by Zack Frazier
Below is a timeline that roughly follows my own experience in library school and what I have noticed other successful library students doing. Most of the activities are simple non-time intensive ways to help create opportunities to improve the quality of your library education.
Start a blog. Librarianship is more and more a profession that demands communication, management, and leadership. Start a blog now. It doesn’t matter what you write about (although libraries should be involved in some way), but get practice writing for an audience. If you become a public librarian, you’ll have to write book reviews and memos. If you become an academic librarian, it will be libguides and memos. Special Librarian? Memos, reports, and some sort of other information product. A blog will help you when you become a professional; it will help you in library school, and it may even help someone else.
Set up your email on the first day of classes. You should either have your school email kicked to a Gmail account, or use a school-provided Microsoft Outlook account. Either way both Microsoft or Google provide enormously productive software through their cloud computing services. This is especially helpful when you have to collaborate with classmates on group projects. After you configure your email, set up a calendar. It doesn’t have to be complete, or your main calendar, but both Google and Outlook’s calendar functions will aid you in scheduling meetings. Outlook is particularly good at this. Once this is done, spend some time playing around with the product suites. It’s always good to get to know your tools. As a librarian, or information specialist, you will be expected to evaluate and rate products and teach people how to use them. Also, it can be annoying when someone doesn’t want to use a particular product and then goes to an untested third party product that sucks.
While I recommend using Outlook if your university provides it (a lot of institutions us it as their email provider), you MUST create a Gmail account. Some people hate Microsoft, so you’ll either have to use crappy third party sites, or use Google’s great document suite for collaboration. Even if you love Microsoft, consider using Google Docs; seriously it’s Da BOOM! for collaborative writing.
The 1st Week
You should be talking with your advisor and professors. It’s not really an option, especially if you’re in a distance program. I’m not going to talk to you about that. In your first week, you should start scheduling informational interviews with librarians. I did this my first week and it was the best thing I’ve done in library school so far. If you want to be a public librarian, start talking to people at the local public library. Find out what they do, what skills they have, and what courses they took. Your professors are (hopefully) smart, capable people; some of them may have actual experience as a librarian and some of them may even be current librarians. However, you should talk to as many people who currently work in libraries as possible before you graduate. You’ll have to develop your own style of librarianship eventually; it will be a remix of your personality and the experience of people who have come before you. Learn as much as you can now so you can be ready to be a librarian on day 1 of your post MLIS job.
The 1st Month
If you haven’t already, join your student organization. It’s a great networking tool. Student organizations can also be a good place to blow off some steam and have fun. A lot of them do weekly or monthly happy hours or meet-ups. Plus, a commitment to professional development is one thing hiring committees look at. So, get started early and join your student organization. You should do this day one, but it should definitely be done by the end of your first month. If there isn’t one for your program, start one. You can do it!
Write a blog post, and/or letter examining your experience up to this point. What have you learned? What challenges did you run into? How has this met or failed to meet your expectations? I wrote both and found it to be an enormously rewarding experience. Writing about your progress will allow you to reflect back on your growth later on. It’s a great way to track your progress.
The 1st Term
Write down your plan! By the end of the first term you should have some idea of what you want to do. You may want to do a ton of things, but shoot for the hardest. If you train to be a marathon runner you might not be the best sprinter, but you can sprint. If you train to be a sprinter you might be great for that short burst, but running a marathon might be out of your reach. That’s my advice. My own personal library school philosophy involves becoming as much of a library badass as possible, so take that particular advice as you will. Either way, you should know what you want to do when you’re done, and have a plan.
Join a national professional organization. It’s a great way to get supplemental material, advice, mentoring, and networking. Also, see the above advice on joining your student organization. National professional organizations also offer webinars; oftentimes members get free or discounted admission.
Finally, you should attend a local conference or business meeting of a state-level professional organization. These are great networking opportunities, but moreover they are a great way to learn about the libraries in your state, not just in your local area. You should considering joining one of these organizations as well. For example, InfoCamp SC was a two day unconference examining issues of user experience, information design, and information architecture. It was at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia SC. Full disclosure, I’m helping to organize it.
In library school, you’ll have to chart your own course, but I hope this timeline helps you structure your experiences in a way that maximizes the opportunities you’ll be exposed to.