by Julia Feerrar
Just three months ago I walked across a stage in south-central Pennsylvania to receive my undergraduate degree. I thought of the hard work completed, the friendships forged, and I wished fervently that my next steps forward would be sure-footed. I mean that both literally and figuratively: I hoped to navigate the stairs without tripping and I hoped that I was ready for library school in the fall.
Two weeks into my master’s program, I’m thinking back to that moment and reflecting on my preparation. Honestly, I’ve felt like quite a novice in the past few weeks. Although I interned in libraries and archives, and tutored extensively in college, I have nowhere near as much as experience as some of my older classmates. I’ve never taught in a classroom, I wouldn’t know where to begin in HTML or CSS, and my understanding of metadata is rather vague. Self-doubt has been creeping in. Am I ready to do this? Should I have taken a year (or more) to try and get more job experience? Is there a place for me in this profession? How do I figure out what that is? These and similar questions have been running through my head and I’d like to share the answers I’ve been developing.
“Readiness” isn’t exactly relevant.
At least not an “I feel totally prepared to enter the library profession and I know everything I need to know to do so confidently” kind of readiness. If I did, why go to school? After all, these programs must exist for a reason, right? I have to remind myself that my classmates and I applied to be here. Our past experiences and academic training were sufficient for admission. It’s time to stop worrying about what could have happened in the past and get ready to learn as much as possible.
Stop comparing and start sharing.
Many of my self-doubts arose as I compared myself to the new people I met. Since reading Laura Sanders’ wonderful piece, On Being An Older Library School Student, I’ve been realizing how great it is that everyone brings different knowledge and skills to their graduate programs. I look up to the students with years of professional experience and I value their insights in class, but I have to remember that those of us who just finished undergraduate degrees have an important point of view to share as well.
Recent graduates are probably still in the academic groove—comfortable with things like regular reading and writing assignments or with learning management systems like Blackboard and Sakai. Perhaps we’ve been library users more recently than those returning to school after time away and the issues surrounding, say, an academic library may be fresher in our minds. We may not have as much job (or life) experience, but we’re eager to learn.
Being new often means being open.
Although some people enter library school with a clear direction and career goals, many don’t. I’ve spoken with multiple second-year master’s students who have changed specializations as they explored their interests in the past year. Staying loose and allowing some room to discover new possibilities for future careers is a great mindset when starting school.
Embrace being a beginner.
That novice-ness I’ve been feeling has compelled me to ask questions, talk to other librarians, and to look for ways to get the experience I feel I lack. Interested in another student’s past job or current on-campus assistantship? Want to learn more about a certain professor’s research or a librarian’s job? Take them for coffee and ask them about it.
As one of my college professors once told me, feeling behind can be a really powerful motivator. In her words, “lean into the punch”: face any feelings of intimidation, get busy, and jump into new things. Get involved with professional student organizations, look for volunteer opportunities, and find a part-time job or internship as soon as possible. Get to know people and learn from each other—these are your future colleagues.
Sure, I could have taken more time before beginning library school, but this is the path I chose. I’ve found it really useful to think of library school as a new adventure. I’m ready to learn, explore, and make new connections. I’m excited to be here.