes where we built a digital library including all of the scanning, coding, etc and then in a few classes where we read loads and wrote papers. I did a good deal of group work, too.

I did have to take the general reqs which included things like Cataloging and I have NO plans to do any typical library work so it was a little funny. I did not have to memorize the Dewey Decimal system! Thank god.

Overall, library school is full of opportunities and all different kinds of librarians/paths. You should really be able to find your niche and enjoy yourself. I found the people really interesting and really open to networking and having a beer. Good luck!
posted by jdl at 8:46 AM on May 21, 2011

In my experience? Ridiculously easy. A combination of theoretical and practical knowledge, with the ability to chart your own course. The most valuable thing really is to get practical experience--turns out I had a way better handle on the material than my friends who had never worked in a library. My education was more technology-intensive than I would have thought, but that will depend on what school you're going to and which path you take.
posted by sugarbomb at 5:38 PM on May 21, 2011

Hello, thanks everyone for your replies! I wanted to give some time for answers as I tend to over-respond and thread sit :) I really appreciate all your responses and I will spend some more time reading in depth and reply if I need to a little later. I would mark the best answers, but they are all best answers and I don't want to light up the thread like a Christmas tree and make it distracting.

Thanks especially to k8lin for the library school livejournal link--I've read some journals related to that group but didn't realize at the time that it was part of a group, just saw the individual posts, so that's a great resource. Also to the cat's pyjamas--I've seen those day in a life of a librarian blog posts, which I found really helpful and they assisted with my decision to get into libraries as a career.

Thanks to each of you for your replies and for your personal experiences/anecdotes, please feel free to contribute more if you come across this thread!
posted by 1000monkeys at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2011

« Older Am I using tumblr correctly?   |   Where did we eat, in a swamp? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.