Preparing for grad school
June 10, 2021 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I’m going back to university for a Master’s degree (basically an MLIS); how do I set myself up to do this right?

I’ve been accepted into a Master of Information program (renamed from MLIS) starting in September. Yay! But my undergrad studies (in computer science) were back in the early 2000s, and I’ve mostly been working in a corporate environment since then. What do I need to do/know to avoid being out-of-place, overwhelmed, or unprepared? What changes should I be expecting in an education environment vs. 15+ years ago? Is there anything I can do to be better prepared for an MLIS-type program, particularly given a mostly-tech background?

Other details that might be relevant:
  • I’m in Canada, attending school locally
  • The university is planning for mostly in-person classes this Fall
  • I’m attending full-time, and won’t have many other commitments
Advice, recommended reading, or other resources are all appreciated.
posted by quizzical to Education (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I finished an MLIS program a few years ago, from a point where I had some life experience also. So:

Just about everyone feels out-of-place/overwhelmed/unprepared/like an imposter at first, it's totally normal.
In our program, the online course track was taken by folks who were, on average, 10 years older than the residential courses. Being in a room with people is also nice though, it's a tradeoff.

There's no specific 4-year degree required for info science programs generally, and this is a GOOD thing. There is no expectation that you have any specific subject matter expertise for the classes generally, apart from maybe some more technically-oriented ones. (At least in my program traditional librarianship-type courses were available alongside more technical ones in the data science/database management/ontology-taxonomy side of things.)

Having a background with business communication is by no means a bad thing, either, though if you haven't done any scientific citation style documents recently it wouldn't be terrible to brush up on formatting.

You're going to be taking a lot of courses with the same folks, you'll probably identify those with a similar project style.

I didn't really go for extracurriculars, myself, but I did identify some units in the university libraries that were closer to my interests than others and I did some work/projects for them. Not a bad thing if it fits in with your other commitments. Feel free to DM if you have any more specific questions.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:58 AM on June 10

I did mine, yikes, almost ten years ago. I still feel like an imposter and I've been a librarian for several years.

My advice is to know what you have to do to be able to graduate, and work to that goal from day one. If you have to write a thesis, start finding out about that process now. If you have to demonstrate competencies, find out what they are and what evidence you can use NOW. It makes the back end of it way easier if you prep ahead. It also frees up time for an internship or a job in your last semester, which makes you more valuable/hireable later.

A CS background will be very helpful as the concepts are closely related. A corporate background may or may not get you hired, but it will be helpful in doing your job. Other than that, your basic student advice: do the reading, make an appointment for office hours if you need help, show up to everything, plan ahead if you think you might fail a class, make friends, contact the office for students with disabilities immediately if you might need an accommodation, and find out what writing help is available to you if you think you might need it.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:23 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

I teach MLIS students, and I think the ones that have the best experience invest in and prioritize relationships (with each other, faculty, communities).
posted by 10ch at 11:45 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

I did an MLIS in the mid 2000's after an undergrad CS degree and work experience. Things that took an adjustment for me:
  • social science theory readings
  • group papers
  • group projects without an authority to mediate disagreements (ie, no boss to turn to)
  • reading lots and lots of articles as PDFs (we had almost no textbooks)
Things that helped included the fact that most of my other classmates were also coming from first careers/work experience rather than straight from undergrad, having good technical skills, part-time library jobs during school where I had practical experiences to figure out what I wanted to do next and making friends with people I enjoyed working on projects with and could go have a drink with and vent/relax.
posted by kbuxton at 12:30 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

Uff da, my MLIS is getting a bit dusty. 15 years. Yikes!

My program offered "Library Graduate Assistantships" which at the time kind of seemed like a sneaky way for the university to pay Grad students pennies-on-the-dollar in positions that should have belonged to full-time Reference Librarians and Catalogers*. I needed the experience (and the money) so I barged my way into an LGA every semester I was there. It was super helpful for post-graduation...I had actual library-related work experience AND actual library-related work references. So, since you've got schedule flexibility, see what's available through the school. If nothing else you might get a semester learning about what you DON'T want to do.

*still seems kind of sneaky
posted by Gray Duck at 1:34 PM on June 10

Most MLIS/MI students are not fresh out of undergrad, so you will certainly not be the only student with significant work experience. Lots of people who tried other careers, or did subject-area grad programs only to discover they did not want to/could not become a professor, etc.

Tech skills will be a strength for you - I am more familiar with U of T's program, where there is a growing emphasis on developing tech skills and thinking about technology in libraries, and libraries are often looking for people with some basic skills around coding, data cleanup and analysis, systems work, etc.

Do try to get a part-time job in a library while you are in school - it's a good way to see how the theory you are learning in school can be practically applied, it builds your network of people who could be mentors or help you find jobs down the line, and it can help you figure out what type of organization you want to work in.

There will be a lot of group projects, and a lot of reading articles - and yes, mostly PDFs - and some classes that will be basic and some that will be hard. Try to find good people to work with and learn who to avoid. I imagine this coming year there will still be a lot of online learning tools used in classes, so get familiar with Blackboard/Canvas/whatever your school uses. But you don't need to be top of the class, no one cares once you graduate, so don't stress too much about grades.

Also just set your school email address to forward to one you actually check - there will be a lot of messages and it's easier to not have to check multiple email accounts all the time.
posted by phlox at 1:38 PM on June 10

I did my MLIS 15 years ago in a program that was mostly online with a few on-campus classes. One of the best classes I took was, ironically, not an info science class at all but titled Business Systems Analysis, and which turned out to be How To Be a Project Manager.

I printed out all the papers I had to read because it was easier to focus on paper than screens (ADHD here), and I ended up referring back to all those papers multiple times throughout the program.

Many of your classmates will be librarians in all but title and pay and will therefore already know how to do the thing the class is teaching, but be taking it because it's required. If they are amenable, plumb their knowledge. I got through the cataloging class solely because of the patient help of a classmate who was assigned to the group I was in, and who would check all our work, correct it, and explain why/how we'd got it wrong before we turned it in. (ADHD is not conducive to the fiddly detail work involved in cataloging and those who can do it: I salute you.)

I assume this may be the same after 15 years, but I bought all the textbooks I could via Amazon, then sold them the same way after I graduated and got far more money than I would have through the campus bookstore.

Get as much internship/part-time job/volunteer experience as you can because once you graduate you will be competing with a lot of other newly-minted librarian hopefuls and you need all the help you can get to stand out.

This is advice for all graduate programs, not just library/info science: be very nice to the administrative staff! They will be on your side when you have to wrangle with university administration (I had multiple student loan wrangles that they straightened out for me) and your applications may mysteriously make it to the top of the stack given to the prof when you're applying for internships/fellowships, etc.
posted by telophase at 2:14 PM on June 10

I’m in an mlis program right now after 15 years out. (Part time - I have a full time job.) It’s totally doable and I have really enjoyed my professors and classmates. I’m in a research methods class now - highly recommend taking this early in your tenure, as it helps you learn how to read and think and process the information! Have fun!
posted by melodykramer at 4:55 AM on June 11

A lot of what I'd recommend has been covered, but I'd add - figure out as early as possible if there are going to be requirements for internships or other field work that will require careful scheduling. For my archives-focused MLIS, there were internship requirements that would have interfered with the full-time 9-5 job I was also working at the time if I hadn't had very understanding and flexible work supervisors, especially because the repositories I needed experience in were typically only open 9-5 on weekdays (or only a couple days per week). Remote internships have become more of a thing thanks to covid, but as more libraries and archives are opening up, I expect in-person will become the norm again. And all that said, getting some experience in or adjacent to the field you're interested in is a very good idea!

Also, look into professional organizations that are either based in your geographical area or related to the fields you're interested in! Most have affordable student rates, and it's a good way to see if the day-to-day of the type of job you think you'd like matches up with your expectation. It'll also help with networking and building a support system, even if it's just some recognizable friendly faces that you'll see at conferences.

I'll also say that I had almost a decade between the end of undergrad and the beginning of library school, and the biggest difference I found (unsurprisingly) was that there was a lot more online management of course materials and discussion boards. Also, I found paper writing to be easier (surprisingly) despite doing no academic (or other) writing in the intervening decade!
posted by quatsch at 10:54 AM on June 11

Response by poster: Regarding internships, and the like: the program does have a required practicum component. That doesn't come up until next year, but thanks to those who've suggested looking into opportunities in advance!
posted by quizzical at 1:47 PM on June 11

If you didn't start doing so in undergrad, start using a bibliographic manager like Zotero to help you write papers and organize PDFs.

Find out if your university library has its databases integrated with Google Scholar, sometimes it's easier to find what you're looking for and your library has access to the full text. Also install the Google Scholar button for your browser.

Given your tech background, check out the Code4Lib group's journal, conferences, and listserv (w/ job postings) to see what techy librarians are concerned about/doing.
posted by judypjhsu at 7:49 PM on June 11

The 3 most important things I did during my MLIS that led to success after graduation:

1) Prioritize relationships (as mentioned above). If there's a happy hour, go to the happy hour, even if you don't drink. If there's a picnic, go to the picnic. If there's a party, go to the party. If there's a carpool/room share for a conference, do that.

2) Always be working (internship, practicum, paid research assistantship, etc.) and do really, really good work. Show up on time, take initiative, don't be annoying.

3a) If there are opportunities to publish, present, or be on a panel of any kind, take those. Look for areas where you can demonstrate "leadership."

3b) Don't worry about your actual grades. Nobody cares. Just graduate and let your work speak for itself.
posted by knotty knots at 12:04 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

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