How to Hack Your Summer Vacation

by Topher Lawton

Congratulations to everyone who’s just finished the first year of an LIS degree! If you’re anything like me, you’re still occasionally having phantom-homework guilt, as it’s such a novel feeling to have a bit of spare time. That spare time can be put to good use, though!

In the spirit of Zack’s Library-School Starter Kit for the first semester, here’s a few ways to spend your summer:

Take an internship!

Whether your program requires one or not, internships are great ways to get experience, build up your resume, and make some contacts out in libraryland who can help you after you graduate. There are tons of resources on internships, and your school may have a career services office that can help you find one, but perhaps the best thing to do is find a library where you’d like to work, and just ask if they have an extra project for you. Having a specific project in mind can help alleviate the risk that an internship will have you photocopying and getting coffee–while those jobs are valid, they don’t really boost your skills.

You can also use an internship to test out a part of the field you’re not sure about–whether that’s a library type (Never worked in an academic library? What about a public library? Rural vs. inner-city?) or an area of interest (reference, cataloguing, digitization, etc). Finding an internship in that area gives you the chance to feel out a certain aspect of librarianship that you might not otherwise get to try.

Learn to code!

Librarianship is increasingly dependent on fluency with programming and web development skills–why not take the summer to build them up? If you can already program, learn a new language; if you’re comfortable with HTML, try your hand at XML, or even PHP. Take advantage of things like Codeyear or the various resources to help with Ruby.

Even if you’ve never written code, dive in! It’s a new language, and like any language it gets easier to use with practice. Try and understand the architecture of a database, or of a basic system like Librarians should be able to interface with web designers easily, and knowing a little bit of code is a great way to do that.

Go to a conference!

ALA Annual is coming up, so is SLA, and the other options are manifold as well. Librarians are a remarkably well-conferenced bunch, and it’s important to understand that side of the field. Find your way to a conference this summer! (And if you choose ALA Annual, be sure to come to a Hack Library School event! Keep your eye on the blog for more details as we get closer to the end of June.) Even state library associations have valuable conferences or one-day meetings with sessions that will inform you. I’ve also had great experiences with chapter meetings in both SLA and the Music Library Association–if you’re a member of any professional organizations (and you should be), see if they have any events coming up that you can attend.

Alternately, go to an unconference! (or host one!) Unconferences have a totally different feeling, and are significantly more participatory by design. Attending one can give you a perspective that standard conferences don’t touch.

Whichever type of gathering you pick, don’t be shy! You’ll learn lots, but also, be sure to meet people! Introduce yourself, and strike up a conversation with everyone you can–you’ll never know who might turn into a close colleague, or a friend. The library world is incredibly well-networked, and breaking into that system is good to do as soon as possible.

Index thyself!

This advice comes straight from my adviser, and it’s excellent. Chances are pretty good that in your first year you’ve produced a LOT of content. Blog posts. Projects. Websites. Essays. Published articles, perhaps. While they’re all still fresh in your mind, collect them, and put them somewhere you can keep track of them, like an e-portfolio. If that’s your personal blog, so much the better. If you’ve started a portfolio offline, tuck a list there as well. Keeping track of everything you’ve created will help with job applications (including internship apps) and can come in handy later as well, if you ever need to go back to review work you’ve done.

I highly recommend making that index public, somewhere, but even if you just hold a private list it’s still important to gather everything now, and save yourself the trouble later.

Relax & recharge!

Last, but perhaps most importantly, it’s SUMMER! Take some time for yourself! Do the fun reading you’ve been unable to get to, go offline for a few days, do what it takes to be ready for another full year of library school! Even if you’re taking summer classes or working full time, make sure you get at least a little time to rejuvenate.